Behind the Glass
Mermaid, Anima, Goddess
The mermaid archetype strongly represents the divide between conscious and unconscious being and reality, and reflects a composite of male and female energies.
I look behind the glass divide that defines me, and I reach for gold threads like the ones that are found in starlight and dreams, the ones with the magic to complete me. I can’t tell you why I have come here again, or why I am inescapably linked to this place. I am only one among hundreds of people gathering here to see the mermaid that has been brought into the mall aquarium.
It is no surprise that the world has managed to justify the unconscionable motives that keep this mermaid in confinement, bottled and stored, for the empty pleasure of those watching carelessly as she withers in captivity. It would be understandable, of course, if the mermaid were to think of herself as a fish. The possibility does exist that a creature identity is her whole identity, and that she is content to be viewed like nature itself, like a twinkling star, or a blossoming tree. That’s not how she appears to me. At times, she winces and frowns and swims in spirals. No one else seems to be concerned about what she is thinking or feeling. After all, she is well fed. She has trinkets and baubles to keep her occupied, a wooden treasure chest with jewels that appear real, combs, a magnifying glass, and a gold leafed mirror that she seems to enjoy, shells and fish, and even the novelty of spectator strangers to divert her. I’m sure that I detect a forlorn look on the mermaid’s face. With all of the baubles she has in her possession, none of them seem to have any lasting appeal. She casts them aside and swims around the huge glass tank avoiding the curious crowd. I can do little more than to describe her from the outside looking in. What secret is she keeping? Has she left loved ones behind?
She is beyond ordinary perceptions of beauty, a sea goddess. Yet, she is ordinarily
beautiful, her sturdy arms, the smooth valley that forms at her waist, her graceful hands, and her long, water weaved hair. Her face is charming, original, and delightful. Her peach lips curve upward in half smiles, showing glimpses of her pearl white teeth. Her emerald green eyes glitter as though the sea had planted them there and tended them with sparkling fingers.
Of course, it is her magnificent tail that sets her apart and creates her rarity. The shiny silver streams lacing through her tail are extraordinary. Her tail appears at times green, but it waves in prismatic poetry with brilliant hues of orange, turquoise and deep sea blue. It is her tail that tells her story, after all. Such a tail would have the strength to move her through churning ocean waves with the speed of a Tartan ship propelling her toward her destination, or twirl her into the play of porpoises. So confined, her tail moves in flips and flutters with the array of a flirtatious fan. She is held to the same negotiations that accompany hoops and layers of petticoats, pointed heels, and wafer thin physiques when survival is at stake.
She is lovely, breathtaking! Everyone in the crowd seems to be humming with the same excitement, admiring each shimmering note played upon her body. I can’t take my eyes off of her. I want to witness each and every movement. And I can’t stop myself from wanting to see behind each bodily expression hoping to share her thoughts and her emotions, which I can only imagine to be remarkable.
After deliberating for a moment, I approach the glass and gently stoke my fingers across it. I move my forefinger in a half circle that would, from my position, create a rainbow or an arc above her head. I begin drawing an image on the glass with my finger, a smiley face, continuing to attract her attention. I cup my hands on the glass and put my face in between my hands as if peering at her through a porthole. Surely she has seen these childish gestures before, but it is working, and she looks in my direction.
She glances away, momentarily, but she begins to show interest in me. Could it be more than wonder or curiosity? Is it possible that she sees some part of herself in me? I too, am becoming an oddity. I act creatively to produce a kind of language through the glass. I want to make myself understood. I want to understand her.
I stand near a podium with a small story written about her. I have read it many times. She has a name, although I’m not comfortable thinking of her by her name. It doesn’t seem to match my own interpretation of her. The name that they have chosen for her is “Tony,” a name like Lucy or Betty, pretty but commonly used. Her name fits like fashionable but expressionless clothing while her exceptional appearance tells a very different story. I see her as one who would have made many fluid and uncommon choices in the course of her unusual life.
According to the story, she was captured by a Portuguese fisherman named, Joseph
Medeiros, somewhere off the shores of Portugal near the Azorean Islands. They believe that she traveled the European waterways freely and could have been caught in any of her migratory European locations like Spain, France, or the English Isles. Still, they consider her to be a Portuguese mermaid. It is likely to be the truth since her warm brown skin tone and dark wavy hair are common physical traits in the area of the Iberian Peninsula.
I have come to recognize the fleshy fixtures in this place. Other than myself and the mermaid behind the glass, there is a gentleman sitting at a cafe table beside the aquarium on nearly every occasion that I have had to be here. He has brilliant eyes, brown, I think. He often looks at me when he is not studying the mermaid.
He appears comfortable as he sits close to the glass reading or doing other work. It looks like he is writing something, maybe a story with sketches. He has a familiar look about him. He looks like a writer or maybe a scientist like Carl Jung, austere in a way, but kindly and distinguished. From my position, I like him. He seems more like me than the other viewers, not so “popcorn and candy” in the way he approaches this exhibit. He is probably as spellbound as I am, but I believe that he is comforted just sitting beside her in the aquarium like a man enjoying the simple pleasures of home.
I am overwhelmed and preoccupied with thoughts of her not only here at the aquarium, but when I leave here as well. It has become difficult for me to draw the line between my feelings for her and my own feelings. It’s possible that the mermaid is a reflection of some buried self within me, a strange and surfacing archetype. She may be one of a “collection” of archetypes existing within my psyche quietly empowered to influence my thoughts and my relationships. For some indefinable reason, I suspect that the gentleman at the café table is experiencing similar feelings.
The gentleman is leaving, and a small stack of papers has slipped out of his notebook. They have fallen silently behind him. He walks away while the papers lie in a stack on the ground as he leaves. I will retrieve the papers and return them to him tomorrow. I hesitate to appear conspicuous and cross the distance to pick them up. I feel out of place, but I have managed to get the papers. And I begin to read them just the same.
These are notes. Maybe he is a professor. It is clear that he is studying her. He may be making notes in order to write a dissertation on mermaids in captivity. It all seems so shallow with the same novelty and the same unidentifiable sadness that accompanies animals performing in a circus. He’s artistic. He draws pictures and writes verses, just as I imagined. In this one he describes the mermaid.
He’s objectifying her. I can tell by his notes. She appears as inanimate as a piano, humming at the touch of his fingers. He makes a fairy tale out of her. Doesn’t he see anything wrong with robbing her of her appendages, her reach into the world? So entombed in her feminine body, she might as well be cut in half! Her predicament simply exists as it is, without question. A struggle to change appears useless, unless she becomes “disenchanted” by the happenstance of a fairy tale ending. He doesn’t seem to choose the same limiting thoughts for himself. I’ll write a verse and return it to him with his papers the next time I see him.
I am aware of myself standing awkwardly still in the crowd, reading and consuming the contents of his papers, his sketches, his poetry, and his notes. I am too easily slipping into his dialogues and monodies as though they are my own. His heart is full, but his perceptions are hindered, in many ways defined and influenced by the pervasive patriarchy and the fish oil cultural prescriptions that are so often applied to womanhood. Still, I like to read his poetry.
He is talking about me in this one, I know he is. He has seen me many times at the
aquarium. According to him, I am not seeing clearly, unable to detect the truth. I am doomed, “lost” in my own stubborn attachment to an outcome that does not exist. It is as if I am the one out of place here. I am deceiving myself, choosing to believe that my concerns are uniquely for the captive creature behind the glass. I have misplaced my feelings, and I leave myself helpless, without “wings,” as I focus away.
What about the mermaid? What about her predicament? He seems to be saying that she was designed for such a fate, for these hapless circumstances. His poetry “serenades” on the same squeaky ground of entitlement and superiority typical of male hierarchies. Nonetheless, his poetry has presented me with a challenge. I feel as though I must respond to him, even if he learns that I have read his notes. I will leave this poem with him when I return the papers.
It is just as I assumed. The gentleman has arrived at the mall aquarium and has seated himself at the same café table. He is easy to predict. He has found the notes that I have returned to him. My poem is confidently, insistently on top and he is reading it. He sees me now and he continues to watch me through the crowd. I watch him, too, as he parleys with thoughts that concern me. I have required him to think of me in regard to my choices, asking him to leave the dull comfort of insulation that one finds in conjecture and personal bias. I have added a dimension of myself, one that does not agree with him on various accounts. He will integrate his thoughts with my thoughts and shuffle the abstractions that result from our differences. We will share the positive outcome through authentic interaction.
The gentleman has sent me a smile, and it appears to be a warm and genuine smile. I believe that he has joined with me and considers me, reading the poem again as if to clarify a point or discover something that he may have missed. I’m encouraged to feel that he welcomes me, though I am separate, though I remain a part of him. He is rubbing his chin. Perhaps our exchange will lead him to a greater understanding of himself, of me, and the mermaid behind the glass.
“That’s it for me,” Laurie said while turning off the reading lamp on the table beside her. “I’m ready for bed,” Laurie spoke to Joel as she set her half-read book down on the sofa in the sitting room where she and Joel were spending a quiet evening alone together.
Joel sat up with renewed awareness of Laurie’s presence in the room startled to hear Laurie speaking to him.
“You look comfy tonight, Joel. You must have been thinking about something. You’ve
been holding on to that water glass for awhile. Here, let me take it for you,” said Laurie as she reached across Joel with her rose brown hand.