Of wind and mermaids
Like many folks (especially children of the ’90s), my obsession with mermaids started early. And we have Ariel to thank.
Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” had a strong hold over my young imagination; I can still recite scenes by heart. My 5-year-old self loved the movie so much that my parents could also give rousing musical performances and act out various parts — much like Spencer and I do now with “The Muppets,” our son’s best friends.
My screenings of “The Little Mermaid” were such a constant that my dad, likely about to snap if he had to hear “Part Of Your World” again, would insist we needed to let the VHS tape “cool off” before rewinding it for a third or fourth time. And we probably did.
That was the original binge-watching, back when my sister and I had nothing but time and a steady supply of barrel-shaped sugary drinks. With her vibrant hair, cool collections and handsome boyfriend, Ariel was everything. Katie and I sat for hours belting out “Under the Sea,” imagining ourselves puckering up to Prince Eric on a dinghy and living happily ever after. Under a rainbow, of course.
Ironically, my sister did marry a tall, dark-haired man named Eric. Coincidence? I think . . . well, yes, it was totally a coincidence. But let’s not ruin the fun.
As an adult, I usually feel more like angry Ursula than curious Ariel. I’m also a forward-thinking woman who can question the standards of feminism and beauty women are presented virtually from birth. How about a doctor princess, Disney? What about that? But anyway. Mermaids! I met Tuesday with Angela Mitchell, the Chesapeake Mermaid, for an upcoming feature in Chesapeake 360. The days I’m excited to ride down to Solomons are, inevitably, the crummiest ones of all; it’s like nature knows I’m finally getting out from under fluorescent lighting, so it channels an arctic wind to keep me in check.
And that wind? It was fierce. Frightening. If you’re like me, you missed some sleep this week wondering if you’d wake to a pine tree coming through your bedroom window. Even my unflappable husband was a little freaked out, which made it worse. If Spencer is nervous, you’d better break out the emergency rations.
By Tuesday, the winds had settled to occasional gusts that rattled my car as I cruised closer to the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge. The span scares me on a normal day, being narrow and high and a bridge and all, but on a windy day? Well.
I considered an alternate route. I considered asking Angela to meet me on stable ground in Lexington Park. I considered parking my car, breathing into a paper bag and hitchhiking home.
But in the end? I’m a professional. And I didn’t want to keep the mermaid waiting.
At its height, the bridge rises to 140 feet and spans 1.37 miles over the Patuxent River (you know I couldn’t help Googling). I spent about 99.9 percent of that ride fighting off a panic attack, silencing my radio and staring straight ahead. Like anytime I’m nervous, I coached myself through it.
“You can do this. You’re OK. You can do this. You’re OK . . .”
The wind was beating against my windows, whistling as I crept toward Solomons. At the apex, the ground looks far, far, far away — which is when I always get a tingly-feet sensation akin to falling. It happens anytime I’m off the ground, whether on the first step of a ladder or 103 floors up in Chicago’s Willis Tower. On a glass balcony. Like a crazy person.
Nothing but a slice of pie will do after that.
But I was fine, of course. Within minutes I was back on terra firma with Angela. We sat like conventional humans for an hour, talking about work and life and plans, but you know what I was after. I was desperate to see the fin. Angela took me down by the boardwalk, lifting the hatch of her vehicle to unveil one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen. It was spectacular, shimmery and gorgeous in the sunlight: a true mermaid’s tail. We took photos on the boardwalk with that cold wind keeping spectators away. And Ariel too, it seems. I still checked the water . . . you know, just in case.