i’m currently reading the hakawati by Rabih Alameddine. it is a story about stories–literally stories about childhood, stories about adulthood, stories about coming-of-age and ancient tales that intertwine and intercept each other like shehrerazade’s famous tales. and i’ve gotten to wonder about modern story-tellers. it feels like great epics have all been told some days, doesn’t it?
but i’ve also been thinking about fairy tales for little girls that challenge the norm–and that don’t set them up for “princess failure” later in life.
once upon a time there was a little girl.
this little girl fell down a lot. much more than other little girls, she thought.
she made a lot of mistakes. many more than other little girls, she told herself.
and she felt hurt. deeper than other little girls, her parents noticed.
and she worried about hurting other people. much more than she should, said her friends.
and the little girl spent time alone. worrying. she tried to make sure that everyone was happy–but what if they weren’t? what would people think about her if she faltered, what would people think if she said no? and she searched for the answers to her questions–the questions of how she could make everyone around her happy–and still be happy herself.
then one day the little girl met a little prince in the woods. this little prince fell down too, and he made mistakes. but he didn’t worry about them. and he loved the little girl the way she was, and he was happy. the little girl felt special. she felt pretty. she felt light. loved. and happy. and the little prince told her about his life and love. about how much he loved his dog and his friends, what his dreams were and what kind of candy he liked to eat. and the little girl loved to listen to the prince, knowing that in listening, she was making him happy. and that made her happy-too.
but it did not make her parents happy. the little girl’s mother understood how the little girl felt things deeper than other little girls. my darling, that little prince cannot be your friend, her mother told her. you are a part of me, my daughter, and i know you in ways you can’t yet understand. in ways you can’t yet know yourself. please, listen to me, and remember the little prince fondly, but seek friendship elsewhere. but the little girl cried that she would miss the little prince so much. and who would listen to his stories if she wasn’t there? and the little girl’s father understood that little princes had duties to perform. enough. said her father. your friendship with the little prince has to end.
the little girl was hurt. frustrated. and confused. and torn. how could she make everyone happy this time?
she met the little prince in the woods the next day. i have to obey my parents, she told him quietly, and i don’t know what to do. i don’t want to hurt you, and i will miss you. so together they planned to be friends secretly. and that made them both happy for a little while. but the little girl always wondered how much it would hurt her parents when they found out. it hung over her like a dark cloud.
but then, the little prince grew up. he left the little girl behind in the woods and went out into the world to live his loves and live his dreams and make his way in the world. the little girl told herself that this was normal. and that it did not diminish their friendship. but she knew in her heart that her mother had been right, because the friendship with the little prince opened a hole in her heart. she worried this hole would never heal, never close, and that she would never feel special, pretty, light, loved and happy in the same way. ever after.
and the hole in her heart was complicated by knowing, now, finally, how much her mother and father had loved her when they gave her the advice. and how she had ignored it.
so the little girl tried to grow up. she educated herself. sought out new experiences that would help her to grow and understand the world. she watched people dance, listened to music, and read lots of books. she wandered through the woods by herself and took time to think about things. she made friends that her parents would not have approved of and did everything she could to make them happy–remembering how when she made the little prince happy, she felt happy-too. and she did feel happy too, for a little while. so she kept doing what she could to make her friends happy, and she made more friends so that she could make them happy–so that she could be happy-too. but she never filled the hole in her heart.
and one day, she started to feel the suspicion that being happy-too was never going to show her her way.
then the little girl met a little boy.
emanating deep within herself, from the base of the hole in her heart every fiber of her soul screamed at her be careful! and then the hole grew large and took over the little girl’s heart. it ached and it made the little girl remember the prince. and the aching grew larger and larger and her love turned to anger, and towards hatred.
and the little boy just sat next to the little girl and smiled at her. he couldn’t see the hole in her heart. but he could see her hands. could i hold your hand? he asked. but the little girl didn’t know what to say. the hole where her heart had been reminded her to remember the feelings of abandonment, guilt, helplessness and frustration. don’t forget! it told her little boys are not that different from little princes. and they will grow up one day and leave you behind.
but she wanted to be happy-too. so she held the little boy’s hand because it would make him happy. and she wanted him to be happy so she could be happy-too. and she was happy-too. but it was a different happy too than before. and she listened to his stories for a long, long time before she would share one of her own.
and the little boy decided that he loved the little girl. so he wanted her to be happy–not just happy-too. so he did everything he could to make her happy. and the little girl wanted to be happy, so she moved forward without her whole heart–even though the hole kept reminding her, every day, and tried to tell her not to move forward. and she was friends with the little boy, but in a different way than before. and she even loved the little boy so much that she could love around the hole in her heart. but the hole did not fill up.
and together they tried to grow up. they educated themselves. sought out new experiences that would help them to grow and understand the world. they watched people dance, listened to music, and read lots of books. they wandered through the woods together and took time to listen to their thoughts. they made friends that their parents would not have approved of and did everything they could to make each other happy. but she never filled the hole in her heart.
and holding the little boy’s hand, the little girl went back to trying to fill up the hole by being happy-too. she did whatever she could to make everyone around her happy. and she waited for her heart to fill up, and waited for the friendships to take the place of her friendship with the little prince, and she waited to feel the same feelings for the little boy. and she got frantic and spent all of her time chasing happy-too until one day the little boy asked her what she was doing. she opened her mouth but the hole in her heart answered with her voice let me try to be happy-too. then the hole reached through her shoulder, down through her arm and into her fingers and pulled her hand away from the little boy. you are all the same said the hole. you can’t make me happy, you can’t fill me up, you can’t heal me. and then the hole reached into her feet and moved her away from the little boy.
the little boy watched her walk away, and felt sad.
the little girl let the hole control her. it moved her out of the edge of the forest onto a cliff near the seaside. the little girl sat on a big rock and looked out over the unending water.
i am as big and deep and wide as the ocean the hole told her. i cannot be filled or healed. i will not change.
the little girl believed it.
that little boy can never fill me.
the little girl looked over the water and said i know. and she knew the little boy wanted to. and that the little boy loved her. and she knew that this little boy would always be by her side and take care of her.
but is that enough? asked the hole it will always be different.
the little girl looked out again over the water. the ocean was big. and deep. and wide. but it was full, wasn’t it? she watched the waves crash onto the sand and realized that it was full, yes, but it was never full of the same water. and the ocean must have holes too, right?
the little girl asked the hole in her heart. but it didn’t answer. so she cried because it hurt to let things go.
a bird flew close by and asked the little girl why she was crying. because i want to be happy. and i am arguing with the hole in my heart, but it does not respond. the bird asked how can you argue with yourself? understand that the hole in your heart is as much a part of you as your heart. it is not separate from you. do not keep trying to fill old holes or heal old aches. it is what it is, it is who you are, you are who you are because of it. learn and love, face your hurts, and let them go.
but she asked when will i be whole? the bird told her accept yourself. accept your past. you are already whole–the hole is you. and she almost believed the bird. the hole was about herself, and not the little prince. the hole was hers. and the hole had nothing to say.
the day grew dark, and the little girl realized she missed the little boy. she got up to find him. she started to walk back and saw the little boy coming towards her. we won’t always be happy every day he said and we won’t always feel whole. but we will be more happy, and more whole, if we stay together on our path. the little girl listened to him. she reached within to poke at the hole. but as she did, she realized something.
you won’t be like anyone else. and our friendship won’t be like any others. and my feelings for you won’t be the same as my feelings for someone else–because you aren’t anyone else but you. she told the little boy. and it will never be enough because we will always be alive, and we will always be growing and we will always be looking for more and moving forward. just like the ocean keeps refilling we will keep filling ourselves up forever. and i will keep filling myself up–because no one can make me happy-too. i can find my own happiness.
the little boy understood her. and that made her happy. actually happy.
and nothing ever filled the hole. nothing ever had to. the little girl accepted it and let it fade.
and the little girl and the little boy grew up together. they faced hardships and rough seas, and the weathered the world and their own feelings–and their own feelings for each other. the lived full lives feeling happy, sad, confused, frustrated, excited and joyful.
and when the boy and girl were satisfied, the held hands and walked into the ocean. together they filled it up.