Once upon a time, not so very long ago, though mercifully it grows further and further away from me every day…
Well, let’s just say it wasn’t a fairytale.
Shrouded in a fog of anxiety and raw nerves, I found myself one October evening sitting on a couch by myself staring at the television and contemplating what on earth I wanted to watch. It was a dilemma I’d not faced in a long time; my television hadn’t been mine to watch in ages, and I couldn’t remember the last time my house had been so quiet…empty of people and thus devoid of drama.
It should have been a treat…but it wasn’t. As had become the pattern, I was out of sorts; my instincts screaming at me something was wrong. Making it nearly impossible to relax.
Glancing at my phone every few minutes, I was debating sending another message to Randall, my boyfriend…but ultimately I talked myself out of it.
I knew something was wrong. My inner voice screamed that I was yet again being lied to about where he was, what he was doing, and who he was with. But ultimately I chose the peace of the moment instead of engaging in more drama; forcing my eyes away from that unnervingly silent iPhone and hushing that inner voice.
Sweeping through the movies available for rent, I decided I’d take full advantage of the control I had over the television. This was an opportunity to indulge in my most romantic desires, without any groans or pushback from the peanut gallery. Thus I settled on Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella.
Settling in with a blanket, and again stubbornly forcing away the anxious pitter patter of my mind demanding I find out what was going on across town, I turned the movie on…and was immediately met with the lush scenery, flowing music, and beautiful people of a fairytale.
It wasn’t the first time I’d seen the movie; Randall and I had actually gone to see it while it was in theaters many months earlier. But I wanted to see it again…without any teasing or embarrassment for indulging such a girlish whim. I wanted something beautiful and full of joy, as opposed to the crude humor, cruel manipulations, and abusive words and deeds that had taken over my real life so thoroughly by that point.
The movie pulled me in immediately, more than it probably deserved to. More proof of how desperate I was for any available escape from reality.
I was swept up in Ella’s world, and never wanted to leave. Watching the love and kindness of her little nuclear family at the beginning, I recalled my own childhood; laughing on the beach while my father hoisted me onto his shoulders, my mother snapping photos in between monitoring the whereabouts of my younger brother. Those memories – of the sand between my toes and the sun darkening my skin – had become a particularly happy place to go when life was overwhelming. And watching Ella’s mother and father playing with her and encouraging her to believe in her dreams of the future, I was reminded of it all over again.
Tears pooled in the corners of my eyes, but I pushed them away; determined to enjoy my solitude, the first I’d had in so very long.
Then I saw Kit, the handsome prince. Tall, dark, and handsome, with a brilliant smile and polished boots gripping the sides of his noble steed (I’ve always had a weakness for boots from that era). I saw him, and was just as enchanted as Ella.
Again tears welled up, and I found they dogged me even as the story continued. Ella had her gown ripped to shreds by her cruel stepmother and stepsisters, and then found hope again in the form of her fairy godmother. My heart soared with hers as she shimmered into her beautiful gown and her glass slippers…but it was the moment she appeared before Kit when I really lost it.
This was supposed to make me happy! I couldn’t understand why in the midst of a fairytale I found myself weeping.
It was Kit. His gentle mannerisms and kind, sincere smile forced me to realize the grim reality of my own life. The reality of the partner I’d bound myself to. The partner who had long since stopped looking at me with anything close to such sincere joy on his face; who no longer handled me with such care and affection, but instead demanded more and more from me, all the while betraying my trust at ever-increasing levels. It had all caused me to withdraw further and further from the world, curling into a protective ball against all pain and harm.
It wasn’t a prince that I wanted so desperately in that moment; I just wanted a gentleman with a warm smile and gentle touch. Someone who could pull me into his arms and leave me feeling utterly safe, loved, and appreciated. Someone who wouldn’t yell at me if I failed to earn enough money to pay for everything, but instead would comfort me in my disappointment and then promise we’d get through it together. Someone who wouldn’t parade an endless line of women under my nose and tell me how attractive he found them, but instead would look at me as the apple of his eye and reassure me even on my worst days that I was his first and only choice.
That is what I wanted…and what I did not have with Randall.
It was a painful realization. One I still tried to run from for some time. But that night, for the first time I started to contemplate the notion that I deserved better. That I deserved more.
The spiral downward of an abusive relationship is subtle at first; you often don’t even realize you’re at risk of drowning until you’re fully submerged ten miles beneath the surface. I’d started with a man I thought was everything I wanted, but he had morphed over time into a nightmare of emotional and verbal abuse that I didn’t know how to cope with. I’d grown up in a world of love and warmth, atop my father’s shoulders with the sun on my face and the sound of the ocean in my ears. Such cruelty was beyond my ability to comprehend until it was too late.
So while I often say that Kit, Ella’s prince charming, rescued me…it wasn’t as immediate as readers might like.
I didn’t break free of that relationship for another seven months. I instead tried to make it work, and seesawed back and forth between what I wanted to be true and what was actually my reality. I discovered many lies, many betrayals, and fell further from grace myself than I ever thought possible as I bent, bowed, writhed, and twisted myself into a pretzel trying to please a man who, as it turns out, I would never be able to please.
But I did finally break free, which is all that ultimately matters.
Eventually I learned that I’d been right about something being amiss that night. I learned he’d not just been spending time with friends; he’d been in a hotel room paid for with my money, trying to have sex with a young woman I’d met once before. One of many sexual encounters I wouldn’t learn about until much later.
That time, and many others, my instincts had been correct.
And while I certainly wish I could dismiss the pain of all that betrayal, I’m still grateful for the chance I had to spend that evening with Ella and Kit. I’m grateful I was able to see a man – even if it was on a television screen – treating the woman he loved with such gentleness, sincerity, and respect. It planted in me the beginnings of a seed that eventually grew into my resolve to break free of the mess I found myself in. The seed of a desire for something more than what I had.
My story remains as yet unfinished, and I don’t know yet if I’ll ever find that kind of man for myself. But that’s alright. The point for me is this: because Prince Charming rescued me, I’m now at least free to try.