There is no prince. Know that first.
The tower, you’ll recognize. The witch, too; an inevitability.
A curse of sorts, petty and grousing, with just enough malice to sour the milk from your neighbor’s cow or rot a field of daffodil bulbs before they blanket the spring in yellow. Not the showstopper enchantment needed to freeze a kingdom, of course, or put entire villages to sleep for a year. A small spell. Not enough to make a husband and wife gift away their newborn son—but a girlchild? For that, sure.
Girls are cheap.
Only takes a mingy spell to get you one of those.
* * *
Rapunzel is the name of a leafy green, if you’re curious. Somewhere between a less-peppery arugula and a more-leafy parsley. That’s what my knocked-up mother and her slavishly devoted spouse went grubbing for, uninvited, in the witch’s garden, and—once caught—that’s what they traded me for. An infant for all-you-can-eat salad.
I suppose it could have been worse. Given what I understand about pregnant women and their cravings, I should be grateful I’m not named Peanut-Butter-with-Pickles. Or the Fair Maid Frozen-Yogurt.
They never moved away after, my parents. Not the witch either. (Though I’m sure she’d have preferred an old-growth forest on the edge of town, the kind with gnarled trees so thick the sun never reaches earth and the only sound is toadsong.) Neighbors to the end. I could even see their garden from my window.
I’d spy on them out there, planting seeds and pulling weeds, and wonder about their lives. Wonder if they ever wondered about me too. I imagined a day one of them would finally look up, see me leaning out my bedroom window, and wave. Maybe my mother blowing me a kiss. I catch it in my hand and press it to my cheek like a real kiss and oh how we laugh…
That’s how the hair rumor got started in the first place.
It grew, not like a ladder but thick and long, yes. Bright as a field of flowers in springtime.
I would hang my hair out the window on sunny days, when the light made it glow like gold, or on windy days, when it stretched out on the breeze like a banner. On sharp winter days, when it reflected on the snow like a blossom held under a child’s chin to prove they like butter. I did everything short of dipping my braid in cooking grease and setting fire to it like a flare, anything to make my parents look up. Look over. See me.
They never did.
Lettuce-girl locked in an attic room, surrounded by hair the color of sorrow.
* * *
Death being the way of all things, even witches, a day finally came when the tower was mine alone. I sawed off my braid at the root that night, overwhelmed with grief. Or maybe just rage.
But love is the way of most things too, even cursed children who are all grown up. Eventually another day came when I decided to stop living in my tower alone.
She had a complexion like mushrooms and laughter shriller than fingernails on chalkboard. The first time we bedded and I made her come, she belched a cloud of bats that flittered and flapped around the room until the whole murmuration swooped out the window into the night. A few came back the next day to roost in the kitchen rafters. Now I clean small stalagmites of guano off the breakfast table each morning.
(The first time we bedded and she made me come, I sobbed like my heart was a broken bone being reset.)
How did she find me—this new witch, my witch? She says my glowing hair flashed on the horizon like a lighthouse, and she followed it to safe harbors. I’m betting (she’s too kind to admit) it was really the rapunzel, thick and heavy-scented, left to overgrow like the rest of my parents’ long-orphaned vegetable patch.
That shit draws enchanters worse than honey draws bears.
This year, for my birthday, she burned every last leaf of it to the ground. In the spring, we will plant my hair in its place and see what blooms may grow.
[The Myth & Fairy Tale Project is an ongoing collaborative project of reworking myths & fairy tales to understand, resist, and heal from trauma. Deepest thanks to my writing partner, Ryn, and the others who have joined me on this journey.]
From our tower rooms here in Philadelphia, my black cats and I send greetings.
As Year 1 of the pandemic draws (inconceivably) to a close, I find myself in the same position as many (most?) (all?) of my writing friends—both longing to sit with my words and finding them all too achingly heavy to capture. Or maybe it is my writing arm too heavy to lift, or maybe I should just name the ache my heart and be done.
I hope that you are well.
I hope that you have stayed healthy.
I hope that your families, both blood and chosen, are safe.
I hope you each have found love enough: touch enough: food enough: money and work and shelter and meaning enough: beauty enough: to sustain you through this year of impossible challenges.
May you have enough to nourish you through all the days yet to come.