I write this now at a rate of fraying knots, my stream of memories, before they are dammed. Before they are run bone-dry by Alzheimer’s. So I can read these words one day, like you, for the very first time. Words I will not recognise as my own, encapsulating memories riding a rough sea, unmoored from their owner, floating free as flotsam. Fragments of memories. Battered by waves of separation from the isle of my mind.
My memory of her fades, even now, but I still see her: the outline of her face, those blue-washed eyes. Eyes like arctic waters but warm as the Gulf Stream that flowed to my heart. Though her face is blurred, the angles smoothed out by the distant sea, the perfect imperfections smeared away. I think I remember cutting-glass cheekbones, an archipelago of freckles on her forehead running down an aquiline nose. But maybe her porcelain skin was set upon a warm, rounded face. Maybe there was only a pair of beauty spots nestling under her left eye.
Or was that my mother, in her youth, in a sepia-toned and curling picture? Her stance proud, face beaming with an appetite for new life before she set off to another country. Another magical adventure. New memories to be stored away as pieces of gold in deep treasure chests, locked within the recesses of her young mind. My mother died some years before my wife, whose bones I buried beneath her favourite palm tree, but that picture surfaces in my bleeding mind. I see my reflection in the window, and it tells me my mother’s face was different. Like my own. I’m sure …
Haziness of the past threatens to drag my spirit down, to make my soul spume with aching anger. Roiling rage.
But I fight it.
I focus my mind on my love’s eyes again. Take breath from them. And know they will be the last to leave me. The first that will strike a chord as I read this again, a blank slate, an empty vessel, to be refilled with the joy of what she was. Who she was, to the world and to me. My anchor.
My heart will never forget, even if my mind does. She lives on as a pearl in the ebbing, breaker-disturbed shallows. The warmth of her soul shining through in everything she did: that was what mattered. The details matter less. The feeling she gave me, with each and every smile, the wrinkling of those beautiful eyes. That is what will forever live on in my heart.
I know now this is all I need to write of how she looked, how she was. Nothing more. Love is not memory. Love is something alive, an immutable force leaving an impression on the soul. She gave me that, and I gave it her.
My future self, I tell you now, this is all you need to know. The love you feel in every little thing, from one moment to the next: a baby’s smile to their doting parent, a child’s protective hug of their sibling, a young couple’s first kiss: that is her. The light within the darkness of lost memory, the barrier against a ceaseless tide; the warmth of a sunny beach after being lost at sea, not remembering your own story; the sensation of fine sand passing through your toes, cool water dampening them in the heat as you walk the beach. Her eyes as bright as the sky above a desert island, but never is the isle deserted as she is it, the land her gift, to moor you to her love. Her buried bones become part of the roots of the earth, the rocks of the shore where I, you, no we laid her to rest.
Her fortieth and last anniversary present sits on the bookshelf next to me, it’s sea-green cloth binding drawing my eye. A Jules Verne story I’ve loved since a child and read as many times as her heart, shining still-bright with each new reading …
A memory breaks the surface of my mind. I open my desk drawer and find the scrap of paper. Words written in my rushed hand but taken from the book. To provide comfort in the darkest of times, to remind me of her:
The sea is everything …
It is only movement and love; it is the living infinite.
The window wide open, I hear her voice on the sea breeze, her breathing on the ceaseless tide, calming me.
I no longer worry if I’m lost at sea. As I know she – Love – will always find me, bring me back ashore. Protect me from the storms to come.