I’m feeling in the mood to write depressing fiction this week. I’ve been thinking a lot about fairy tales lately, so I thought I’d write a piece with this inspiration in mind. Enjoy!
Fairytales and Farewells
So this is goodbye.
In movies they make a big deal of these kind of things. Tears and broken words and people hugging. In the traditional story motif, when a character bids family and friends farewell to set off on the quest, there’s teary smiles and well wishes. It’s not like that for me.
Goodbye is numbness. Goodbye is unreal. Goodbye is something it never should have come to. But I suppose by now I know everything has to come to an end. Even the things that once made us happiest.
I used to never feel like I belonged. I was the awkward uncomfortable child who spent recess on the bench with a book of fairytales to hide the fact that I didn’t have any friends. I faced teasing at school, intense conversations my parents didn’t think I could hear at home. And I began to be aware that no matter what I did I would never be quite right. Normalcy wasn’t an option. So maybe there was something else.
I used to imagine I was a foundling. That one day I’d go back to my people and find the real place where I belonged. Maybe I was just like the little ugly duckling, waiting to swim among my fellow swans. In the meantime there was misery, and I began to despair that redemption never would come.
But when I was ten was the first time I met Zayn.
Another day on the playground bench, ignored by the teacher on duty as a few of the boys in my class through balls my direction, made sneering remarks. I huddled in on myself, book up to my face as though to shield me from the world. And for a while I absorbed myself into fiction and I could forget who I was and where I was and everything that was wrong and difficult and hurting.
It was his voice that drew me out of where I’d buried myself.
I looked up to see him perched a few feet away on the bench, blue eyes staring at me intensely, this crooked smile never wavering.
“Hi,” I murmured, sliding the book down.
“I’m Zayn, nice to meet you,” he said.
I managed to stammer out my own introductions. My fingers were tight on my book. Could I go back to reading? I didn’t know. Was that rude? But did it really matter considering who I was and what other people thought of me already? Zayn was new, he’d probably figure out soon I wasn’t worth his time.
“I like reading too,” Zayn said. “If I bring a book out next recess, can I read with you?”
I nodded and then ducked my head back towards my book, trying to hide my embarrassment. Zayn didn’t seem to figure out I wanted to be alone. After a long moment of him sitting there in silence, I turned to offer the book I was reading.
“It’s Hans Christian Anderson. Do you want to read with me?” I asked.
He flashed pearly teeth and reached for the book. We flipped back to the beginning and for a minute I thought we’d just go about reading ourselves. Then Zayn started speaking out the words, voice slow but steady, keeping himself flowing through the story of the small mermaid trying to win her prince.
For the next year of grade school, we spent recess like that. Always with a book, always with each other. Sharing a simple love of reading that none of the other kids ever seemed to understand. Hiding in the realm of books that had come to be my safe haven.
Zayn was always there. He didn’t ever question the way I dressed, or when I’d tell him I didn’t want to go home because mom and dad were fighting again, or when I came to school with a bruise on my cheek. He told the other boys to piss off and kicked the basketballs they threw at me back in their faces.
For a while I was almost convinced Zayn had slipped out of the pages of one of my books, or straight out of my imagination. But storybook characters can’t hurt you. People you imagine don’t break your heart.
We were friends all through our young years of school, but puberty was when disaster struck.
I hadn’t anticipated it, but it made sense. Zayn was the one who had rescued me. It wasn’t dissimilar from the princesses in fairytales. I was his damsel. And if that was the case, it made sense I might unintentionally hand over my heart. What I was oblivious to, was the fact that Zayn never once saw us that way. For him, I was a fellow nerdy classmate he’d befriended on the playground. And nothing more.
So it was logical that a few months ago he started dating this pretty girl in math class. I shouldn’t have been so surprised. I shouldn’t have been so angry. I should never have shouted at him one day. And above all, I should never have told him how it made me feel.
It’s a funny thing. As children adults tell us so much how important it is to be honest and voice what you really want to say. Especially about feelings. There’s a whole lecture from the school counselor on conflict solving the little I felt ___ when you ____. It sounds all nice on paper. In the real world it sucks.
Zayn tried to pretend it was fine when I finally worked up the courage to tell him. He apologized and said he respected that and appreciated honesty. But the Zayn I knew died that day, replaced by a stony replica who stopped inviting me over and sitting with me at lunch and telling other people to not pick on me.
After six years, the barrage of those old emotions coming back was overwhelming. For a good portion of my life I’d stopped feeling like I didn’t belong. I’d begun to feel I had a place. Maybe I wasn’t quite so much of a mistake as I’d felt like the beginning portion. But with Zayn gone, those painful emotions fell back into place, sweeping me up in a drowning tide I could not escape.
If I was truly a damsel, and my circumstances were my tower and dragon, and Zayn was not my knight…what was there for me? Few fairy tales ever answers that for you. Almost every princess has a prince, as sexist and frustrating as that can be. But if you’re helpless to stop any of it yourself, what is left? Sure self-empowerment is great, unless you’ve got no energy to fight in the first place. I might as well be Sleeping Beauty for all the energy and motivation I had to make life change.
So this is goodbye. The realization that whatever I had is gone. That whatever there is in the future I don’t want to face alone. That whatever happens, I am incapable of handling this level of grief and farewells and endings. So often the story ends with a kiss, a wedding, a happily ever after. Stories don’t tend to prepare you for when they don’t. So this is mine.
I sit here in these last moments looking down at the churning sea below. Was it supposed to come to this? Is this what love is supposed to feel like, stabbing in your chest and panic in your mind and utter overwhelming inability to move at the mere thought—
But none of that will matter anymore. After all this time, none of it has. My sacrifices, my honesty, my bravery. The few little bits and pieces I’d cradled inside me for so long, wasted on a foolish boy who cared nothing for such fragile bits of vulnerability.
I have nothing left here. I have nothing to fight for. I have no ending in mind, and so I depart on this quest in hopes of finding a happier ending to what I have now, in hopes of finding what’s right and true. In hopes of finding where I truly belong, hoping to make my home in these icy waters, my portal to the next place. I’m going and there is no stopping me…
So this is goodbye.