Do you believe in fairy tales?
Stories have been my friends quite literally all my life. I made shapes out of clouds and imagined elaborate stories out of them.
I remember being captivated by the story of Rapunzel when I was very young, and Cinderella too. Rapunzel, though, was captivating because of the human nature of the story: a poor peasant trying to please his pregnant wife by stealing some rhubarb, a childless, witch who just wanted a daughter, a creative young girl trapped inside a castle, alone, but with a special gift, that of song, and how that special gift ultimately bought her freedom (and a prince, it got her that, too) tugged at my heart strings. No matter how many times I heard it, it never got old.
Bible stories were vivid and real to me. I loved David because he wasn’t afraid to feel strongly; his love of music inspired amazing, powerful worship. It also bought him such comfort he danced naked. His courage was legendary but his felling of the giant isn’t what makes him great. What makes him my favorite of the Bible characters was his fierce devotion to God and his love of music. I understand him.
Even before I started writing my own, the edges of my life were sewn with stories. I’ve never questioned or doubted the power of stories. They have made me laugh when nothing else could. Imaginary characters, both of my own creation and those I read about, have inspired me to try harder and to believe in the good things. Claudia, Stacey and the rest of The Baby-Sitters Club group were real to me and I quite cared about them.
Then came legendary stories that made me believe in love and in men. Almost Heaven by Judith McNaught with Ian Thornton and Elizabeth Cameron has been re-read so many times the book is falling apart. I have it memorized. Yet, when I am aching, I still re-read it. And Ian, with his icy cynicism that can turn to heart-stopping tenderness within two lines makes me want to believe men like him exist. His reluctantly offered, hard earned admiration makes me smile every time. And this exchange:
Elizabeth: “In love?? I simply cannot. A gently reared English woman does not feel anything stronger than gentle affection.”
Ian: “I’m a Scot. We do.”
made me swear to incorporate some of the passionate pieces of the Scottish wedding vows into my own someday.
Because I would, of course, find “love”, get married and live happily ever after with a bushel of kids and maybe a couple of half wild horses roaming in the pasture.
Do you believe in fairy tales?
Twenty years ago, I’d have unflinching said of course, yes. Ten years ago, I’d have said I have felt it before, so, yes. Five years ago, I’d have said, I believe in love; is that what you’re asking? Today’s answer: Fairy tales are stories and I do believe in stories.
Over the last few days, I’ve re-read some of my favorite books. The Little Prince, Almost Heaven and one by Elizabeth Lowell that I haven’t read in ages. In one of the books, the rich female protagonist doesn’t believe she is loveable– she doesn’t live up to her model-like sisters and she’s only good at riding horses. Compliments from men make her angry because she thinks it’s a cleverly disguised form of patronizing, a means to an end. So, whenever faced with the idea of a date, she uses her extensive wealth to dress to intimidate, to be “untouchable.” In other words, she shields herself in so that no one can get near.
I don’t have wealth but I do have the same walls, subconsciously ensuring no one is allowed to ever get close enough again to matter. Compliments are hard for me to believe and, even though I don’t want to see them as a means to an end, saying that thought hasn’t ever crossed my mind would be a lie.
When you legitimately cannot recall the last time someone called you beautiful, directly, and in such a way as to make me believe it, it’s easy to feel pretty plain. But that is tolerable. What’s harder still is knowing that your absence is preferred. Again, I could handle that. Being alone is frankly ingrained by now into who I am; I no longer even think about not being alone. Ocassionally, once every blue moon, I’ll check a random dating site to see if any messages have materialized in the in- boxes (almost never, have they, and, when they have, they are loaded with such blatant flattery that I instantly feel weary as I delete them) but mainly this is because of a nagging guilt I feel for not being able to give my daughters something I know they want. Being alone doesn’t scare me.
It doesn’t scare me, but the idea of being forgettable does. Frankly, that fear is probably a big reason I write. Over the last year or so, I’ve pretty systematically alienated myself, small pieces at a time. First, eliminating any time spent playing a silly game on my phone because I should not be playing, not when time is so fleeting. Then all but deleting the social media account (which I can’t do, as I use it to communicate with my mother and sister).
It’s what led me to writing more and also to rereading silly romance books that are fairy tales. Fairy tales with happy endings (let’s not ask if I believe in those).
Tonight, I reread Almost Heaven and cried when Ian said, “I’m a Scot. We do.” When he chased Elizabeth back to London to fix what he had destroyed for her, my heart turned over.
And I remembered people I haven’t thought of in a long time, people like the high school football star who shared a class with me. We walked in polar opposite circles, and didn’t really know each other. But the day I was alone outside school, waiting for my mother to pick me up, with some less than stellar guys also hanging outside, this football star waited with me until my mother arrived before leaving.
A few idyllic dates far more heart turning than anything Judith McNaught wrote. Then, a year or so later, picking up the pieces, laying on a blanket in a park watching a Shakespeare play with a man I wanted to believe in. In the end, though, happily ever after was a fairy tale, invisible and just out of reach.
Do you believe in fairy tales?
The thing is… even though the idyllic dates faded to a heartbreak that took years to heal and the trust given to the Shakespeare play was misplaced and the football star never knew how thankful I was that day for his protective presence… I wouldn’t trade any of them for anything in the world.
What I was given outpaced what I offered. These memories made me believe in the Ian Thorntons and Clayton Westmorelands (also Judith McNaught, also memorized; seriously, the woman is a master storyteller). See, while I read classic literature like Faulkner (A Rose for Emily left me haunted; As I Lay Dying, masterpiece), To Kill a Mockingbird, the Little Prince,War and Peace, etc I used to read these predictable romance books too because they kept me believing in good men.
The last three or four days has been the first time in a really long time that I have indulged in these books.
Fairy tales have no place in my life except as it relates to making sure my girls believe in it. When your life narrows and fear gives way to a numbing chill, when you think that giving your all, when you think caring past the point of crazy, isn’t enough…The only thing left is acceptance.
Well… And stories.
For me, memories become stories. If I knew you, If you gave my heart a renewed hope in something beyond survival, chances are extraordinarily good that, somewhere, you are in a story. Because that’s all I’ve ever really been good at, all I’ve ever really had to offer. And also because, since they started as memories (which really happened), these stories encourage me to believe in the unknown, to seek the rainbow and to make shapes out of clouds. Stories then help me live expecting something positive and uplifting even when I have no reason to believe at all.
Do you believe in fairy tales.
Fairy tales are stories. Stories help give breath to my dreams, the innermost secret hopes, that I otherwise would never share. And that gives me hope. And that hope gives me reserves of strengths and joy that directly influences how I treat my daughters. It’s that hope that urges me on, challenges me , motivates and encourages me. It inspires me to live lime a Scot: passionately, regardless of circumstance. Fairy tales aren’t really about romance. Fairy tales are really about the indefatigable human spirit that rises after every stumble. Fairy tales are really about recognizing each day as a gift, regardless of whether it feels like such. Fairy tales are about using the gifts of creativity and imagination to combat fear, loneliness or self doubt. And, through all that, fairy tales give us perfect days and memories that lead us to believe in the impossible.