Happily Ever After — the Aftermath
Happily-Ever-After: Day Minus One:
The dragons are swooping. The town is a mass of carnage: a swath of destruction and messy wreckage from one end to the next.
The countryside is pockmarked with smoking remains. The princess is holed up in the tower, waiting, for her knight to show up. He is late, possibly too late. The vultures are making lazy circles in the sky, not too far behind the flock of dragons, who were still eyeing the ground, looking for lunch.
Food is scarce, given the dragons’ penchant for fire and well-done everything. They give the notion of “blackened” cuisine a whole new meaning. Also, they don’t seem to understand the concept of sharing. Selfish flying bastards, if you ask me.
Where the hell is the cavalry when you need it?
Happily-Ever-After, Day Zero
Parades, confetti and tickertape galore! The Knight showed up at High Noon, and he was smart enough to not come alone. The dragons are dead, the Princess rescued and the town restored. God’s in His heavens; all is right with the world. Finally. Not much to say here; happy endings abhor a wordy explanation. We can settle down to some serious and well-deserved happily-ever-aftering at last.
It’s all a paradise from there on out, once the dragon is vanquished and order is restored, isn’t it? And really, who actually cares about the day after? All the hard work has been done. Hasn’t it?
When 2014 dawned cold and (probably) snowy, I stood at the very center of Happily Ever After. While I may not have needed the services of a Knight (or even a passing stranger), most of the difficult stuff that had been plaguing me for a while had been put to rest, and all but conquered: finances were finally under control. So much so, I knew that, if anything broke, I could fix it. Or at least, afford to have someone else do so. Cars. Refrigerators. Bones. Feelings. You name it – everything was covered.
As for relationships – Big R and little r alike – I had ’em: real and rich and meaningful. There was the long-distance boyfriend (the Big R) as well as the local friends, men and women who fell easily and comfortably in the little r camp. I loved them all. More important – they all loved me. And while even I can recognize how selfish that particular sentiment may sound, I still revel in its truth. They were all quite present in my life, if not physically, then at least only as far away as the nearest pixel. It’s not that my life was suddenly crowded with people, but it was certainly full, with more than enough room to breathe and grow and just be.
And my son, my beautiful, glorious, amazing boy, he was becoming so himself. He was growing, mostly gracefully, into his own – his ideas, his beliefs, his understandings. I may have helped to plant the seeds, but he was becoming a master gardener, and I was so enjoying watching his patch bloom. I watched him play video games and he gave me space to write. We argued, we laughed, we went about the serious business of living our lives and being a family of two.
Life was all falling into place. If none of it was exactly easy, then at least it wasn’t a struggle. There was no need for constant vigilance. Every so often, I took stock, checked the appropriate boxes and went on with the rest of my life.
Happily ever after.
Happily-Ever-After, Day Plus a Few More
The dragon are beginning to rot. And there are flies. And other disgusting insects doing a little conga line in and around the carcasses. Ugh. The Knight took an early train outta here, before dawn – and way before the clean up crews were even organized. And the princess wants to go off on an adventure of her own. Or college. Or backpacking around Europe. She definitely has no interest in ruling the mass of people milling aimlessly about, staring in shocked amazement at the sheer magnitude of what needs to be done next.
Maybe this is why we never get the stories of what happens after the Happily-Ever-After ending. The day after is the part nobody tells you about, all the life that happens after the happy ending. It’s a pale postscript, that aftermath.
Except it isn’t.
Oh, sure – you get some awesomeness there in that chalky, hopscotched outline of Sky Blue. You can finally put both feet down, and rest. Breathe a little. Survey the kingdom of your Happy. But it’s not as if life suddenly stops. There’s no pause button you can press that lets you to stay in some attenuated state of perfection for the rest of time. The rescued princess cannot stay on the balcony, waving to her adoring subjects forever. Think how tired her arms would get.
What happens in the aftermath of Happily Ever After? Life. And please – life is not all neat and tidy, a karmic lesson in gravity: what goes up may just float around for a while, kissing the stratosphere before playing tag with passing comets. Or whatever went up could just as easily come plummeting back to earth in a fiery, cataclysmic burst of light, not equal or opposite. Or it may just inhabit a wobbly, tentative orbit with no rhyme or reason. Or some mixture of it all. It’s life, in all its messy, glory.
Life is not all ups and downs. Rather, it is an ebb and flow. Like water, it moves and surges and changes from brilliant turquoise to soul-sucking black in an instant, and then back again. It flows and sustains and fills in ever changing motion. It’s beautiful and dangerous and filled with wild magic and refracted color. It bends and cuts and leaves scars without regard to pattern or desire.
Welcome to 2014.
It’s not as if I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was far too busy hopping through the chalked-in board and tossing pebbles at the next square to notice much. Life was grand. Then it wasn’t. Then it was all fruit basket upset, a roiling, rollicking, ceaselessly moving, breathtaking wonderment,
There was no tit-for tat, no account ledger where the losses and gains neatly lined up and zeroed out at the end of the year. I lost my job in the almost-spring. I got published – and not just published because I submitted a piece to an unsuspecting publisher. No, I was sought out, asked to contribute a piece to a new and important anthology. I cashed in the 401K and collected unemployment. I launched a new business, a Poet in Residence program, and have been marketing and growing it with some noticeable success, getting a few gigs along the way; Built a website. Kept writing, every day. Had a few health issues, some scarier than others.
Things started breaking. The refrigerator, after threatening to do so for a few tense years, finally gave up the ghost. At the height of summer. More things were in the various states of disrepair. I squeaked and scrimped and borrowed and begged and found money to repair things in order of their importance. I learned to ask for help. More, I learned to accept it – grudgingly, shame-facedly, but I did it anyway. More things broke. I learned to either get creative or do without.
I lost the boyfriend to distance and mourned an uncle who died. I made new friends and explored new relationships. My son began to fray around the edges, showing too-obvious signs of stress fractures threatening to widen into bottomless fissures somewhere along the way. I learned a whole new vocabulary as a result, revising my understanding of words like “powerless” and “pain.” I took care of myself occasionally, and punished myself a few times as well.
You get the point. Every crystalline sphere of heaven, every darkly dangerous ring of hell: each one explored in intimate, sometimes excruciating detail. I lingered in some, raced through others (and not always in iterations you would expect). You learn some, and cry some, and get scared some and survive some. You find Sky Blue a time or two more, in between moments of guilt and shame and triumph.
It’s life. It’s not always easy. It’s not always struggle, no matter how often you start to believe that it is. There are no rewards handed out for a life well-lived. Neither are we punished for our mistakes or petty cruelties.
Sometimes, it was all I could do to crawl outside the safety of my bed and face the day ahead of me. There were days where I was brought to my knees in the face of desperate need and pain. Sometimes that need was my own. Sometimes, I was able to find grace enough to be present, to offer love, to find healing.
Happily-Ever-After, Day Plus Infinity
Once again, I stand in the shadow of another Happily Ever After, surveying the vast landscape that surrounds me, here at the brink of 2015. It’s nothing at all like that of last year. There is much more uncertainty. The safety net is in tatters and my steps much more tentative these days. But I stand here, nonetheless, ready – perhaps to merely skim the surfaces of my life or maybe even dive deep into all those secret and hidden places that are bruised and broken and scabbed over. Or maybe to just stand motionless for a minute or two more, to catch my breath before I leap.
I will leap. I will stumble a hell of a lot more often than leap. I will fall, and if I’m lucky, I’ll be caught in a net of gentle hands and feel the comfort of strong shoulders. And even if I don’t find that net, I’m pretty sure I’ll get back up again. I will sing and pray and doubt and question and laugh and fuck up and soar and cry and live. I will live a life in 2015, out to it’s very edges – mostly. Sometimes I will huddle in the corners, waiting for a bit of bravery or some small act of kindness.
I will find an infinite array of Happily Ever Afters. And for every one of them, I will revel in the days that come after, the days of clean up and celebration and mess.
And when I remember, when I am lucky beyond belief, I will give thanks for every single one.