When I was seven, Disney’s The Little Mermaid was in the theaters. My sister was in the hospital (she had cystic fibrosis), and I was staying with relatives. I would have to wait until my sister was home before seeing the movie. My grandmother gave me a beautifully illustrated edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s version of the story, and I read it cover-to-cover several times over.
One particular exchange between the sea witch and the mermaid stuck with me:
You can? How? I couldn’t imagine that kind of pain, and if that were the price to walk on land and maybe have a prince fall in love with you, then I would look for love elsewhere.
Seven-year-old me was just as romantic as adult me.
Eighteen years later, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Some of my first symptoms were pins and needles in my feet. Those pins became knives. While there was no external stimulus, that phantom pain is just as real to my brain as any pain. But because it was constant, because I knew I was not being stabbed, I learned how to tune it out. I only felt it if I thought about it.
So, I didn’t think about it.
The knives weren’t real for the mermaid, either. I guess she learned how to tune it out. I wonder how she knew she could before she was faced with the necessity. Maybe her teenage brain thought there could be no worse pain than the longing she felt for her prince.
I longed to live my life.