Our Mermaid Craze / Eyes Adapting in the Moonlight

Picture by Annette Batista Day. 

In the days after my grandfather died, I found myself thinking of him as a mermaid. It’s not what you would think. It may not even be what I would think. But I was.

First, it started as just his voice, his siren’s song. Not leading me to my peril but leading me to the possibility he was, still, just on the horizon as my breathing, blood-pumping body pummeled on through the squall of life wailing his absence; he called from the static edge of the ethereal plane. 

One night, I bolted upright from sleep and stared at my dark, bedroom door. I heard him call out, Hello. And then he was gone, splashed back into the water of mortality. I drudged to my closet and threw myself on the floor. In the dark, I listen to old voicemails and weep over his gentle song, a ballad of inflections that exist now only in my mind and this shiny, glowing treasure I hold in my hand. I listen again and again, lingering in the void of his goodbye thinking maybe if I dive deeper and sink, if I strain my ears further to the ocean floor of this suspended auditory pearl, I will hear a message. A hello behind a goodbye. Another goodbye behind a goodbye. I replay on loop hoping for a sound from beyond. Some proof. A sonar, a tracking device, a Caught on tape!, a mummified artifact, a blip, anything that suspends my grief from thinking he is gone.   

Another night, my dog woke me up, whining and scratching at the outside door to be let out. I shuffled downstairs, opened the back door, and flipped on the deck light to illuminate our dense, wooded backyard. A tide of Loblolly pines, Stone Mountain oaks, a lone Magnolia tree, and a lush Crepe Myrtle. A medley of weeds and ivy whitecap the ground to draw my eyes from the shadowy branches to the lower terrain. And there I saw it, the ripple of where my grandfather just folded back into the gulf of Not Here. He had been moongazing on a boulder that ringed the nascent fire pit only half built from a bunch of rocks and a fallen pine. He sat reclining, one knee propped—his own version of Eriksen’s statute—as he admired the tall trees and the righteous frog song of the cool Georgia night. His face tilted toward the invisible flames as he smiled at the fires yet to be burned. He rested there, enjoying the night, waiting for me to turn on the light. 

I saw him. I saw him. 

And I didn’t see him, as he vanished the moment I opened the door. Receding into the depths like a spooked gator. Like a shy eel. Like an elusive mermaid fleeing the documentarian’s camera. All that was left was the undulating wrinkle where he broke the surface and my quaking heart grasping for the myth of his visitation. 

In the legendary fairy tale, The Little Mermaid, Hans Christian Andersen wrote that mermaids live to be 300 years old. When they die, they rise to the water’s surface as sea foam. 

My grandfather lived to be eighty-three. I beg each day that the brine of memories keeps rising to the break and I fear the day they may start to descend to the depths like a cannonball-riddled ship. I want to forever bask in the effervesce of possibility that maybe, maybe, one day I will catch him. I will turn a corner a little too quickly or hold a mirror a little too close or squint my eyes just right in the dark and I will hook him from wading back into the undertow. 

My grandfather may very well have already been a mermaid long before he swam away for good. I just didn’t see it at first. Like a mermaid, many doubted his existence. It started in recent years when I would speak of him in casual conversation among friends and acquaintances. 

Big summer plans? 

Oh yes, we are traveling to Florida to stay with my grandparents. 

I’m sorry. Did you say your grandparents? 



I hate to ask, but how old are they? Actually, how old are you?

Yes, I, a woman in her late thirties still have grandparents. Had both my grandparents. The implication from some folks being that at my age, they should not exist earthside. I was holding onto a fairytale. A childhood fancy. I was a crackpot specimen. Did I not understand how peculiar I was? Did I not understand the absurdity of their being? That our present co-existence was a symbiotic anomaly? The curiosity of friends stung like salt water to the eye. All I could hear in the boorish inquiries was, They should be dead. Don’t you get that? They should be dead.

Once, my grandfather, grandmother, and I were at the beach. The beach is on the small island of Anna Maria—one I had been coming to since they moved to Florida in the mid-90s. In this instance, however, I am twenty-eight and it is 2014. I was in grad school working on curating and editing a collection of poetry that aims to showcase how the mermaid appears in contemporary works. While on this visit, I began to draft a version of what would later become the introduction to the collection. The project was all about the power of voice—as poet, as mermaid. Yet, that summer I found myself obsessed with every image of the mermaid instead of words. I wanted to spot her in any way possible. 

I branded everything on this trip an “extension of research”—no matter how silly or frivolous or non-academic related. We swept the entire island scouring for siren tchotchkes. My grandfather graciously drove up and down the seven-mile islet stopping at every souvenir shop, beach art gallery, coastline boutique, and grocery store so we could hop in to look for fanciful relics of our scaled, mysterious queen. Like a covetous explorer, I had a drive to obtain her.

We find her emblazoned on cocktail napkins. Dangling as Christmas ornaments. Refracting the sun as a stained-glass medallion. Reminding us that Life’s a Beach! from the side of a wine tumbler. Flipping her fin on kitchen towels, decorative plates, wooden signs, coin purses, postcards, snow globes, picture frames, pillows, and canvas totes. For my one trophy, I buy a wind chime of swirling pastel-tailed ceramic sea maids. So delicate that I dare not hang it in the actual wind but will keep it suspended in the corner of my bedroom for years. After we hit up every conceivable shop, for lunch we stop in a local café, The Sign of the Mermaid, for sandwiches and pie. As we leave, I take my grandparents’ photo standing next to the restaurant sign. Two beaming adventurers dappled by the afternoon sun—our day’s bright pearl, an aquamarine-tailed mermaid, captured in repose between them.  

And I never want to stop looking. For mermaids. For my grandfather. Mermaids call to something deep within me—a hope for the impossible, truth to myth, a glimpse into the other world. That I could see them drives me. Belief can alleviate grief. Belief keeps me eyeing the horizon to catch that splash of the descending tail. 

Look! Did you see it? They are out there! They have always been out there, living beyond the nets of mortal perception. Existing only as they can, as the ever-present pang of promise that I will witness them. They are real because I am real and, as so, I keep sailing, eyes adapting in the moonlight.

: :

This is part of the cluster Our Mermaid Craze. Read the other posts here. 

: :