Once upon a time, in a kingdom very far from the sea, there lived a little princess who spent her days scooping up frogs and kissing them full on the mouth (though with very little tongue). This was the destiny bespoke her: that her lips would one day free a prince, who would come to rule her people with justice and grace and love her as deeply and true as only a man with a second chance at life can.
One day, the little princess noticed a strange thing happening. After each kiss, even as the frogs remained all entirely frog-like, a green splotch would bloom upon her fair skin. Then two splotches. Then three. No amount of lemon juice or pumice stone undid the pigmentation. Soon she grew quite mottled, her once smooth complexion pebbled and waxy to the touch.
“Well, no matter,” she thought to herself, “for isn’t this the essence of love? To transform ourselves without question into that which our Beloved will most desire?”
A girl looks into a mirror. Staring back: a feral thing with bloodshot eyes, its matted hair jutting twigs and leaves.
Trick of the light.
She shakes her head and the mirror ripples, then settles, like a pond after a skipping stone. Now, across the glass, the girl sees a matching limpid-eyed child in pigtails. She turns her face to the right and to the left, checking herself in profile, and nods, satisfied.
A final toss of her head, and the girl steps away from the mirror, opens the front door, and walks into the bright morning sun.
Stretching from her feet along the sidewalk behind her, the girl’s shadow rears on two hind legs and snarls at the sky.
A rape survivor’s moderately non-literal response to a country’s monumentally unthinkable decision.
[And yeah, GOP Senators: I’m looking at you.]
* * * *
I would believe myself one of the Stoics, born again, if I could.
I would convince us both, if only I could believe, that the fire I have undergone tempered me like steel, rather than reduced me to bone chips and fragments of teeth. The debris of a mortuary’s kiln.
Understand: I have long since abdicated belief in humanity’s innate goodness. Our impulses may tend always to sociability, to companions and to tribe. But—friends, a family, a troop of bullies, a rape gang, an army, a Senate… In the end, how is difference measured?
We learn to live with our hungers—to make peace with them—or we never learn to live. The trick is how to soften into one’s fear, whether of connection or abandonment. To sink, to collapse gently, yet still stand tall. I settle myself in the chair and reach for vulnerability. Try to let myself go, to let myself turn soft.
Soft like a paunch, my anger whispers back. Soft and bloated like a liver gone rotten with cirrhosis.
Seems I cannot shower enough during these dark, chilling days of autumn. For reasons I still find curious.
What reasons, you ask.
I could tell you. I could say that I like the heat and how the wet steam rises, or that I am washing off the stench of each day’s ever more rancid news, or that I have a new-found dedication to feminine conventions and shave my legs now twice daily, maybe my pubes too. In fact, I like these answers. I think I will tell you one of them. Or you just pick yourself a favorite, and pretend it’s what I said.
Pretend I did not tell you the truth: that I am still learning what it means to feel, in all the senses of the word and of the senses, and it is only when hot water hits me everywhere and all at once that I can remember the names of human emotion.
Most of the time I spend standing in the shower I am crying. Don’t read too much into that, though.
I lost my father too, y’know.
Do you see me drowning my hair in ash,
refusing to sleep anywhere but under the kitchen table?
I don’t have a second mother neither,
showing up like magic if I’m ever careless enough
to lose the first one. Nope, just the standard issue—
telling me how much easier I’d be to love
if I lost a little weight,
if I chopped off a little toe.
So I play by the rules, so what.
Doesn’t mean I wrote ’em.
And don’t think for a second I didn’t notice
that little run-and-stumble you pulled on the stairs.
Tripping hard enough to “lose” your crystal shoe
but not hard enough to break it?
Guess it’s true, that old saying: Them what has, gets. And those of us who don’t have? Lose.
We lose right down to the bone.
Not strictly speaking a “villainess,” I suppose, yet I am struck by the level of vitriol that gets heaped on ‘bad sisters’ in our fairy tales and other lore. Cinderella’s stepsisters. The kind and the unkind girls of Grimms’ Frau Holle or Charles Perrault’s Diamonds and Toads [which I first came upon while researching for my own The Writer Dreams of Rivers]. Even the greedy Goneril and Regan, King Lear’s eldest daughters, fall into this pattern in their contrast with the devoted Cordelia.