From below, you can’t see the spots on their beaks, red as drops of blood. You told me a long time ago that gull chicks were programmed to peck on those spots, to prompt their parents to feed them. You told me that baby gulls who pecked the red spots were more likely to survive than those who didn’t. It was a classic case of nature versus nurture. A scientist had won a Nobel Prize for his work on these red dots.
This morning I heard you saying this to me, in my head. And I held a single point of sail and I watched the gulls until I felt the sun beginning to burn my nose and cheeks. I had forgotten my hat. I forget these things, sometimes, now that you’re gone.
I never forget you.
Robbie, I was angry with you. So angry that, for days after you did it, I couldn’t unclench my teeth. I could hardly talk, let alone eat, and my jaw sent a fierce ache up the side of my head and down my neck to my shoulders. I was angry enough to welcome the pain because I thought somehow it would punish you.
I’m not angry any more. I’m empty.
I miss you. When I wake up I put my hand out and touch your uncreased pillow. A hundred times a day, a thousand, I turn to say something to you and you are not there. After all these years I had almost failed to notice any more how you made my life more solid, how I only truly knew things when I had shared them with you. Even small things, even the shape of a pebble or a spot on a gull. When I showed you, when we spoke of them, they became true and real and part of us.
And the large things we shared . . . there was so much we never spoke of, and perhaps that was a mistake, but we both knew those secrets. All we’d given up and lost, and all we’d found together. I saw the knowledge of them under your surface, like the currents under the ocean, stronger than any force on earth.
The days go on without you as you said they would, and the waves strike the shore and wear the rocks into sand. William has gone home, though he calls every Sunday, now, the way he never did when you were here. I have Adam and Shelley and the grandchildren, I have Tybalt and Rocco, I have everyone here in Clyde Bay. I have the ocean and the sky and the taste of salt and the view of sails from the shore, our house you built for us, the boat you built for me, all the memories of our life, well lived, together.
I have the letter you wrote to me. The words that you ended it with, before you walked across the yard and down into the sea away from me.
I love you. You’re my beginning and my ending, Emily, and every day in between.
You always used to say that you and I were free, if we were brave enough to take that freedom. I knew different. We were bound together, tangled up in exquisite complication.
But now, for the first time since I met you, I am free. Freedom was the last gift you gave to me.
And I would gladly give up that freedom, Robbie, to go back to the day we met and do it all again.