I grew up waiting for a prince, living in the remote, harsh environment of south central Wyoming. The landscape there is broad and flat: endless brown and grey interspersed with brittle clumps of sage. It is as desolate a place as one might imagine; incessant wind and a vast horizon of dirt: the occasional tumbleweed. I was eight when I pressed my nose against the bedroom window of my parent’s trailer, watching my mother struggle to extract garbage blown into the chain link fence separating us from the state-run rest stop. The bathrooms for the transient ironically built in the ugliest place in America, alongside which my father had fittingly placed a trailer. It was freezing that afternoon, too cold and dry for proper snow, but small flurries whirled like dervishes over the packed surface of the dirt. My mother, always an optimist, smiled and waved at me, even as she chased a length of toilet paper down the length of the fence. She was wearing a huge black parka. I was eight, and I looked through that window and I thought, this is really, really ugly.
The only thing to do was get out. But there was literally nowhere to go. I was a lonely child, having by this time already moved nine times and attended five different schools. I didn’t know anybody, didn’t know how to know anybody, and there wasn’t anybody to know out there anyway. So I lived in books. I replaced that vast desolation with the rich fantasy land of fairytale and myth. I was Snow White and Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty all rolled into one, but better. In my mind I was prettier, smarter, and better dressed. I was the princess, and I needed to prepare. I sat ensconced in the four brown-paneled walls of my tiny bedroom and listened to vinyl Disney soundtracks endlessly, trying to achieve that high-pitched warble of Snow White’s, imagining how much better the seven dwarfs would love me. I choreographed intricate tap/ballet/flamenco/belly dancing/baton routines that I would later demonstrate to a visiting Aunt. She sat quietly on my bed in awe, as I explained I was going to perform in a talent show in a distant town. To her credit, she kept her mouth shut. All of this isn’t too odd, other than the extraordinary loneliness. But in my loneliness, in the loneliness of the expanse of desolation around me, there was always a figure on the horizon, charging towards me. I was destined for better things and a prince was coming to save me.
It should come as no surprise that I married the first person who asked. D was not a prince. He was a wrestler. But he was from a large family, one in which there was no such thing as alone, and for a long time the energy they threw off reminded me of summer camp, rather than Lord of the Flies. They were raucous and witty, sarcastic and physical, and they operated in stark contrast to the quiet and intensely controlled life I had previously experienced. I married purely for the fun of it, having never known fun before, and I was enamored with the casual humor and ease with which these people navigated their lives. I had plans, but they were vague, and I’d spent a childhood being reminded that my job was to follow my husband, becoming as self-effacing as possible in pursuit of the ideals of the submissive women of the bible. I was raised to out-Christ Christ. Having spent the first seventeen years of my life numbing any real desire and self-will, I spent the next fifteen denying the actual existence of my self, and I was extraordinary at it.
A year and three months after my marriage, I had my first child: unplanned. He was two months premature and deathly ill with cystic fibrosis. I had never intended to have children, had in fact gotten pregnant while on birth control, and was completely unprepared to learn to love an infant. For the first twelve hours I actively resisted even holding Luke, until a distraught nurse finally thrust him into my arms, willing me to somehow love this creature I knew only as a parasite. That’s how it happens, I guess- I have no other explanation for it. One moment I had no interest, the next, I was violently in love. Luke failed and recovered, and failed and recovered, and all the time carried my nineteen year-old heart along with him, until finally, at the age of two months, he gave up and I stood slammed against the wall of the NICU, watching the second hand of the clock just beyond his bed, as the Dr. called out the official time of death. There was nothing romantic or fairytale-ish about it, and it was the beginning of a slow descent into hell from which no pretend prince would claim me. I wasn’t a princess, I was a tragically unprepared and poorly-informed girl, living in a dream world that had no earthly connection to the effort it would require to simply stay alive.