Dear reader, whoever you may be, by the time this missive reaches your hands, I will surely have completed the twenty-fifth year of my residence upon this now-lonely isle, round which on this particular day the sea swells and rages, its green, glassy waves heaving themselves in booming thunderclaps upon the shore, as if to impress upon me again and again and again the vastness of the gulf that lies between this solitary existence of mine and the converse, company, and comfort of people who are dearer to me than my own life.
It was not always thus. For look here in the sand that lies beyond the reach of the highest tide, and you will see the print of a child’s naked foot. Toes, heel, and, well, every part of a foot. How it came hither you can certainly guess. As I look upon it now, I can hardly describe to you how varied are the shapes and colors in which my mind returns the past to me, how vivid are the memories that swell my aching heart, and what strange, unaccountable whimsies come into my thoughts.
Even memories of the trials and tribulations, minor and major. Even those.
That long-ago evening, for example, when I waltzed across the floor of the maritime forest for what seemed like hours, a wailing infant in my arms. This child? Our preternaturally imperturbable son, the boy-who-never-weeps, now inconsolable? Utterly confounding, utterly wonderful. That morning, too, that witnessed our careening at top speed, the four of us, along the narrow path through the trees to reach the safety of our simple abode, desperate as we were to staunch the flow of blood seeping from a triangular hole in the formerly flawless forehead of our younger son.
I have a mental image of one of the boys when he was not quite four years old. I see him standing amid the spiky grass that bristles along the backs of the massive dunes that lie, like beached leviathans, between this craggy island’s forest and its shoreline. Furnishing a backdrop for his face and shoulders was the massy crown of one intrepid tree, which made bold at that time to stand apart from its companions at the very base of these insatiable dunes. My son was looking directly at me and holding up his left hand, fingers spread, thumb turned inward. To shade his eyes, I suppose, for I can still see the sunlight, how it draped itself over his head and shoulders. Yes, shading his eyes, in all likelihood, but even so, it looked also as though he were waving at me, and perhaps he was.
He was smiling, too, just a bit, on that happy day. In fact, he smiles and waves at me every time I consult my memory. Sometimes I imagine it to be a kindly gesture of farewell, a portent of those cursed days, now come and gone, when first one and then the other would depart this island home of theirs, their sails filling with the wind, their own steady hands on the tiller, glancing one last time over the shoulder before setting course for adventures in distant lands.
At other times, though, when I am remembering the endless sameness and infinite variety of our lives together; the dew and the birdsong that lifted our hearts at the start of each day; the stillness of the mid-afternoons, so still that the sound of our heartbeats was like the thrumming of a great engine; the jet and whorl of the wheeling constellations, high above the nighttime forest’s black skein of interlaced branches … when those are the memories that fill my mind, I succeed in transforming that imagined farewell into a blessing, a benediction.
And so I say to you, dear reader, that I continue on, a survivor, here on our remote island. Each day, the sun will course across the sky. Mist will rise in wisps from the deep forest. The ceaseless breeze will lift the white foam from the tops of the waves, and it will go scudding over the golden sand, as it has done for time out of mind, diminishing as it does so until it finally passes away.
Beautiful, all of it, and it makes me smile.