Last year I was chastised rather acutely by a friend for not sharing that it was my birthday. Her reasoning was devastating and mind-altering. Years prior to our meeting, she had lost her husband far too young to an aggressive cancer. She said to me, “You never know how many opportunities you will have to celebrate the people around you. Give those who love you the opportunity to show you how much they do.”
I just crossed into another year. 35. To be honest, I struggled with this one. To decisively reach MID-thirties still single was not something I had expected or desired. That said, I recalled my friend’s words from the previous year and decided that I was going to refuse to wallow. So, in opposition to my lamentation, I set up an entire birthday weekend extravaganza for myself.
I invited everyone I knew to come out and while nature conspired against me with some very intense thunderstorms, I still managed to have one of the most spectacular birthday weekends I’ve ever experienced. Learning to accept the love of those around me has been a long time coming, but allowing myself to be celebrated was such a beautiful and humbling experience.
It is true: we don’t know how many opportunities we will have to celebrate and be celebrated by those with whom we share our lives. The only certain thing about life is that it will eventually end. But while we are alive, live like every moment is the most important. Surround yourself with friends, laugh until your sides ache, and cry as hard as the hard times dictate. Life is a beautiful mess and it’s worth celebrating.
O! How many days and months must one wait
For well seeing eyes to see well again;
To trust that true love is never too late
When trusting not in the power of men;
Truly you are the one purposed for me,
For heaven smiled down and bestowed your name
Precious God-given Gift for all to see,
This Battlefield now yours to lay your claim;
Beyond the farthest reach of time and space,
With greater certainty than the next dawn
Never to part for each day holds new grace
And never-ending love to draw upon;
By all that lives do I wish you to know
If you will but lead, I’ll gladly follow.
It was three years since Incident 28B, and things had never been the same. We hadn’t always called it “Incident” 28B. No one had thought this outcome was genuinely a possibility, but now here I was, always running, living in the shadows. Looking over my shoulder again to make sure I was alone in the alley, I leapt into the air. As my feet left the pavement, I imagined a set of eagle’s wings sprouting from my back. At that same moment, they emerged and I felt my body shrink and shift into avian form and lift me high above the darkened city.
It would be a lie if I told you there wasn’t something exhilarating about this ability that 28B gave me. If only the others on the research team could still see me as the lab assistant, instead of just the lab rat. My flight wavered for a split second with the shudder that ran through me. That was one creature I refused to become.
I honed my eagle eyes on the city below me, searching for the one person who still loved me for who I was, not what I could offer. It wasn’t surprising that to find him at the docks. Descending towards where he dangled his feet in the lake, I imagined my own human feet touching the ground. At first the shift had made me wretch and gasp for air, but the more I did it, the easier it had become, until I learned to revel in the altering of bone, muscle, and organs.
“I’m glad you’re safe. Forgive me for not being there today.” His voice wavered with a mix of relief and regret. Tough guys like Si didn’t show emotion. Except to me.
The dock swayed gently as I lowered myself down next to him and covered his hand with mine. An unseasonably warm breeze danced through my commonplace brown hair. “Si. I don’t expect to you to be part of every move I make against them. You’ve already given up so much for me.”
He turned his hand over and our fingers interlocked. His thumb moved in a caress that matched the timing of the gentle waves lapping at the shore. “What happened to you is my fault, Mestra. I was in charge of Lot 28.”
“Well, now you are again.” Reaching into my pocket, I withdrew three vials, and offered them to Si. His eyes widened as he turned them over in his hands, reading their crisp laboratory labels: Lot 28B, Lot 28C, Lot 28D. The 28B vial was empty. Empty because it was coursing through my bloodstream. Empty because they had staged a mutiny in the lab, strapped me down and held a gun to my head to force Si to dose me. I had never experienced pain like that in my life. How many times had I begged them to shoot me while it rewrote my DNA and made me something a little different than human? The horror on Si’s face as he watched what he’d done taking effect was nearly as painful as the physical metamorphosis.
When the transformation had finished, I’d spotted a pigeon on the windowsill outside and thought how much I’d rather be that common city bird than spend one more minute with those people. Before the thought had finished, my body had begun to morph and the next thing I knew I was looking out of eyes that weren’t quite mine, and yet somehow were. The moment of shock in the lab had allowed Si to wrestle the gun from Zev and shout at me to use my wings. It had been a pigeon’s coo that had answered and I realized I had become the pigeon I’d wished to before. Clumsily, I flapped through the door, which he’d slammed shut and broken the handle off of. I’d clung to his shoulder and he’d ran.
But that was the past. And if I’ve learned anything about the past, it’s to leave it there.
Si raised his attention from the vials and looked into my eyes. To find so much love staring at me, even with what I’d become still left me flabbergasted. “Thank God they didn’t try to recreate 28B. How'd you get them?” He asked. I’d managed to get back into the lab about two years ago and corrupt what they still had of Si’s research. We’d been devising strategies to retrieve the remainder of Lot 28 ever since.
“Let’s just say my desire to never become any form of insect has been confirmed and leave it at that.” I cringed, recalling my entry to the lab. “What will you do with them?” I asked, resting my head on his shoulder. The moonlight glittered on the water.
He sighed, pocketing the vials. “I thought the world was ready for this advancement, but if it had been someone other than you, someone with ill intent, imagine the damage they could do. No, it must be destroyed.” We sat in comfortable silence as the breeze danced around us. Boats bobbed quietly where they were moored to the surrounding docks. I felt a smile pull at Si’s lips and lifted my head to look at him.
“What?” I giggled, unable to keep a smile off my own face in response to his.
“These silly little tubes have been the only thing holding us here. How do you feel about hoisting anchor and setting off on an adventure?” His grin widened and he stood, offering me a hand up.
I gazed at the city skyline. It was magnificent, to be sure, but too much had happened to stay here. Putting my hand into his, I let him haul me upright. “Let’s go south. It might be fun to become a dolphin.” I gave him a mischievous wink and wrapped my arm around his waist.
He steered us in the direction of his boat with a laugh. “Then south it is, m’lady. South it is.”
"Thank you for dinner." I smiled. He was different from other men I'd encountered in my travels to Africa. Perhaps it was his work at the Danish embassy – greater exposure to Western culture, easier relatability. Or it might've been because he championed me from the first moment he met me, chiding our friend for being "too lazy to speak English" while she was hosting me.
"You are welcome." Nervousness surrounded him the way women had surrounded the mango stands in the market earlier. "I need to tell you something."
Please don't say it. I'd been the muzungo – white person, foreigner – enough times before to know what came next.
"I love you." There it was.
"No you don't." We'd only known each other five days. "But I'm willing to see where this goes." He nodded, and offered me his hand to escort me home for the first time.
An Ever-fixed Mark
Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken
-William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116
Covers tangle around my legs. I've stolen them again. It's an even trade though, in my mind, because he's sprawled across the entire expanse of the bed like a starfish. And his snores emulate a freight train rumbling down the track.
The diamond from the aged ring on my left hand catches the light as I softly smooth his greying hair back from his forehead. It needs to be cut, but we haven't found time. We don't often get quiet moments like this one I am currently reveling in.
Who would have thought the "worse" part of "for better or worse" could be so thoroughly tested over all these years. But we passed every test, and here we are. He is my rock and I am his anchor. The storms have come, but we have always prevailed.
It would appear that true love really does conquer all. And a love like ours is the truest kind, and we will never be shaken.
Excerpts From the (now) Royal Diary of Her Highness, Princess Aurora
I had that dream again. They say if you dream a thing more than once it's sure to come true. How long does that take? Not gonna lie, I’d really love to meet this hottie I keep seeing at night. It’s not that I don’t love hanging out with the aunties all the time, but it would be nice to make some new friends who didn’t have wings or four legs. I swear that owl actually responded to me yesterday when I was berry picking.
Oh yeah, totally forgot to mention that today is my birthday. I was a little preoccupied by Prince Sexypants invading my sleep again...I guess I get a birthday wish, though. Right? Well, I wish that I could meet my dream man soon. Shoot. Is it not going to happen now that I shared my wish? Nah. Totally going to come true. Optimism for the win!
Well, I should probably go see what Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather are plotting for me today...
Seriously, the aunties couldn’t be more obvious that they are up to something for my birthday. They sent me out to pick berries...which I just did. Yesterday. And they are still sitting in a bowl on the counter in the cottage. But I’ll appease them and hang out here for a while so they can do whatever they are planning to surprise me. I’ll still act shocked when I get home so I don’t make them feel bad.
Oh, my woodland friends are here! Might go exercise my vocal cords with some of the songbirds! Is that weird? Sometimes I’m not sure it’s normal to talk to animals, but I guess I wouldn’t really know since I’ve never met another actual person other than the aunties...
Wow. I sound totally pathetic. *sigh* Whatevs. Time to sing.
He exists. Prince Sexypants EXISTS. I’m losing my berries! I was singing, and then he was THERE. Ok, I’m freaking out. Like, a lot. A lot a lot. Someone pinch me, because there is no way this is real. My birthday wish actually came true! The guy I saw in my dreams is a real person. And I met him. And he’s even more good-looking in real life than he is in my dreams. He was kind and gentle and like, super manly. Not that I have much experience to go on, but he’s probably the most handsome and wonderful man in the world. Love at first sight? Totally a thing. I’m absolutely in love with him.
But um, I sort of freaked out and ran away and forgot to ask his name - nice move, Rose. *facepalm* BUT, I invited him to my birthday dinner tonight. Hopefully that won’t throw off the aunties plans too much. What are they going to think? I mean, I know they always lecture me on stranger-danger, but he really doesn’t seem like a stranger since I’ve known him for so long in my dreams.
Time to go tell them...I’m sure I’ve been away long enough for them to hatch whatever plan they were cooking up.
Love (what a wonderful word, right?!),
Oh, P.S. Did I mention he sings? His voice is a wonderful, rich tenor... *sigh*
How can the most incredible day ever turn into the worst day ever so quickly? I got home and the aunties had made me an incredible birthday cake and a gown fit for a princess. Which, hey, turns out that’s what I am. What girl doesn’t dream of being a princess, right? I did too, until I found out that being one meant I’d have to never see my love again...and I never even learned his name!
Apparently, I’m betrothed to some guy called Prince Philip since birth and some evil lady called Maleficent put a curse on me when I was a baby, which is why I’ve grown up like a peasant in the middle of the woods. They lied to me for my entire life. Now I have to go live in the palace and marry some prince I’ve never met and be miserable for the rest of my life. Let me tell you, not sure I’ll ever trust anything anyone says ever again.
I don’t even get to see my dream man tonight to tell him what’s going on, which makes my heart break even more. I know he felt the connection between us too and he’ll think I lied or played a trick on him and he’ll think badly of me. But Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather (who, turns out are fairies, btw. Yeah, freaking FAIRIES. Totally not even the same species as me, let alone related in any way) say we have to go to the palace tonight because the curse lifts at sundown or something.
I hate this. I don’t want to be Princess Aurora. I just want to be Rose, the peasant girl who lives in the woods with her eccentric aunts and talks to woodland creatures and sings with random handsome strangers.
Oh, the fairies are summoning me. Time to abandon my happiness forever.
Rose...or Aurora, or whoever I am...
Ok, whoa. SO much to catch up on. It’s been absolutely crazy here at the palace and I haven’t even had a chance to crack these pages open in way too long. So, last week when I came back to the palace with Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather, I was obviously a wreck (see previous entry!). Well, how’s this for an INSANE story: The crazy lady, Maleficent, showed up and put me in some sort of trance and led me to some little turret in an obscure part of the castle, where she enticed me to prick my finger on a spinning wheel. Apparently, she thought I would die, which she was hoping for since...well, I don’t know why, but is there ever really a good reason when bad people do bad things?
Anyhow, I digress.
Thanks to Merriweather changing the spell when I was a baby, I just fell into a deep sleep. Let me tell you, that was the best rest I’ve ever had in my life. Wow. But next thing I know, Prince Sexypants is hovering over me as I wake up! He’s all like “I’m so sorry, that was NOT how I wanted our first kiss to go, but thank goodness it woke you up! Will you forgive me?”
And I was like, “Wait, you kissed me?”
And he’s like, “Yeah, and I fought a dragon to get to you.”
And I’m like, “What? How did you get here? How did you know where I was? Actually, where am I? And what happened? You fought a dragon?”
(Yeah, I know, I totally word vomited ALL over him. Not my best moment...)
So he says, “I went to your cottage for dinner, but you were gone and Maleficent and her minions were there and captured me. She locked me in her dungeon and told me you were actually Princess Aurora and you’d fallen into an unawakenable sleep unless you got true love’s kiss, which I took to assume meant you also loved me, since why else would she lock ME up, you know. I thought I’d never get out, but your fairies rescued Samson and me and we raced back here, towards the palace, but Maleficent was pretty pissed and turned into a dragon and tried to kill me, but I got her first. Oh, by the way, I never had a chance to introduce myself before you ran off. I’m Prince Philip.”
Yeah, I know, right? I had a pretty hard time believing it at first too. There was NO WAY that everything had magically worked itself out. So I pinched myself, hard. (The bruise is still there to remind me that this isn’t actually a dream.) Then I did the only logical thing I could think of in the moment: Launched myself into his arms and kissed him full on the mouth. I really don’t know what came over me. I’ve never done anything like that in my life...although, actually, I never had the opportunity, so I guess I can’t say that wouldn’t be my M.O. It would be nice to think that I usually act with a little more decorum than that though.
Anyway, then I got to meet my parents - the King and Queen. Still so weird for me to say - parents! I have them! And, bonus, turns out they are pretty cool.
So now that I’ve been here a week, the talk came up about planning the wedding, since it turns out I’ve actually had like, the world’s longest engagement due to the fact that I got engaged before I could even speak...yeah....So, turns out we’ll be married in a month.
What a whirlwind, right?
I love Philip more and more with every moment I spend with him and every detail I learn about him. Oh, and here’s a crazy thing: He dreamed about ME, too! WHAT?!
And I might have accidentally slipped and called him Prince Sexypants to his face yesterday...Yep, that was totally meant to stay between me and these pages, but oh well.
He got this smug grin, so I tackled him with a kiss to wipe it off his ridiculously handsome face. ;) Wow, guess that IS my M.O.
Oh, Diary, what a rollercoaster, but I’ve never been so happy in my whole life. Well, I’ve got a wedding to plan, so until next time...
Depression Meets Innocence
Fluffy white clouds danced capriciously in the brilliant blue sky. In the long-forgotten wonder of my youth, I may have spent hours laying in the meadow giving their shapes names and allowing my imagination to run rampant. Yet now, even as I sat amongst the tall, velvet-soft grass, I failed to marvel at its quiet caress on my skin, or its vibrant green hue which varied minutely as the sun glanced off the individual blades while they swayed with erratic grace in the light, warm breeze.
Before me, the bubble and gurgle of gently flowing water where it encountered rocks and logs created a hypnotic melody in which I could nearly forget the trials, the pains, the frustrations of attempting this thing called life.
I wished to long for the awe that had pervaded my younger years, but despite the promise of happier days if I could return to that place, the effort was more than I could contemplate. So, I merely sat. Sat and watched and listened. Tears fell, unbidden from eyes which should have long ago run dry from their incessant outpouring.
"Why are you crying?" The sound of the child's voice beside me caused me to jump and a startled gasp escaped me, as though her words had instead been a kick in the chest. I dragged the heels of my hands across my face quickly, ashamed, although I couldn't exactly say why.
Turning my head, I squinted up at the little intruder. She couldn't have been more than five, with grass and dirt stains on her simple pink dress that belied an exuberance for adventure which resonated deeply with the echo of my own childhood. With her tiny, dirt-covered hands clasped behind her, she twisted back and forth, waiting for the answer to her question with an unwavering, innocent scrutiny.
My shoulders lifted in a noncommittal shrug. "I don't know," I responded. It wasn't really a lie, but to receive a longer answer would confuse the girl and expose her to a pain I desperately hoped she never learned to feel.
"Are you sad?" She plopped into the grass beside me and I raised an eyebrow, casting a glance backwards in search of her guardian, wondering if I should be worried about this child out here on her own.
"Sometimes." I said, turning my attention back to the tiny interloper. "Is your mommy or daddy close by?"
Her strawberry braids flapped around her cheeks as she shook her head. "Mommy and Daddy died."
Tears threatened to reappear in my eyes as my already weary heart broke under the weight of this petite stranger's pronouncement. Blinking rapidly, I focused on a particularly long blade of grass between us, trying to formulate a response that felt more sincere than "I'm sorry."
I was saved from my internal vernacular struggle by her continued commentary.
"Grandma comes with me to the park now, but she's not as fast as mommy was." Her eyes met mine earnestly.
"No," I said, attempting a light tone, but undoubtedly failing, "grandmas aren't usually as fast as mommies."
"My mommy and daddy are with Jesus now." I tried not to roll my eyes at this line that was often fed to the grieving, feeling unnecessary resentment at her grandmother for filling her young head with such nonsense. "Sometimes I wish they were still with me instead." Her round, cherub-like cheeks lost their glow as her features fell for a moment.
I groaned internally. Just my luck to end up with a gloomy, orphaned kid next to me when I hoped to be alone with my own downtrodden thoughts today. I didn't even have energy to find encouragement for myself. What the heck was I supposed to do for her?
In a turn of emotion strong enough to induce mental whiplash, her head popped back up and the smile returned to her face and she looked at me. "But Jesus helps me not be sad."
"Oh, really?" I asked with barely contained skepticism and acrimony, recalling people from my past who claimed the same thing. "Did your grandma tell you that?"
The annoyance of my tone escaped her. "No. Well, yes, but Jesus told me first." Her matter-of-fact response gave me pause. I'd done the Sunday School thing as a little kid. I knew the stories about a baby born in a stable who grew up, did some miracles and then died. But that's all they'd ever proven to be, in my experience – stories.
"You think Jesus talked to you?" What a weird conversation this was turning into.
She nodded enthusiastically.
Fine, I'll play along. At least it will make for an amusing story to recall someday, if I even learn to feel amused again, I thought.
"And what did Jesus tell you?"
"He woke me up and told me that Mommy and Daddy were going to live with him now, and that if I ever felt sad because they weren't there that I could tell him, and he'd help me not be sad anymore."
Mm-hmm. So, what likely happened was an adult woke her up and told her that her parents died and then her Grandmother filled her head with fairytales to help her feel better.
I became aware of the intensity of her curious eyes on my face. How pathetic I felt when I couldn't meet the gaze of a five-year-old.
"Jesus can help you not to be sad too," she finally said.
I offered a woeful smile. "I don't think so, kid." The blade of grass I'd been twisting around my fingers finally broke and I let it drop from my grasp.
The girl rose to her knees and shifted to face me, undoubtedly grinding in another stain that would be impossible for her grandmother to get out of that dress. "Just believe here." Her little hand shot out to lay over my heart. I inhaled sharply, looking at the place her hand rested. It was hard for me to believe that a static shock had zapped us with all of the moisture in the air, but there had been an undeniable zing when her dirt-covered hand contacted my old t-shirt.
"Violet?" A frantic voice called in the distance. "Violet, where are you?"
The little girl hopped to her feet, as though whatever had happened in that previous moment had no effect on her. "Oops, that's my grandma. I gotta go." With a wave, she turned and shouted back to her grandmother, leaving me speechless, mouth gaping like a fish out of water. What in the world had just happened? I watched the child run full force into the arms of an older woman who had come around the sharp bend in the path.
Sure that she was about to get a lecture for running so far out of sight, I turned away, refocusing my attention on the tiny, dirt handprint on my shirt. As I replayed the encounter in my head, I struggled to make sense of the rush of emotions surging through me in ways I hadn't felt in a very long time, if ever. I was so lost in the moment that I didn't hear the pitter-patter of tiny feet coming to a halt beside me.
"I forgot to tell you!" The girl – Violet, apparently – exclaimed.
"Tell me what?" I didn't think anything she could say would shock me at this point.
She looked past me, to the open space on the other side of me. "Jesus is here to help you not be sad."
I laughed. I couldn't help it. And the sound surprised me because it wasn't hostile or sardonic, but actually carried an undercurrent of – what was that feeling? Was that hope? "Really? Like, what, he's sitting next to me?"
She gave her signature enthusiastic nod, looking past me once more, as though she were intent on something. However, as I followed her gaze, I saw nothing but tall grass and small, white wildflowers.
I swiveled my head back to the odd little girl, who wore a gigantic grin across her face. "You just have to open your eyes!" She placed her grimy fingers over my eyes for a moment, as though she were playing some strange form of peek-a-boo and then bounded away, back to her grandmother.
"Violet!" The woman chided, before meeting my confused look as I watched the little girl retreat once more. "I'm so sorry about that." Capturing Violet's hand, she turned them back in the direction from which she'd emerged. "God bless you!" She called before they walked away.
"Huh." I huffed as I watched them go for a moment, baffled by the entire encounter.
Turning back towards the water, I gasped and nearly toppled over at the shock of a man sitting next to me. As I looked at him though, all the turmoil inside of me began to dissipate and I gasped at the relief of the burden I'd never been able to offload lifting away from me. All I could do was stare into his kind, loving eyes for a moment as I felt my torn and tattered emotions beginning to knit themselves back together.
"Are you here to help me not be sad?" I whispered.
His smile was warm as he replied, "Yes, and so much more."