ONE WEEK COUNTDOWN
Until New Edition is up on Amazon Kindle.
Now over 88,000 words. Bigger. Bolder. And even more exciting than the first read. Join Cinderella as she travels the Four Directions to reclaim her name Charlotte, her Kingdom and Prince.
Prelude to the Fairy Godmother
It was a raw April morning. Outside, the gutters and windows, the trees and plants, were dripping with run-off rain. Inside Cinderella was, once again the size of a puddle. On the stone floor, protecting belly and head, she was tightly curled into a ball. Physically, her body was clenched. Her mind and spirit
floated, disembodied, while the mop lashed her. For her, life is a fairy tale, filled with insurmountable obstacles, enormous burdens, and heart breaking tragedies. If I could disappear...there would be no more beatings. Who knew a mop, used as a weapon, would create welts? Swollen with lymph, they itch, then burst before drying to flake like a sun burn.
Looking into Cinderella’s life it’s easy to understand how we forget the purpose of fairy tales. When we’re trapped in the time prior to the pivotal moment of change, we become discouraged - or as happens in the very best fairy tales, despondent. In the endless monotony of drudgery, before positive momentum carries us free of heart-breaking tragedies, who does believe in fairy tales? We’ve forgotten fairy tales are templates for living a life of wonder. It’s exactly at the moment when we give-up - when we abandon believing in the possibility of our happy ending - that happiness lies in plain sight, hidden in the debris of failures.
Believing in the greater purpose of fairy tales begs the question: “Does everyone find his or her happily-ever-after?” For most of us it’s difficult to accept our future successes are excavated from our failures. Yet for eons myths and fairy tales have reminded us, “the Phoenix rises from the debris, the ashes, of its former life.”
When did we stop noticing the hardship embedded in fairy tales reminds us to squeeze every failure, each mistake, set-back and heart-break for it’s message. Fairy tales confront us. Learning to read the terrain of our fairy tales leads us to the skills we refused to learn. Our happily-ever-after requires us to drop attitudes that keep us from happiness and resolve the character flaws that court disaster. Until we decode our misfortunes, we postpone the beginnings of our happily-ever-after. Did you think, because Cinderella is often portrayed as a victim, trapped in the shadows of grief, she was not responsible to mine the gold hidden within those shadows? As a victim, living with a psychopathic stepmother, for Cinderella, the world is composed of unfathomable grief and mind-numbing drudgery…or is it?
Even Cinderella wants to avoid the journey of the Phoenix. And so it is, in the cycles of seasons, prior to the arrival of the Fairy Godmother, Cinderella’s singular wish is to disappear. She walks along the edges of shadow and light anticipating her step-family’s needs. She fulfills them and retreats into invisibility. She worries her stepmother’s violence might prove deadly and has begun to suspect her involvement in the deaths of her parents. It’s a game of cat and mouse. If the inconceivable is true...How can I survive living with a murderer? No, not a murderer, a serial killer.
“It’s too much,” she cries out. Walking the razors edge of invisibility, she muffles her voice with blankets and pillows. “It’s too much!” Rather than grapple with the realities of her traumatic past, Cinderella prefers to relinquish her ties to the losses across the landscape of her personal bereavement. She often imagines letting go. I’ll blissfully slip into the welcoming darkness as one would edge into sleep. But under the surface of her longings is the insistent question, What is worse, remembering or forgetting?
If we respect the purpose of fairy tales is to guide us beyond insurmountable obstacles, enormous burdens and heartbreaking tragedy - at what point do we set aside grief? What does it take to create a new life? What exactly went on before the life-altering arrival of the Fairy Godmother? How many years did Cinderella scrub the house, run errands, cook meals, take care of the animals and gardens while living with a monstrous stepmother and two mean-spirited step-sisters? What happened to prepare her for the Fairy Godmother’s arrival? Are impossible circumstances the fertile ground required for the arrival of beneficent-supernatural-aide?
Here is what I think happened: After losing her parents within one cycle of four seasons, Cinderella transformed from a blossoming teenager into an abandoned shell of the young woman she had been. On the surface it seemed her parents died of natural causes. No questions were asked when the stepmother applied to become her legal guardian.
In the first days and weeks after her father’s death Cinderella was adrift in the anesthetic, featureless, dimension of grief. Her endless stare could absorb a day without a blink. Lying twisted in sheets, her losses made it impossible to breath, or get out of bed. How long did she lie in the bed numb to the world around her? How long did she skirt the boundary between sluggish wakefulness and agitated stupor?
Only when daylight transitioned into night, Cinderella found she couldn’t rest at all. She wandered the house searching for the familiar amid the distortion of crushing sorrow. Hallways loomed into elongated tunnels. The library shrank, claustrophobic with family memories. She found retreating to the bedroom a stark prison. The kitchen, once the heart of their home, had expanded to proportions so impersonal she could find no solace. From a corner, Blackie watched over her, a solitary witness, until exhausted she sank to the floor at the edges of the fireplace. Stretching out across the limestone hearth felt warm and safe. Finally she could close her eyes. Oblivion sank into her heart and she lost herself until just before dawn when she dragged herself back to her room and the daylight hours belonging to the endless stare.
When the narcotizing effects of early grief released Cinderella, life scraped along raw fringes of her losses, demanding attention. She was dismayed to find she was filled with rage. It was a pervasive hatefulness, toxic to breathe. Cinderella had never experienced feeling overwrought with emotions she couldn’t control. In despair she turned her attention to the demands of daylight and the minimal requirements to function. Now the simple act of getting dressed could take all day. She found herself sitting on the edge of the bed, exiting the endless stare. She came back to herself wearing one shoe, with the other shoe held in her hand. “Am I taking it off or putting it on?”
We don’t know how long the featureless landscape of early grief held her captive. We do know, once beyond her shock, she was not released from the rigors of brokenhearted sorrow. Over the next several years she floundered in the Great Silence: A time of indeterminate length where life is unresponsive to our efforts and wishes.
Loss wears many faces. Her former home, shining with the love, now felt dreary, damp, and foreboding. Cleaning the house top to bottom, to Cinderella, it still feels dirty. Planting the garden, weeding, harvesting crops was drudgery. The joys she shared with her mother – canning and baking – were lost, replaced with mindless labor. Engaged in the repetitive nature of housekeeping, she began wondering how could both my healthy parents die within months of each other? I know the excruciating symptoms of their illnesses, but not the idiopathic origin. One question led to many questions, including, How have I gone from daughter of the house to a servant?
The strangers living in her home found fault with Cinderella’s every effort. Too soon she discovered, There is a bleakness that comes from living in perpetual criticism. Nothing could shield her from the chilling conversations with her stepmother. Just preparing a cup of tea was hazardous. If there wasn’t enough honey, there was too much. If the tea wasn’t strong enough, it was too strong. Flying into a rage, her stepmother spitting, “You ruined my tea on purpose!” One paranoid accusation led to another, “You’re trying to poison me!” It was a grind that wore away the fabric of her natural sweetness, replacing it with anxiety and dread.
Baking cookies, pies and cakes to feed the voracious sweet tooth of her narcissistic foster family, Cinderella tried anticipating their next angry demands only to find, Nothing can satisfy the ravenous needs of these women. They darkened the fabric of her ancestral home. Cinderella’s silence was filled with stormy resentments and angry confusion. A bitterness choking her with indignation, settled - swollen in my belly like cast iron - making it impossible to eat.
She withdrew. Pulling in her spirit until it was a tiny speck in her belly. She tried to be invisible. Yet tip-toeing avoidance couldn’t keep her safe from the dark rages and undercurrents of violence penetrating the house. She learned emotions can produce lingering smells: sickly sweet, oozing with the stink of intestinal distress. Smells so vile they hit the back of her gag reflex as she scurried out of the room with a heaving stomach. Barely breathing, she found refuge from the stenches next to the purifying fire.
At twilight, walking into the house from the garden, Cinderella collided with her stepmother’s emotions. She learned to identify the burnt corn smell of anger, signaling impending violence. Depression smelled sickly sweet. Fear smelled, how I imagine collicky baby poop might smell. Interwoven with the feelings the air was saturated with fermented grains the stepmother drank every night. Walking into the kitchen Cinderella felt the buzz of angry demands, the undercurrents of depression, or the paranoia of false accusations. Her foster family’s unpleasant moods, compounded by their self-pity; it all settles in my belly, until I feel like vomiting.
The outside world has gone on without me. No one notices me missing. I’m alone. She was increasingly aware she lived in a hostile territory that skirted the edges of homicidal danger. The shivers of fear she felt when her stepmother pinned her with her gaze...
She cleaned, ran errands, cooked meals, baked deserts, gardening and tending the animals. Caring for the life her parents had built, she never gave-up hoping to feel a sense of accomplishment familiar to life before living with a wicked stepmother. But the memories were slippery and she couldn’t hold on to them. Despite the countless efforts she made, the burdens she shouldered, working as efficiently as possible to fit in more tasks to meet the never-ending demands, depression haunted her. I feel like I’m walking across the ocean floor in boots.
Her escape from the strangers and stench growing in her home was time in the woods with her dog, Blackie. Together they searched out herbs used in teas. She hunted for cooking mushrooms. Cinderella bitterly recalled her father’s warnings to avoid the poisonous. She didn’t know what would feel worse – remembering his tutorial or forgetting? Her mother had taught her where to find the wild onions they used in soup. Leafy greens were summer salads or steamed over rice and topped with fish caught in mountain streams.
Striving to embody the ethics her parents taught her, she didn’t feel connected to their moral compass. Even implementing their practical instructions felt surreal. Though she reached out and sought her parents spirits, they remained shrouded. When the intensity of her loss threatened to burst out of her, when she was immersed in a roaring outrage that tested the seams of justice, her inward scream - I want to tear apart the spirit of righteousness that could sanction my parents deaths - reverberated in her soul. Composure shredded across the circumstance of her life, with nowhere to spend her outrage, she whispered into the folds of Blackie’s fur, “I understand why people losing their mind to grief literally pull out their hair.”