My darling Tempest,
I was just in your room, making your bed, looking at all your little-girl things, breathing in the soft, sweet scent of you, and wondering how I am ever going to live the next part of my life without you. I know that you know my secret, but I don’t think you truly understand what it means. Every day that I stay on land, I look at the sea and pine for the life I used to have. But when I am in the water, I look at land and pine for you. For you, and my sons and my husband.
I thought, when I married your father, when I had you and your brothers, when I chose land, that this longing would go away. That if it didn’t recede completely, it would at least be bearable.
But there is nothing bearable about the pain I feel, as if I’ve been wrenched into so many pieces I can never be put together again—at least not here, on the shore. I tell you this not because I want your understanding, as I know that will be hard to come by, but because soon you too will have to make such a choice.
Already you have special gifts—your affinity for the water and your ability, even now, to stay strong where others would give in—and there will come a time when you will be graced with so many more. Things are complicated now, more complicated than I had ever imagined they would be. There is so much I want to tell you, and so much that I can’t. So I must settle for this.
When that time comes, when the totality of your gifts makes itself known—sometime after your seventeenth birthday—you will begin to change. And you will have three months to make a choice: to stay with what you know or to become like me, for you cannot be both. When that time comes, when you begin the change, you will crave the ocean unconditionally, and I’m sure you will be frightened and confused. Though things are complicated in relationships between mermaids and humans, if it is at all possible, I will come back to you. I will help you, though I know that you can handle whatever you are faced with.
Please know that whether you choose my way or your father’s, I will love you forever. This is not good-bye, only farewell for now.
I love you,
“Eternity begins and ends with the ocean’s tides.”
I was ten the first time I saw her. I remember this clearly, because my mother left exactly two weeks later—on my eleventh birthday.
We were in Hawaii at a surfing competition—this was back when my father still competed professionally—and it was late, late enough that the moon hung over the sky like a huge, tempting scoop of French vanilla ice cream. Its glow was more than my preadolescent heart could resist, and I slipped into my bathing suit and out the door the second the babysitter got distracted with my younger brothers.
I suppose any reasonable explanation of that night would have to begin with the fact that I’m a water baby. I was born into water, literally, back when that was the hip new thing to do. A bunch of doctors said it reduced trauma for the baby—being born into warm water, so like the womb—and it must have worked. Because, while I obviously don’t remember it, my dad says I didn’t even cry. I just slid into the water like it was home. In many ways, it still is—despite what happened to me all those years ago.
After sneaking out of the house my parents had rented on a fairly obscure stretch of Kauai, I went down to the ocean. They were at a big party celebrating yet another of my father’s wins, and the three of us kids were too much of a handful for the fairly incompetent babysitter the service had sent over. She didn’t even know I was missing until my parents got home and asked about me. But I don’t blame her—in the end, it was no more her fault than it was mine.
Though I had spent my life in and out of the water—our house back home was less than a hundred yards from the ocean—my parents had one ironclad rule: under no circumstances was I to go in alone. Under no circumstances was I to even think about going in alone. The Pacific was brutal in its beauty, my dad told me again and again. Brutal and completely narcissistic.
I had always listened before that October evening, had never considered disobeying him. But that night, something called to me. Staying inside was an agony, staying dry even more so. I needed to be surrounded by the power and the passion of the water that was so much a part of me, even then.
I hadn’t planned on going deep, had hoped that wading out to my knees would silence the insidious whisper, the crazy voice in my head. But it didn’t, and soon I was up to my shoulder blades. The water was relatively warm despite the fact that it was fall, but I remember being cold.
So cold that my teeth chattered.
So cold that I shivered until my bones rattled against one another.
I remember this because it was so odd. Before that night, the water had always warmed me.
But I didn’t leave, didn’t go back inside as a normal person would have. I couldn’t. At the time I didn’t know what I was waiting for. I knew only that there was a compulsion inside of me that wouldn’t let me move. A compulsion that kept me standing there, a gift-wrapped human sacrifice, as the water lapped and swirled around me.
Strangely, I wasn’t afraid or excited or any of the other emotions a ten-year-old girl might be expected to feel in those moments. It was odd, but I felt … numb. Like there was something I knew I should be doing, but the thought of it—the safety of it—was just out of reach.
Finally, when the whisper had become a shout inside my head, when my body trembled with a surge of energy so powerful it lit me up from the inside and made me feel like I was glowing, I saw her. She was dark and oddly beautiful and swam like a mermaid—like my mother—her body cutting through the sea as a scalpel does through flesh.
She circled me like a predator would, her body sliding closer and closer to mine with each lap she took. I tried to look away, to back myself up to shallower water, but I couldn’t move. Though I could not describe the specific details of her to you now, in that moment, everything about her was hypnotic and I was spellbound.
Around me, the ocean thrashed and rolled. A wall of water built straight up in front of me—higher than the two-story house we were renting, higher even than the cliffs that surrounded our secluded little inlet. Higher than any wave I had ever seen before.
The wind picked up and the wave began to circle around me as she did, a cyclone of wind and water, power and pressure, with me directly in its eye. And then she was there with me, her voice a sibilant hiss in my ear, her fingers long, translucent talons that clutched at my suit and my soul.
“Give yourself to the water.” The words echoed inside of me. “Give yourself to me. Embrace the power.”
A part of me was still aware enough to understand that this was dangerous—that she was dangerous. But I couldn’t listen to that part, could barely acknowledge it when my entire body yearned toward what she promised me.
In those moments I could feel the power inside of me, feel it welling up until its immensity was all that I knew. All that I wanted.
The shudders subsided and in their place was a heat, a purpose so strong that it overshadowed everything else.
I was meant for this. Meant for her. Together we could accomplish unimaginable feats. I reached a hand out toward her—
“Tempest! Tempest, no!” My mother’s voice came from outside the hurricane of water, so faint that I never would have heard it if it hadn’t burrowed deep inside me.