Dear People of the World,
I want you to know my father, Dr. Beauregard Lee Bercaw, because he lived a Fairy Tale.
Not the Disney kind, though. More like one of those magical, unbelievable and tragic tales from Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grim. In fact, my dad read me those stories as if they were about us.
When Beau was pleased with me, he called me “ole sweet gal,” and when he wasn’t happy with me, I was an “old buzzard tail.”
But more than anything, I think he believed I was a mermaid. And as best as I can recall, here’s how the most memorable of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories shaped my life:
My father is reading The Little Mermaid to me. It is the fall of 1972. I am nearly 7.
“There dwell the Sea King and his subjects.”
I am sitting on his lap on a bamboo couch on the lanai of our Florida home. I have learned our address: 310 Harborview Lane. We live in a fishbowl—long sliding glass doors in every room facing the water. People who walk through our backyard can see us. At night, I use a flashlight to get to the bathroom instead of turning the lights on because I’m scared of who’s out there. Of course, I’m scared of who’s in here too.
The sun hasn’t set yet, and I look out at the inlet that runs through our neighborhood and into the Gulf of Mexico. The house is quiet. My mother is finishing the dishes. She never, ever leaves one plate dirty overnight. She is pregnant. The baby—and we don’t yet know the kind—is due soon.
My father keeps reading.
“They were six beautiful children; but the youngest was the prettiest of them all; her skin was as clear and delicate as a rose-leaf, and her eyes as blue as the deepest sea; but, like all the others, she had no feet, and her body ended in a fish’s tail.”
I know my dad is thinking of me, so I pull my legs together tightly, turn my feet out and pretend that I have a long beautiful tailfin. I imagine that I live with him, the Sea King, under the water. Safe from all the horrible things on land like Grandpa Berc’s Alzheimer’s Disease and family curses.
“Your tail will then disappear, and shrink up into what mankind calls legs, and you will feel great pain, as if a sword were passing through you.”
“Daddy, is that true?” I ask. “Is that really in the book or are you making that part up?”
“Gal, she has to give up her tail to love the prince and be human. There is a price for any kind of love.”
“Why would anyone want to become human?” I say. “Life on land is scary, right, Daddy?”
“Yes, but we must learn to be brave. That is the meaning of life.”
“The meaning of life is death?”
“No, life is for love in spite of death, Gal.”
Beau has Alzheimer’s Disease now, just like his father, and perhaps this mermaid will have it too one day. But until then, I’ll remember my father as the wise Sea King he’ll always be.