Of Grey Seals:
The hands and feet of a grey seal are formed into webbed flippers with five strong claws on each. The grey seal has very powerful rear flippers that propel them through the water, using their tail to help steer. It also has very powerful shoulders that enable it to haul out onto steep and slippery rocks, even in a big swell.
They say still waters run deep and I believe it to be true.
If Theo had been an estuary with his quick-slow-quick slide of tides, so Matthew was an empty pond. Huge and grey-green, with a flat horizon in its distance. So large that I could fool myself that he was a lake. I imagined him a lake with a sweeping shore-line skirting around its edges and small choppy waves blowing across its surface, as if the winds blew upon the waters deliberately, to cool them. A lake dotted with Greenshanks, otters and voles. Herons wading in its mud. Matthew with his softly spoken voice and his long pauses as if he thought carefully about what he would say next. Words did not come easily. Matthew with his murky-grey eyes and the scrub of burnished stubble on his face, gorse-like. Spiky. Stubble he would pull his fingertips through as he appeared to deliberat upon something. Matthew with his long, sturdy forearms and his long, muscular legs.
My love for Theo had been clumsy and quick. Though it had felt all consuming when I was with him, it burnt away rapidly. Ashes and dust before the flame had cooled. But it had taken a long time for me to trust again. I had kept my heart locked up safely where nobody could find it, for never again did I want to face that expansive distance that came after the shudder. I could not bear to watch someone I love build his seawalls and harbours to control the rising and falling of my waters. But time heals, as clichés are apt to remind us and hearts are not made to be shut in small boxes. Caged and small. Hearts like mine flood. They seep through the cracks and creep through the keyholes, bleeding right through. And so it was with my heart.
There were others of course, before Matthew. But none that crept under my skin. Not like he did. So by the time I met Matthew, I was a little older and – I thought – a little wiser. Years of education under my belt. Arduous study. Long, bleak years when the rules had changed again and I had needed to readjust my skin to meet these demands. Pulling it over my knees and ankles to hide the tail. Wrenching it up over my hips to hide the fins. Down over my thighs as my lips parted into an ‘oh’. More shuddering. It exhausted me but I did it all! Late, late nights that ended in sunrises and groggy, lost mornings. Reaching for pills to dampen down the self-inflicted pain in my head. Painting a bright smile on my lips in noisy bars, laughing along with the drivel that trickled from the mouths of the inebriated. Spittle-chinned. Repeating a joke I had heard, in order to slide neatly into place. In order to fit. My own quick words lost in the crowd. My own nuanced humour too subtle, perhaps. Or too obvious. Gaining friendships that slipped through my fingers like sand as soon as we had thrown our black caps into the air, certificates in hand. I let them go, for what did we really have in common once those rowdy, bawdy youthful years had passed?
On to pastures new. A blossoming career, a ladder to climb.
And then Matthew.
At first I was sure that I had found him. The one! What folly that sounds to me now. But I had become weary of the fast-paced world. Jaded. And there was a certain stillness I believed that I had found in his presence. Matthew. A man that seemed to be all hidden, swirling depths, cool and wide. I thought I could swim there, where the shadows of storm-clouds darkened his surface. Dappled them. I thought I could dive with him there and lose myself. The two of us side-by-side. If I think upon it now it was you I was looking for, although I don’t think I knew it. Not then. For I had forgotten my fairy-stories by that time, they were still packed up in that cardboard box, dusted with a frosting of mites. Mould-kissed. Waiting patiently in the attic, anticipating my return.
Matthew. We met through a friend and he seemed gentle. He had quiet ways. Still and placid. He bent his head, stared down at a table and traced something upon its surface with his fingertips the first time we spoke. I watched him and wondered if he wrote a word or a symbol. I wondered if there was significance in the movement or if he simply needed to focus on something other than my presence. Later on in the evening his fingertip traced it upon my leg, a small and almost imperceptible caress. Sketched lightly. Tenderly. He found it hard to look into my eyes, a quick glance too soon dropped, as if he didn’t dare. He stumbled over his soft words. He blushed. I smiled.
For still waters run deep, so I have always believed. And I was a woman who would willingly search those depths. I was determined to do so!
Yes, Matthew was a pond disguised as a lake and I held his hand as we slipped down to his shallow edges. Side-by-side. At first he did not want to get his feet wet. But with gentle persuasion he placed his toes in the water and I thought, here it is. Here! Our beginning. Our ‘Once Upon A Time’. And for a long time we paddled in the shallows, upon the periphery. I wanted to dive in and become lost in the rich expanse of his depths but Matthew was (as ever) hesitant. Careful. So he took another step. Ankle deep. Inch by slow inch we shuffled forward, Matthew sucking the air between his teeth at the frigid nature of his own waters. Pleased with himself for each slow progression. Needing praise to be heaped upon his head for each tiny-step forward that he made. But I knew there was so much more to him. Oh, I was so sure that his depths were inviting me and I knew that it was going to take a very long time to explore them. I was wrong but my youth could not see it. Not for a very long time.
Matthew. He told me in his soft tones, breath beer-sour and vodka-soaked, that there were things he would tell no-one. There were parts of him locked away that he would never share. Things I didn’t know. He told me that he feared to let them out, concerned that once they overflowed, they would never stop and he would hurt somebody. I think he meant himself. Perhaps. He held up such statements as a gift. A challenge. And I took them as both. He would sometimes seem to reveal a glimpse, just enough to lure me. Keep me hooked. Reel me in. I thought he wanted to share these things in his own way, as long as they were distant and safe. I thought that he wanted to share with me but never really dared. He told me that, yes he loved me but also that I loved too hard. He told me that he could never be the same as I me, nor love as I did for his well would run dry. His love would dwindle and evaporate. He told me that I asked too much of him, for his heart and his mind were too far developed to change. And he didn’t believe in souls. He reprimanded me for my passions, what good do they do anyone?
Many years later he told me that he had been confident back then, in our youth. He had been sure that there was nothing he could do to make me love him any less. That my love for him was the one thing in the world that he believed could not change. What it must have been like to feel that way! I did not know back then. For he loved moderately and with clear-set boundaries. His love for me was limited with small horizons. And yet standing there in his shallows, with his still waters rolling out in front of me, my heart swelled. For I truly believed that he was inviting me to dive into them, if only I was patient.
And so I wed him, ready to explore his swirling depths. Matthew with his moderate heart. Matthew whose secrets lay drowned in the very bottom of a bottle. Matthew with his strong hands that broke chairs as if they were twigs and punched round and crumbling holes in the walls when he was angry. Matthew with his stubbornness, immovable like a rock. Like a mountain. Yet there was always a distance too, though I tried to ignore it. I would lose myself in the heat of his flesh and inhale the breath from his mouth, rising and falling on low crests of his small waves. He would tremble, then. His shudders an earthquake. At that moment I always hoped that he had dared to plunge into the depths with me and lose himself there. Yet he could not lose himself for anyone. When our hearts had steadied I would hold him close. Submerge myself in the scent of his skin and pull his arms around me so I was engulfed by him. And he would disentangle himself. Unknot and untangle himself. He would climb upon his board with a high sail and skim across the waters further and further away from me. Distant. And for days and days afterwards a coolness would blow over his surface like a late autumn breeze, keeping me at bay.
Years passed like this and eventually babies came, pulled from the agony of my breaking tides as I pushed and panted and roared. My new song of the sea a wild thing that came in painful gasps – heralding my children forth. My little loves. My water babies. And I felt such love for them that I thought I might burst with it. A love that wrapped around every cell in my body and gushed forth from every pore of my skin, filling the whole world with its power, epic in its enormity. My water babies, wriggling, playful pups that grew steadily into people. The joys of my heart!
And life shifted once more.
Love is a strange thing of ebbs and of flows.
I can place my hand firmly upon my heart right now, feeling how it thuds and thumps. Drum-thum-drum-thum-drum-thum. I can place my hand there upon my heart that beats solely for you and solemnly and swear with absolute truth that I tried. I suppose we both did in our own way, Matthew and I. For I really had given everything I had to him for many years. I trued with all my might. I clung onto the hope that we could make it.
Matthew with his black furrowed brow and his slow, guarded ways. Matthew with his secrets that he kept even from himself. Matthew wearing cynicism and bitterness like armour to protect himself. I have blamed myself for us failing, for I am a complicated creature and he needed someone simpler. Someone straightforward. And I admit now that I projected depths upon him that were far greater than he posessed. I wanted the ocean and would settle for a lake but he was merely a large pond. His stillness became stagnant. And though he may have had some depths, he did not wish to play in them nor explore them. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. And who was I to force such adventures upon him? No, he was not acquainted with what sat beneath his own skin, had no interest to part the pond-weed and explore beneath it for he was always contented to paddle in the shallows. He needed a woman who would stand hand-in-hand with him upon the banks, lulling waves tickling their unyielding toes. He needed a woman who was content with a shallow life, not one that came to him like a tsunami, all winds and foam and high, engulfing waves! I could never be the woman he needed, so I do blame myself. Often.
As for me? I needed the roar of the sea in my mouth and the lapping of its tongue on my thighs. And you!
I needed you.