MIrie it is while sumer ilast
with fugheles song
oc nu necheth windes blast
and weder strong.
Ei ei what this nicht is long
And ich with wel michel wrong.
Soregh and murne and fast.*
The years had rolled past us, time reverberating over our heads as we wrote our love into existence. The pandemic years now only a distant memory; though the world had stepped outside such an experience with battle scars that never truly healed. Our subaquatic dance continued through the years. We dipped and danced and wrote our way beyond the world’s new landscape.
And then… one day there was silence.
There had been no clue that you would disappear. You had been more subdued, perhaps. Our to-and-fro a little stilted. But you had still typed the words of farewell you often used with me: ‘my heart is within yours’.
And then, nothing…
I wrote to you and heard nothing back. I wrote again and still, silence. One day shifted into two weeks, which in turn drifted into three months. And those months dragged into years. Instead of our joyful repartee there was a deathly hush that descended between us. The silence between us a kiss that was colder than ice. At first fear gripped my heart and sent it skittering in cruel reveries. Had something happened to you? Were you safe? Were you alive? Surely you would not have gone from me without explanation. No! You would never, could never do that. And yet the silence remained. You had perhaps grown bored, your playful nature desiring a new adventure? Or perhaps needed warmer waters? Or perhaps the siren song of another had lured you away? I could not know why you had gone, all I knew was that my life grew empty without you. Colours grew dim and muted. Sunsets lost their golden brilliance. The magic we had found together faded. Life was lacklustre. Languid. And I grieved you, deeply. Oh! How I grieved you, my dear selkie-husband. You were gone from me; our love had grown cold.
So the ocean we had played so joyfully within slowly froze over, becoming an arctic tundra. A soft sadness fell upon my head and shoulders like a mantle of snow. Beautiful but bleak. Frozen crystals of grief crept into my blood and seeped into my bones. They settled upon my heart and resided there. I was no longer a selkie but an ice-queen; glacial to all but my very nearest and dearest. I zipped up my human-pelt and held it close to my form, wearing my detached mortal coat to keep me safe. To keep me protected. And I became aloof and self-sufficient. Independent and guarded. Heart-hardened.
I remember the climate of those years as being harsh. Early Autumn had not gifted me mellow fruitfulness but severity. Early storms and driving sleet. The death of my mother. The abyss of sorrow my sister tumbled down and her slow, arduous climb back into to her new but motherless world – for she had found a kindred friend within the maternal relationship that had been closed off to me. Her pain was for a beautiful love that had been severed by death and I must grieve the loss of a sacred bond that I had never experienced. The vague confusion of my father who did not remember my mother had passed. His pain dementia-veiled. Where was she today, his wife? Why did she not come to bed last night – was he in disgrace? The anguish that wracked his body every time I told him the truth. Until eventually I stopped, because I could not bear to inflict such agony upon an old man. I told him she was visiting friends. She was with my sister. That she had popped out and would be back soon; my gentle lies protecting him from suffering.
These years were harsh for my children too. Yes, their lives were full and content, their wings spread wide and they soared but a mother who can soothe a sore knee and kiss away nightmares must sit powerless and watch as the anguish of heartbreaks or the torment of financial crisis enters the world of her adult offspring. And they had their own grief to bear after the death of their own father. For Matthew’s heart, with its shallow love and its walls to dam everything up grew too weak. Cracks and fissures started to show one-by-one but he neglected them. He ignored the signs until one night the dam walls burst. A massive coronary attack. His heart had never moved from the shallows nor learned to truly love with depth but our children grieved who he should have been and who he never was. They grieved what he could not offer them and grieved the man they had so wished him to be.
They were bleak and difficult years. And yet I could never forget you. My eyes often turned ocean-ward as they had done so many years before. Within me was a child-like hope that I would have vehemently denied. A single spark burning for you; for us. A still burning ember that was never extinguished, even by my cold self-sufficiency. Pulsating softly, it lingered deep within me. I was still in love with the ghost of you; our love haunted me and kept me waiting. And no matter how hard I tried to suppress such callow dreams, I admit that I longed to catch a glimpse of you beneath the ice. Secretly yearning.
Hireath. Winter’s breath, winter’s song.
Yes, Winter had come too early. But I wrapped an iron independence around me, an armour that kept me safe. I embraced my developing crone-hood with an aloof disconnectedness. Turned by back upon the girl and woman I had once been, for she had been foolish and courted folly. She had been incautious and unwise. She had dared to love. No, I would wear my wisdom with a jaded pride, my memories of more joyful days slumbering at my feet.
And then one day, there you were! A name I had not believed I would ever see again. Your name. The shape of it precious, like a pearl. Your name. I let it sit there, unopened for hours, days, weeks. Too scared to open it. Too cowardly to read it. Your name. It sat like a hot stone in my belly, growing heavier and heavier with each moment. It became a burden in its unresolved silence.
So I dared.
My dearest Maeve…
I remember how my heart lurched at those words. It paused as if holding its breath and then with a series of uncomfortable thumping-throbs it broke free of the ice surrounding it. I felt the creak-crack-SNAP as the ice splintered. Then a rush of heat that pained my chest and coursed through my bloodstream. It gushed and tumbled. It flooded. I had to close my eyes and rest my head back. Inhale-exhale. Slowly.
… it has taken me a long time to write this. Far too long. It is utterly unforgivable…
The pattern of your writing I had known so intimately with your personal idiosyncrasies and subtle peculiarities. As individual as a fingerprint. As familiar as a voice.
I’ve long felt a deep regret for my part in causing hurt and pain. Never maliciously done, I promise you.
An electronic letter written in earnest. In sadness. With a deep-held and genuine regret. You had been unkind to me. To her. To yourself. You had been foolish and insensitive. You had caused hurt and pain to people you loved and you did not feel you should ask for forgiveness but at least perhaps for grace. You gave no poor excuses or feeble justifications, you did not wish to exonerate yourself or give yourself room for absolution. You just wished to heal any hurts you had inflicted with care. You were humble. Gentle. Gracious. You could not be sure I would ever read these words nor could you expect any reply but from each heart-felt word poured your intention. Your letter signed off with a phrase you had used a myriad of times:
Tá mo chroí istigh ionat
I remember the spring of hot tears that teased my eyes as they rested upon that phrase. Lingered upon it, softly. The words hazing and blurring as the salt-water brimmed to their surface. I remember the sob that caught in my throat and then tumbled out in a strange and strangled barking-baying sound. Inhuman. I remember that they burst through, those hot tears and I allowed them for they had been a long time in coming. They poured and they poured and they poured. And when they fell the last shard of ice in my heart was thawed.
*These lines are the lyrics to might be the earliest surviving secular English song, dating from the first half of 13th century (circa 1225 AD). Known as Mirie it is while sumer ilast (‘Merry it is while summer lasts’)