It seems I’m being haunted. By mermaids. They are everywhere. Or at least, they keep appearing to me in verse, pictures, ornaments.
I’ve always had this interest in mermaids. The Sirens. And recently I explained this intrigue to my sister-in-law during an interview for a class project. While she audio taped me discussing what it was like growing up in a predominantly Mexican American neighborhood, embracing the culture of my family, the hardships my parents faced, I tried to explain how my personal experience was different. I’ve always felt different. Like I didn’t quite belong.
I’m Mexican. And Spanish. My father’s family is originally from Santander, Spain. My mother’s is from Mexico. But I don’t speak Spanish. And I don’t look entirely Mexican. Just…something. In middle school the questions from my teachers ranged from “are you Cuban?” to “are you French?” I understand the Cuban inquiry, but don’t quite understand the ignorance behind the question. Yes, my maiden name is Castro. But, no I’m not related to Fidel. As for the French, maybe it was due to the paler skin, the reddish-brown hair. I’m not really sure. But my shop teacher (yes, I took shop and I built a mean plexiglass house) nicknamed me Gigi. I never truly answered any of the questions. I learned to sidestep them and live with whatever or whoever the person thought I was. It was easier. Because I sure didn’t feel Mexican. My own neighborhood chums saw to that.
Again, I didn’t speak Spanish. I didn’t look Mexican. Enough ammunition for the neighborhood girls to belittle me, run from me at recess, and call me gringa. White girl. This began in elementary school and lasted through high school. So, I became friends with the “white girls”. Who jokingly called me beaner and asked if I ate tacos on Thanksgiving. Seriously.
So I never felt I quite belonged. The fence-straddler. Or the mermaid. A young girl has to romanticize her predicament. I compared myself to a mermaid. I didn’t truly belong to either element I lived in. Not truly. I could swim, but I needed air to breath. I breathed air, but couldn’t walk on land. A mermaid. I also liked the idea of causing men to crash into rocky shores at the sound of my voice. What woman doesn’t?
Thus the mermaid became, not an obsession, but a definite interest. I didn’t become one of those mad collectors, but I did begin to collect a few mermaid prints, an ivory and a small bronze statue. I even created in my mind the perfect tattoo I want on my back. Not your average Sailor-fantasy mermaid, but a mermaid representative of me. And I created an entire novel in her honor. A novel I’ve been sort of working on for the past year. That is until I became disinterested in the whole idea.
Then it happened. Someone asked about my short story collection and whether it had been published and whether I’d realized that the year I’d given myself to publish was gone. What? The year is over? And I realized my backup plan had failed. There was no novel to begin pushing. And I wondered if I should return to said novel and finish what I started.
Yesterday I received a gift in the mail. A tiny box from my sister-in-law. Inside was a Christmas ornament as a means of thanking me for sitting through the interview (she got an A on the project), as well as to show me she was more than listening. She understood. The ornament is a mermaid. A beautiful reddish-brown haired mermaid.
Then what should Garrison Keillor read this morning during the Writer’s Almanac but a poem by Emily Dickinson which begins…
I started Early – Took my Dog –
And visited the Sea –
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me –
Then on my way home from work a song by Robert Plant began..”Long afloat on shipless oceans, I did all my best to smile. ‘Til your singing eyes and fingers drew me loving to your isle. Sail to me. Sail to me…”
The song is Song to the Siren.
Okay. I get it. I’m listening. I’m heeding. After all, I owe it to her. And me.
John William Waterhouse-A Mermaid (1901)