The Lady, Or The Tiger?

She was born into poverty, in a run-down trailer reeking of black mold and stale beer cans. Not a very remarkable child to all outward appearances, a mousey thing with wispy brown hair, a voice permanently pitched just above a whisper, and the habit of looking at the ground while talking to people. plagued with bad health and a controlling father, she did not see very much childhood. Taught how to swing an axe and use a chainsaw, she was the only girl in her 5th grade class who could change the oil in a car and clean the carberator on a generator.

There was only one outstanding quality about her, and that was her eyes. A piercing blue with hints of moss green, that drew any watcher deep into their shadows with a premonition of the thoughts that would one day be harbored there. It was the kind of beauty others wished to claim, and her subservient attitude made her an easy target for these pillagers of innocence. It did not take her long to detest the iris that drew such unwanted attention, and she hated being looked directly in the face. It bothered her to think she had been thrown into a world where the worth of a soul was measured by its outward loveliness, and this early viewpoint would cause her to draw away from such beauty for the rest of her life.

A loner from the start, preferring the company of her dog and the forest to any human company offered. Building forts in the trees where she imagined fending off armies of horny old men and faceless gropers with the earth shattering power of her voice. Imagining herself a pillar of strength, kneeling for neither man nor God, a self-sustained entity needing only the nourishment of rain.

As she grew older, so did her body fill into her gaze. Boys began to flirt with the shy fluttering of youth, and she could find nothing but a sour apathy with their advances. She had already seen far too much twisted intimacy in her brief lifetime to find joy in such games. She believed her canine friend was all the love she would ever need. She began to beat up boys on the playground and learned all sorts of nasty words to make herself less likable… To put up some sort of wall between the self she had struggled so hard to hold on to, and the little girl everyone expected her to be.

High school was more of the same torture, but on a scale more grand. By that point in life, when emotions are running high and everyone is struggling so hard to fill out into their adult skins, a feeling of frantic desperation is added to the mix. Boys began to pick on her, in retribution and self-defence. Hairy arms, no boobies, the voice of a toad, dirty clothes and calloused palms, all of this was pointed out to her with mean hearted precision. At first she did not mind, but a strength had been built tenuously atop a mountain of doubt and self depreciating inner dialog, and it was slowly eaten away by the steady flow of verbal abuse.

The home life was of course no relief, just a different kind of painful. surrounded on all sides by violence, shadows and fear with no safe place to turn, she fell with a mighty crash into a suicidal rut. ‘What am I worth?” She asked herself. “What could I ever have to offer a person if I ever DID find the courage to love? Who will hold such a broken and worthless person with any sort of respect?” She had no answers, and no hope.

Soon even her dreams were no release, for insomnia reared it’s ugly head and no matter what she tried, the blessed peace of rest eluded her. Down at the river she hung her head to cry, in a way she had stopped doing at the age of nine. A new sort of hopelessness confronted her, for now the strength she had relied so heavily upon was gone as well, leaving her beached and at the mercy of a relentless life. A life that used her for all she was worth and took no prisoners. She began to detest the kids of her own age with comfort and laughter. The kids who had only their room to clean and a curfew to worry about. The kids who had perfectly wonderful parents whom they completely disrespected. The kids who had a first kiss, the blush of a summer crush, and the  gall to be heedless of their care free existence.

A notebook found her there at the river, at the bottom of a bag full of oranges and potato chips. She began to write.

A freedom discovered. A world with no limits except those she herself made. A world defined only by the extent of her imagination. A place where she could reinvent herself, be anything she chose, and escape the confines of her blue-green eyes. She wrote for hours and fell asleep with the pen gripped in her sweaty fist.

It was a few days later that she confronted her father. It matters not what his demand was, only that she refused it. He screamed and spit, brandishing his meaty hand with a pointed threat, but she would not budge. “Go ahead and hit me.” She told him. “It was your mistake for teaching me a tolerance for the pain you inflict. Now your power over me is useless, because I know now the limits of my self, and they far surpass your weak displays of dominance.” He did not quite understand her words, but the steely glint in her eyes wasn’t hard to comprehend. There was no softness left in her, no give, no room for compromise, and she would die with a smile rather than bend. He beat her soundly, then was too ashamed to look at her for days. He feared the creature he had made with his own hands, and he never again found the courage to face those eyes. He died a year later, an unforgiven man.

She dropped out of high school and learned the art of hard labor. Pouring her blood, sweat and tears into the earth she rended with pick and hoe. Memorizing plant names and how to discern the quality of soil. Pruning shrubs and building brick patios for people who had the money to spend on such things. Taking the small fortune she acquired, she purchased the land her father had once forced upon her. Claiming that last visage of his control was the final straw that broke her of her inhibitions.

Her first love was a woman, not surprising if you think about the sordid history of the men behind her, and happiness was found in the few brief years of their relationship. Compatibility is the unspoken understanding between two gazes locked across a crowded room, reaching for the same star in the darkness. Both had a past full of shadows, and so each was able to understand the needs of the other. Sunny hours at the river with a fishing pole, bare breasted and laughing. Whole days spent in bed, just lounging and telling dirty jokes. Good natured arguments about religion, politics, and the spelling of the word epiphany… Love is the greatest healer of all, and even a fallen angel can re-grow her wings. The woman found strength in her arms, and apparently that was a strength to go it alone. She left on a cold winter day for the greener pastures of city life, where everything moved at the frantic pace of rush hour traffic and there was no room for the doubts to creep in.

The sudden exodus did not break the heart of this girl, now a woman, who knew more of pain then others would learn in a lifetime. She simply took a deep breath and began moving onward, hoping only the best for the future of her lover.

Perfectly content now in her solitude, easy with herself in the silence, she once again finds her notebook. What came pouring out of her pen however WAS a surprise. Words convoluted and colorful, metaphors and parallels, an endless array of adjectives and viewpoints she was completely unaware of harboring within her. Like the first taste of some intoxicating drug, she was hooked. Soon a pen was carried everywhere she went, and the scenery around her was focused through the lens of her perspective until it was bent into new and exciting shapes. Not even the simplest autumn leaf was free of her flexible facsimile and she found a purity within her pages that she had never before dreamed of touching.

Soon others were drawn to her words as once they had been drawn to her gaze, but this time with a searching, needy quality. The broken spirits of the world reached out in desperation for the warmth of the flame she carried, and the girl who had once had no room even to harbor herself was now a woman who embraced the world with a single page.

Nothing in life is easy and nothing is handed to anyone on a silver platter without some sort of payment being required. A good soul is never done learning lessons or accepting the tests of character, and she was no exception. It was not very long at all before a new hurdle placed itself in the path of her advancing feet.

Oftentimes the most unexpected moments are the most powerful, and the emotions that appear out of the apparent blue are the ones we find the most difficult to come to terms with. Of all the things she had risen above in the past, of all the times she believed herself stretched to the limits of her ability, it was nothing compared to the oblivious brown eyes of her best friend.

So comfortable in the easy flow of drink and laughter, never seeing the dagger until is was lodged firmly in her heart. It was a summer she will never in her lifetime forget. The sunshine was sweeter, the river had more fish, the days were longer, the nights had more stars, and the heaviness of apathy was a vague shadow of the past. In a time when she felt the closest to true contentment and happiness, it all came crashing down with a simple hug.

It was well past midnight, and the two of them were the only ones left standing. She had work early in the morning, so she was attempting to make her goodbyes amidst his loud exuberance for their plans of the following day. “We’re gonna head up to the mountains, ride around and drink beer until the sun sets. I found a HUGE mushroom patch that I just can’t wait to plunder, so we’re gonna have the best soup in the world when we get back. When can you get here? We should play a game of softball in the park before we leave. Did you find your glove…?” All this and more went pouring over her as she laughed and shook her head at the excitement bubbling under his skin. “Hush.” She says to him. “Give me a hug I have to go home now. I’ll see you as soon as I get done with my job.” He grins at her and reaches across the table.

It was the smell of him, the light way he touched her, or perhaps the way he fit… Or maybe it was the gift of happiness that he had given her, but whatever he cause, the effect was unmistakable. She felt a kind of affection she had never felt for a man before. A trust. She wanted nothing more in that moment than to hold him a bit longer, if only to feel more fully this alien emotion. To figure out what it was that she was reaching for. To come to terms with this unknown part of herself. It was over very quickly, and she found herself floating out to her car and driving home in a sightless daze.

In bed, insomnia found her for the first time in years, and her pages held no solace. ‘What just happened?’ She asked herself, ‘and how do I fix it?’ As if something had broken, and was in need of repair. Something HAD broke, and it was her last wall standing, the one around her heart. She knew full well that he loved another, knew also that even if he did not, that she was not something he would want. She did not know what to do about this, because she had never been in this situation. Even if she were to have him, she knew nothing of how to please his kind. She found herself useless for the first time in ages.

The next day she was surprised to find the feeling still lurking there. She half expected it to be a flight of drink induced fancy, easily put off with the morning light, but this was not the case. When she finally faced him in the flesh, sitting far too close on a bumpy road that caused his thigh to brush hers, she thought she would go mad with confusion. ‘This is my friend, nothing more.’ She said in the privacy of her head. ‘I don’t even LIKE men.’ It did not help at all, this attempt at self-hypnosis.

That night they were once again chatting it up while one guy slept in the guest bed and another on the couch. He began to tell her of his love for another, and how it burned him with desire and pulled his heartstrings to the breaking point. Seeing the pain in his eyes, and the loneliness he tried so hard to disguise, she knew then it was not him she wanted most, it was to give him the happiness he had given to her. She vowed then to do anything in her power to bring his love to him.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, they say…

She placed herself closer to the object of his affections, learning their heart and the desires that drew them. Long days on the beach and nights beneath the stars drew slowly but surely the secrets of their soul until even the bare bones of their inner pain were bared to her eyes. In learning the mind of this other, she also learned the full extent of the hopelessness of the two ever joining. Even seeing this clearly did not stop her from trying, and the more she pushed, the further they fell from one another. Of course she blamed herself for this. ‘I should have just left well enough alone. Maybe my tinkering was the cause of dissention. Perhaps if I had just walked away from them both all would have been well.’ These are the things she told herself, and she berated her careless decision to try to mend fences… But the damage had already been done.

In the time she had spent learning this other, they had also learned a piece of her. It is very hard to disguise a world of pain and wonder beneath the skin of your smile, and they had spotted it somewhere between the whispered confessions and the disclosure of dreams. This person whom she had tried so hard to bring to another, was now reaching for her.

She did what she had learned so well how to do; She ran.

In the end all three of them fell apart. He could no longer look in her eyes for imagining the betrayal of trust in taking his love. She could not look at him for the pain of imagining that she had caused such hurt. Neither could look upon the third for imagining the friendship that so nearly was… When all was said and done they each went their separate ways, a little heavier, and a little more jaded.

This was not a bump in the road easily traversed, however. It was not a simple happening that could be forgotten and discarded like a bad memory. It left deep gouges in the hearts of all three of them, and she could never again bring herself to trust in a man the way she had done just that once. Could never again allow herself to let go so completely that she left her emotions at the feet of another… It taught her the most important lesson of her life: That physical pain can hurt your body and heal leaving only scars, but love can rend your soul and leave wounds that never heal.

 

She faces the home she built with her bare hands, each plank of lumber, piece by piece, nailed with a finality. She looks upon it with a discerning eye, hands on her hips and a squint of concentration. She follows the lines of that building with a gaze that once wanted nothing more than these four simple walls to hold her. She takes one look at the dreams built on the blood and tears of a past she tried to reclaim with the fruits of her labor. She sees that she has built her dreams upon a trash heap of memories, and she is only trying to cover up the smell. She never truly escaped her father, she still lives as the woman he made her to be, adding onto his legacy with every day she worked his land. She takes one long last look at all she had ever loved lying benignly before her within those walls- And she lights a match.

Walking away from the bridges burning behind her, she carries only a bag of notebooks and a few changes of clothes.

“How many seas must the white dove sail, before she sleeps in the sand?” A question for which she will spend the rest of her life attempting to answer.

 

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