Once upon a time, a beautiful princess lived with a king who could transform into a fearsome dragon and a queen who appeared solid by day but turned spectral by night.
As the dragon king set fire to curtains, entire rooms, and everything that dared to defy his iron will, the queen wandered her lonely halls, forever seeking the king who had arrived on a white horse to ask her father for her hand in marriage–the king with whom she had fallen in love.
Occasionally, she shielded the beautiful princess or her son, the strong prince, from the scorching heat of the dragon king’s poisonous flames. The princess and prince felt terribly guilty for leaving their mother while she begged and bargained and cajoled the dragon king, pleading for his mercy upon their children. Sometimes, he relented. Other times left the prince and the princess locked in their respective rooms, terrified and painfully alone as they covered their heads with pillows to drown out the loud crashes and deadly roars that filtered through the castle, reverberating off of the walls and amplifying the dragon king’s rage to terrible heights.
The princess could never understand the depths of the dragon king’s fury, and her mind folded in on itself to create labyrinths of fantasies, often dreams of faraway lands with handsome princes who never turned into dragon kings, because they would save her and take her to a place she would immediately know as “home” even if it wasn’t a castle. She would become a troll and live under a bridge before she would ever stay forever trapped in this gilded cage.
Oftentimes the princess wondered what had changed the king into a dragon, whether a magic spell or a bad potato or something she had yet to understand. Did all kings become dragons? Was the queen searching the castle for something that would break the spell so she could be reunited with the man she loved? The princess asked the queen why she had searched so long up and down the castle halls, and what exactly she had been searching for.
“The king,” the queen replied, looking up from her needlepoint.
A fierce bellowing voice sounded from elsewhere in the castle. The shadows stretched into steeples along the floor as the sun sank below the horizon, and it was clear that the dragon king had transformed.
“But he’s right there,” she said, her brows furrowed in confusion.
“That isn’t the king,” the queen corrected gently, for she still believed the dragon king and the king she’d fallen in love with to be two separate forms.
“Why is he always so mad?” the princess asked, for the dragon king and the king looked no different in her eyes.
“He has a castle and no mighty hoard to fill it,” the queen responded, as if this explained everything. Most of the time, the queen showed a quiet strength that rarely manifested from under the docile, pleasant demeanor that propped up the corners of her lips each day as though on stilts that were a shade too tall.
The queen dropped her meek illusion only when the dragon king’s flame curled in sharp tendrils around the princess and prince’s bare little feet when they ran across the castle as children do. When his flames contaminated their flesh so that all his children could feel were swords that sliced with white hot fire on the soles of their feet wherever they walked, he asked if they’d learned their lesson.
For her part, the princess certainly had. Playing tag with the young prince had only ended in pain–much like many interactions she’d had with the dragon king–so it seemed clear that he was to be avoided, for any attempt at connection or solidarity with him only ended miserably.
Yet the more the queen protested, the more ferociously the dragon king raged. On one cloudy day, the princess met great misfortune when she happened to be in the line of fire between the king and the queen, failing to dodge the vitriol spewing from his cavernous jaws in a torrent of fury. The princess’s beautiful face melted like she had just bobbed for apples in a vat full of acid, revealing the slick muscle and sinew beneath, and the agony she felt as she lay screaming seemed only to intensify when the dragon king banished her to her room for failing to forgive him when he told her that she was still beautiful.
Regardless of the princess’s feelings, once she was out of sight, the dragon king felt satisfied, power-drunk on the wine that he and the queen guzzled by the barrel each night, which never seemed to run empty even as the dragon king’s fields went barren and grapes died on the vine. The wine had an astonishing effect–with each glass, the queen grew more weak, complacent, and cold; she hated how it affected her, but after years of isolation she no longer felt that she had the right or the resources–nor the family or friends–to abscond from the castle with her children unscathed. She tried desperately to soothe and placate her terrified children as the dragon king grew portly and more cruel.
The princess’s face had finally started to heal and smooth over charred bits of flesh, but it seemed harder than the face she’d had before. Thinner. Thin to the point where no matter how her face moved its muscles or froze them, the muscle fibers lay practically translucent beneath, and her expression was never meek enough. No matter how much life and joy she bled from her “tone” with leeches that remained to feast on her trachea long after her swift departure from childhood, it was never flat enough.
The princess, who loved to read, met friends within the pages of her precious books; the only children she ever saw in the castle vanished in a puff of stale smoke when they caught her running after them, her throat hoarse from begging desperately to play as her brittle, raw face peeled into forgotten flakes of skin that would one day blanket her entire bedroom. If she ever caught them, she had no idea what to do with them, so as she had seen done countless times before, she used and discarded them like broken dolls.
Of course, they didn’t come back, but the princess didn’t know why. Hadn’t she been a good sport? Hadn’t she let them play with her brand-new toys?
It was around this time that her shadow detached itself to become a malicious, ghostly figure with lank hair and a permanent smirk of mischief; its owner was weak and positively reeked of self-loathing and fear, which it feasted on at every opportunity in the corner of the princess’s vision before her head whipped around to find nothing there.
The dragon king, in his wisdom (meaning, after his dukes had conspired to force his abdication), decided that it was time to leave the barren fields and broken dreams behind for greener pastures. While they packed up their belongings, the princess skirted the castle’s perimeter to avoid her malignant specter and noticed vast lines of cemetery plots along the sides of the castle that she’d never seen before. Her tired, tattered fingers traced the letters on the headstones, and there she found the names of the children she’d frantically run after in hopes of being their friend.
It wasn’t until then that she realized her new face had betrayed her to keep her safe the way the dragon king hadn’t and never could, closing her eyelids to the blazing flames that devoured her would-be friends, opening when only wisps of smoke remained, and looking past the ashes scattered across the floor. The dragon king, who left to wreak devastation elsewhere in the castle, didn’t spare a glance back as the princess sifted through the ashes and wondered if this was what it meant to have friends.
After all, she hadn’t had any that weren’t lining the shelves of her library, and from those pages spilled timeless tales of eternal friendship and true love–but none of the illustrations she found had a face like hers, cracked and scaled more each time the dragon king’s fierce flames consumed each brittle face that replaced the one before, and when they began to break too easily, the queen surreptitiously showed her the wardrobe of faces she used to hide from the dragon king–maids, crones, peasants, and her personal favorite: broken mirrors.
“But how do they survive the fire?” the princess asked the queen, reaching out to skim her fingers along the smooth glass.
“They don’t,” the queen replied simply. “That’s why he likes them the most. They’re enchanted to show him a false self, and when he tires of each one, I commission another before it’s too late.”
“Too late for what?” the princess wondered aloud, but the queen said nothing further on the matter, and the shadows in the corner grew darker and longer.
The new castle made no difference. Eager to escape the dragon king’s wrath, the princess would often blame her transgressions on the young prince, stuffing her ears to block the shrill screams and sobs that echoed down the expansive halls.
She was too afraid to find and comfort him, but her left hand said it knew the way, so she chopped it off and bit into her pillows to muffle her own shrieks. Into the roaring fireplace it went, and she trembled on the floor of her room and felt like a coward.
Her right hand told her to pick up a sword and vanquish the dragon king, so off it went to join its twin in the fire. After they’d roasted to ashes, she carefully gathered their remains with what was left of her bleeding stubs and piled them in an enchanted cabinet that restored whatever was hidden within it–but at a very steep price.
Having no allowance of her own, the princess stole one of the broken mirror faces from the queen’s wardrobe and offered it as payment. The cabinet accepted it gladly, and she now had both of her hands back, so everything was all better now. Surely the queen wouldn’t notice that one face had gone missing.
Over time, the dragon king’s powers only grew in proportion to his rage. Each time he demanded to know what was “wrong with her” when she dropped and shattered a glass or spilled milk on the floor, the sharp sting of an invisible slap met her face, even if the king was nowhere near her.
After years of reading books and faces, she pondered the question and thought perhaps it was a riddle. Maybe the pain would stop and the dragon king would vanish in a blaze of glory if she could only fit the right words into the right order, so she set to work on lists of permutations, crossing off each one when the words had no effect on the dragon king and posting it to her bedroom wall to remind her of the failure until her walls were covered in stacks of hastily scribbled-on pages.
As she wrote each word on each page, many hundreds of possibilities presenting themselves as new words joined the fray, each word sliced into the flesh over her heart and left slivers no bigger than papercuts. Why wasn’t it working? Why wasn’t she good enough yet?
“Even I don’t want to be near you,” her detached specter whispered into her dreams, carving more deeply into her heart with each word. “Who would? You’re foul, you’re evil, and you’ll never be enough. Never.”
Desperate, the princess made one last effort to save herself from complete self-destruction, knowing that her path was headed nowhere fast. The gashes on her chest oozed thickly with fresh blood, and her eyes met those of her specter’s as she defiantly ripped her still-beating heart from her chest with hardly a sound and ran to the enchanted cabinet before it could follow, stuffing it into a locked compartment in the back of the cabinet that she’d found once while attempting to find a place to hide from the dragon king. Quickly, she locked the compartment and pocketed the only key.
As beads of sweat collected across her brow, the princess sneaked from her castle window using a makeshift rope fashioned from bed sheets and sprinted to a clearing of trees that stretched their branches skyward and shuddered at her sudden arrival.
“Ohhh, look, it’s the young lady who loves trees,” one of the trees simpered sarcastically, shaking its leaves. “You can tell by all the dead ones she keeps locked away in that castle, bound like captives.”
“Please,” the princess begged frantically, “You have to help me. I don’t have much time.”
My therapist has asked me to write down a list of my emotional traumas.
A list of all the emotionally and physically traumatic experiences that have happened to me in my life, that have contributed to my Bipolar Disorder and PTSD.
Right now, my therapist doesn’t feel as though I’m ready for the therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). As far as I understand, I have to relive physical and emotional traumatic experiences, have the proper emotional response, get over it, then have Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) so I can develop some sort of coping mechanism for the future.
But until my medications are adjusted and I’m in a better place, I have to wait.
As a “gifted child,” I was bullied a lot in primary school and high school. I still carry some of those emotional scars with me.
Funnily enough, my brain is currently trying to stop me from accessing more memories. Suck it, brain; stop being a whiny bitch and let me write this shit out.
When I was 16, my mother – being severely depressed – attempted suicide several times. The last time she tried, she had an argument with my father (now a better man, nothing like his days in my earlier life), and downed a ton of pills. I found her and her suicide note. I actively suppress the things written on that note thanks to the emotional trauma but I know how it began.
That sentence haunts me in my dreams. She is fine now, thankfully, but I refused to talk about it with anyone and pretended it never happened.
I was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder when I had a panic attack at high school so bad my heart rate was 180, and I had to be rushed to hospital for fear of doing damage to my heart.
Since that day, I regularly have heart palpitations.
I had a psychotic episode at 17, when voices told me to stab my mother. I became paralyzed in my own bed while lights shone down from the ceiling, and I was convinced aliens were coming for me, despite my logical brain telling me I was being stupid.
I was diagnosed with endometriosis and told I should probably have children before 25. I’m currently a week away from my 24th birthday. Talk about another emotional trauma.
I dated a Muslim man for eight months. Toward the end of the relationship, I was emotionally abused, when he called me a dog. I went running into the arms of a male friend.
I decided I was the worst person in the world and went off screwing any guy who looked my way, drinking myself into oblivion, and eating pills like candy, just to numb the pain. I wanted to be used. I asked my male friend – now my fuck buddy – if he was using me for sex. He replied yes. I cried and said, “good.
” Turned out he wasn’t using me: he was in love with me; as a result of my promiscuity, and his inability to tell me how he felt, he quit university, broken-hearted.
I started dating my current partner, whom I have been with for five years now. We lived with his sister, her fiancé, and their daughter. His sister is a lazy bully who cannot look after herself, let alone children (currently a total of three). Her fiancé is a violent, alcoholic gambler. After being made a prisoner in my own bedroom, we got our own place.
My diagnosis of fibromyalgia explained my constant pain and tiredness. Yay for inheriting every single shitty illness my parents have.
Recently, I have started to have feelings for a close friend, who also has a partner. While drunk, we have made twice. I have feelings for him, but he is just attracted to me. I have immense guilt over betraying my partner, who is emotionally stunted. I think I’m just attracted to my friend because he has the social and emotional skills my partner lacks.
I was severely bullied at my last job until I began having daily panic attacks and getting into a screaming matches with a higher-up and former friend.
I decided to self-harm and contemplated suicide when the medication I was taking for five years stopped working. Unfortunately, while the medication stopped working, my now non-existant libido did not return.
Have also suffered dermatillomania (chronic skin-picking) for most of my life, particularly my feet. It is disgusting.
Currently, I am plagued by insomnia, headaches, anxiety, shame, severe depression, guilt, and every other horrible feeling imaginable. According to my therapist, I have feelings of low self-worth. According to my friends, I have a much lower opinion of myself than everyone else does of me.
I am both numb and emotionally unstable. I can’t cry, even though I really want to let it out. I think of myself as selfish and horrible, a terrible person who doesn’t deserve what I have. I theorize that I have some subconscious need to sabotage myself. Every time something is going well, just to add some drama in my life. Why I do this, I don’t know. And as I have written this list in such a cold, emotionless manner, I find it odd that I can be so numb and feel so many negative emotions at the same time. I feel like a robot.
I don’t want sympathy. At least, I don’t think I do. I am just tired. Tired of struggling through every day with these issues. I want the problems to just magically disappear because I’m tired of fighting.
I know it’s a long road ahead to my recovery. And as much as I don’t want to relive the aforementioned memories, I am also excited for the first time in ages because maybe, finally, with proper therapy…
I know I have a better life than a lot of people, and I try to be grateful for it.
I feel guilty when I dwell on my problems: other people have it so much worse: how can I complain? How can I mope around or be depressed?!
Oh how I wish I could talk to someone, to sit in a group and swap stories about burning the inside of our mouths, or panic attacks, or how much it sucks to have to lug all your belongings around in a garbage bag.
But I just can’t.
I have walked past the building where NA meetings are held probably a hundred times, looked at their website again and again, memorizing their schedule, but I can’t bring myself to go.
I’m afraid that people won’t like me because I’ve been clean now for four years, that because now I have a car and an apartment in a slightly decent area of the city, I’ll be told to get over it, to stop whining.
On the other hand, I think, what if I go to a regular counselor and I scare them? What if, when I admit to the time I smoked crack with my pregnant best friend, it’s too much and they kick me out?
What if I get the cops called on me when I admit to all the illegal things I’ve done?
Now I’m surrounded by people that, if they knew what I used to be and what I still am, would go running in the other direction.
I even tried to become an alcoholic for a few months; I drank myself into a stupor everyday, forced it into me until my brain chemistry was so out of whack and my kidneys hurt right through my back.
I still drink – get drunk – by myself, but I have to be careful because it makes my panic disorder worse. I drink just until I feel myself going crazy, stop for a few days, then back at it.
It’s funny, when my brother hanged himself, I was kind of mad that he took that option away from me: you can’t have two kids from the same family both kill themselves!
I’m okay with his suicide, though. I understand it was a planned out thing, so things were obviously pretty bad to get to that point. My brother didn’t speak, though; I was the only one he spoke to until he was about 17, and then he even shut me out.
After a while, I started getting paranoid that he was going to kill me, so I distanced myself from him even further.
I’m pretty alone now.
I lost most of my friends when I got clean, and I’ve moved to a different city since. I hate it here a lot, and most people here are way out of my league education and status wise. I have a few friends from work that I go for drinks with on the weekends, but I can’t really connect or open up with anyone.
I’m afraid to date again; my ex is still too fresh in my mind, and the thought of having to have sex again makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like being touched sexually.
It’s a shame because I would love to have children – they would give me something to focus on, to love and be loved back, without having to be in a relationship.
But I guess as of right now, it’s me, alcohol, and my two darling cats.
This person was my whole entire world for three years. This was My Person, the love of my life.
They loved me.
All my flaws.
My Person made me feel whole.
My Person calmed the negativity I had in my life.
My Person held me when I needed to cry. They listened when I needed to yell. This person sat behind me and picked head lice out of my hair for 8 hours when I cried because no one else in my life would help me. My Person was so beyond good for me.
My Person believed in me and my worth and well… I really don’t know.
I have no excuses except I was young and dumb and influenced easily by people that should have been supporting me. I longed for THEIR approval and love and if I didn’t have that, why should I deserve anything else.
I left this amazing person with a heavy heart but headed in a direction I was being basically shoved into for many years.
Even after I left I tried to make it work. I mean, no one else would ever want me.
During this time I searched out My Person.
They’d moved far away to another land.
They seemed happy and from what I could see from my computer screen didn’t want me anymore.
I did reach out, I called, I emailed, I basically stalked this person.
But they had moved on. I was just a memory to them; that was okay. After all, I didn’t deserve them.
Fast forward a few more years.
I still watched My Person from afar. I was friends with their family but still had not contact with My Person.
That was okay. I was happy knowing they were happy.
I met someone, dated for a few years, got married again. And I am finally HAPPY! Well, at least most of the time. My old negative thoughts are all still there but I’m mildly successful at pushing them down.
A couple weeks ago, My Person showed up in my life again like a whirlwind.
They have never been far from my thoughts; I still watched.
But here they were in my inbox and we’ve been talking and it’s like the last twenty years disappeared and I am right back where I was, where we were; My Person and I.
And I am so so so in love. I always was.
And I’m torn: how can I love two people this much? What do I do?
I need this person in my life, they are a part of me has been missing for so long.
It’s like I got my right hand back. I need them to know I love them. Because I do…
…but we can’t be together.
I love where I am now, I love the person I’ve married. I love my home and my job. Right now? There’s half a century and twenty years between us, but I still need them in my life.
I find my mind wandering a lot lately.
The what if’s.
I find myself wanting to wake up in one of those stupid romcoms where everything is different but it just seems right and you don’t want to wake up.
I want to find a damn DeLorean and make different choices.
Just before her adoption, we were asked to also foster her little sister, who was about to be born.
I was hesitant. I didn’t want to take on a child who had a high chance of returning to her birth parents. But I couldn’t let my little girl’s sister go to strangers, so we said yes.
As time passed, the birth parents weren’t doing their part, and I felt more and more like she was my baby, and I would have her forever.
I should have been happy. I had everything I’d ever wanted!
The money the state paid us to take care of foster children made it possible for me to be home with those two pretty little girls all day. I had always wanted to be a stay-at-home-mom. And now I had not one, but two children to take care of! The girls were happy, and the best sound in the world was their laughter as they played together.
I wish I could say my husband felt the same way.
He was resentful of that baby as soon as she entered our home.
He hated all the time I was spending with her, instead of him.
This one particular night breaks my heart. I wish I could go back and change things, but he had trained me for years not to question him. Fear of his anger kept me frozen.
The baby had learned to stand. She was so proud of herself! There was no stopping her now!
From the time she was a newborn, she had always hated going to sleep, and getting her to settle down for bed was a long, drawn-out process. But with her newly developed skill of standing, it became much worse. I would lay her down, she would stand up. I would put her down again, she would stand right back up.
One night, he had enough. “I”ll make her learn she has to lay down when it’s bedtime,” he said.
He came into the girls’ bedroom with me when I put her to bed.
But what was I supposed to do? He was my husband, and I was afraid to question him.
The battle of wills between a man in his 40’s and a less-than-year-old baby went on for a while. I would lay her down, she would stand up, he would spray her in the face.
Finally, he pushed me too far. She was soaking wet, dripping on her sheets. I knew even if she did go to sleep, she would end up getting sick from trying to sleep in her wet clothes and bed. I took a chance and said, “That’s enough!”
Amazingly, he walked out the door without saying a word.
I took her out of her bed, pulled her wet clothes off of her, dried her with her little hooded towel, then put clean, dry pajamas on her. Then I changed the bedding in her crib and started the bedtime process again.
When I walked out of the bedroom, she was back to standing in the crib. I walked out to the living room where he was watching TV. I looked him dead in the eye and said, “Your way didn’t work, and you’re never doing that again.”
He didn’t argue, and he never tried that stunt again.
I think he figured out that there was only so far he could push me when it came to the children.
I guess I could say that I got married the second time because it seemed worth betting that the first time was due to *him…” so a different guy could fix that, right?
But the problem – if you want to call it a problem – is almost certainly me.
My mom said it brilliantly in her recent email to me:
I guess it’s truth out time, and I’m about to be a bad mom.
Truth – Dad wanted to hogtie you and send you to Tijuana before you married Steve*, but I talked him out of it. He was really upset, but I thought he had Steve pegged wrong.
Truth – after living with Steve for two months, I agreed with your father. I wanted to bitch-slap Steve so hard his head would fall off.
Truth – he lied to you about stuff (mostly little things), but I never said a word because I felt it wasn’t my place. But one of those lies cost you 5,000 dollars. You have no idea how furious I was or how much I kicked myself.
This really isn’t the time to be landing this stuff on you, but Dad and I both are feeling very responsible for our little girl getting hurt (again) when maybe if we had just opened our mouths, we could have prevented all this. Of course, to be realistic, it may not have made any difference, but these thoughts cross your mind when you’re a parent.
We both agreed when you were little that whoever married you would have to be one hell of a special kind of guy. (In Dad’s words, “God help him”). But I always pictured you either a) single, and blazing through the world in a cloud of glory or, b) married to a guy who was your equal – smart, confident, strong-willed, motivated and out to make his mark on the universe, but at home would have to know just when to push and when not. NOT easy to find!
However this turns out, we’ll always be here – doors and arms open. Remember that. And don’t worry, next time, we’ll speak our piece – welcome or not – and hogtie if necessary!
By the way, your brother wants to kick Steve’s butt for hurting his sister. That’s his way of saying he’s there for you, too. And if you want me there, just call. I can grab a flight and work be hanged! I love you very much – we all do.
The beautiful part is that they said almost the same thing after my first divorce, although she left out the part about how she always pictured me single.
That would have given me a lot of strength, I think.
I spent my whole life thinking that I was a failure if I wasn’t married – or conversely, that being able to “get guys” to want to commit to me was some kind of major success. I think having a best friend for most of my life who was openly jealous of my relationships probably didn’t help.
But, hey Mom – THIS time I was obviously very hesitant about getting married, and I ASKED you all to tell me if you had any hesitations!
And good grief, Dad, why couldn’t you grow a pair? You knew Steve best, and if you’d said it was a bad idea, wild horses couldn’t have gotten me down that aisle.
Something tells me, though, that I’m not the only person here who bought into this assumption that women simply “should” get married; that getting married is always a victory, even if your (first) husband is half-jokingly gloating that “someone needs to get [you] under control”.
(He did, and so I compensated for that the next time by marrying someone who wanted ME to be responsible for everything. And I was, but it cost me everything I wanted to do for myself!)
I feel like I’m waking up.
Men attacked me when I was a child, so I spent all of my teens obsessed with them, but avoiding any actual contact with them; then I got married as soon as I could; then, divorced and terrified of single motherhood, I got married again as soon as I could; and now here I am fighting my way free again.
It’s been a day and a half since he moved out (temporarily, because things turned violent, though that wasn’t the pattern or anything – but can I add that having the ability to leave immediately if someone breaks that rule with me is something it turns out I REALLY value?), and I’m not in any way looking forward to the next steps, but I do feel like I can see a clear path for the first time in a long while.
You may have been a little (lot) late, but that helped a lot!
(And you can bet your hiney that when MY little girl wants to get married, I’m making her a laundry list of every reason in the world I can think of not to – if she still does, great, I’ll support her; but she deserves to know what I really think. I guess sometimes the hardest lessons you teach your kids are the ones where you show them how not to do things!)