Once upon a time, there lived a little girl on the balmy shores of a distant, sun-drenched land. Her name was Teresa, and she spent the bulk of her day bopping around her island singing to the wind, imagining love stories, and watching the ocean roll in and out, day after day. |
For her, life was simple, but it was also hard. She spent the days of her early youth living in a patchwork shack that had been nailed together by the side of a narrow dirt road. Not the most ostentatious of homes, but things were little different for her than they were for her neighbors.
She had been graced with a kind and loving mother, and an older sister who teased her more often than coddled her, but loved her nonetheless. She had a father, of course, but she couldn’t remember his name or his face. He had left a long time ago, in the desperate hope of carving out a brighter future for his family. Being a child, it was hard for her to understand that. Very hard. In fact, somewhere deep down inside of her, she was secretly sure that her father really didn’t want her. After all, how could he love her and still tolerate being on the other side of the world? In her young mind, it didn’t make very much sense at all.
So, in that respect, life for her was also lonely. She carried the secret shame of her father’s absence with her everywhere that she went. From her perspective, everyone knew that he had left because he didn’t want her. They knew even if they didn’t say it. But, oh, sometimes they did. Sometimes the children would taunt her, cruelly, because she was the only one among them who didn’t have a father at home, waiting to be there for her. Why they did it didn’t matter. All she knew was that the teasing hurt terribly. It hurt because, in her heart, she believed all of it to be true. She was just a tiny child, living on a tiny island in the great-wide blue. The tolls that this world demands were still largely mystery to her. So, rather than endure the taunting, she preferred to spend her days alone, away from everyone...wandering and dreaming.
Then, one day, her mother began gathering all of their meager possessions and handing them out to her friends. Teresa didn’t understand. They didn’t have much, but what they did have was pretty important. She had asked her mother why she was giving away all of their belongings, but all mom said was, “we can’t take all of this with us. We’re going away soon and we’ll have new things, better things. You’ll see.”
And, go away they did. The weekend came and mom grabbed them up, ushered them outside to a waiting taxi, and off they went. It was her first ride in a motorcar, and she spent most of the trip laughing in the back seat with her sister as they pretended to be movie stars and princesses. Nary a thought was spent on what they’d left behind.
Two long airplane rides, and a short car trip later, they had arrived at their destination. She was tired and hungry, but none of that seemed to matter to anyone. Loud men in suits kept making them stand in lines. First one line, and then another. At one point her mother just broke down and cried, and that scared her. It scared her so badly that she cried too. She opened up like a tiny waterfall and loosed that pent up sorrow in anguished wails as she clung to her mother’s legs and watched the world blur away behind a veil of tears. She was hurt and scared. She didn’t want her mother to cry. She didn’t know where she was, or who these big white people were with their clumsy, choppy language that she couldn’t understand. They were always angry and shouting. She wanted to go home, badly. She wanted to go back to her tiny shack, back to the people who taunted her, back to the lonely days wandering the shore. All of it was better than this. Anything was better than this. Cold tile floors, angry white giants, and still no father to protect any of them. She knotted her fists into her mother’s skirts and cried until her eyes went dry from trying. The world was falling away beneath her.
She woke later, tangled in the arms of her sister and lying in the back seat of another car. How she had gotten there and when she had managed to fall asleep, she couldn’t remember. She was tired though, and anyplace was better than that other place with the bright lights and the shouting voices. Afraid for a moment, she called out to her mother who answered back from the front seat, reassuring her that things were okay. They were all here. It was time to surrender. Time to sleep.
Sleep she did. She slept and she dreamt of all manner of things. Of course, she dreamt of the angry men in suits, and the scary things they said that she couldn’t understand. But, soon those thoughts faded away into the background as the tiny wisps of memory coalesced into images of her father. Her father, who came to her in dreams and made her world safe again. In all her whirlwind life, this was what she had of him. These fragile little dreams where he came to her and told her that he still loved her. That sacred place where he whispered to her that she would always be beautiful and precious to him. Always.
She woke again later, although for a while she was unsure that she wasn’t still dreaming. She lay on a bed unlike any other she had ever known. Full, soft, and warm, with great, fluffy pillows…it was heaven. There were no bits of straw or little itchy things poking out between the sheets like there was at home. She woke her sister who had been lying next to her, and they explored the strange new room, together. Look! There’s even cloth on the floor! Lights that go on when you flick a switch, just like in the movies! And dolls, dolls, dolls. More dolls than she had ever seen in her whole life, piled against the wall and propped on the shelves. Pretty dolls, too. Not the dirty, stainy, rag-dolls that she and all her friends had grown up with. These were dolls with beautiful gowns, and pretty white princess faces. Too pretty to touch. Too pretty to play with. Everywhere.
A short while later, mom came into the room to find the two of them laughing, hugging, and rolling around on the bed together. They stopped when she entered and went to her, and for a while all three of them sat on the bed, in a great big tangled clump, and they hugged each other until none of them could find the strength to squeeze anymore.
It was good to be here. Good, if even for a short while. What was most important, however, was that they were together. All three of them, safe. She wanted to know everything. Was this their new house? Was this her bed? Were these her toys? She had a million questions and didn’t know where to start. But, before she had the chance to find her voice, a strange man walked into the room.
He wasn’t one of the loud, white men. He was like her. Well, he was like the men that she was used to seeing, anyway. Something about him scared her, though. He was short, thin, and looked like he spent a lot of time being mean. He came to the bed and sat down next to their mother in a way that suggested familiarity. Now, Teresa wasn’t very old, but she knew a lot about what went on back home. She had heard tales about the other husbandless mothers who lived on the island with her, and what they often did to earn money. She knew as much about it as any little girl had a right to, maybe even more. After all, she had been teased about that, too. Teased for as long as she could remember. And, in that moment, she hurt terribly. She thought that all those things that the other little girls said to her were true. She didn’t want that to happen to her. She didn’t want her or her mother to be that. It was wrong. So, she balled up her little fists and attacked the man, trying to drive him off of the bed and away from her mother. She didn’t want the soft bed or the pretty dolls anymore. She just wanted him to go away and let them all be.
Her little fists fell like rain, pounding everything that they could reach. But, he was too strong, too big. He pulled her to him and held onto her so tightly that she almost couldn’t breathe. The tears came again. The anger and the helplessness filled up inside of her and washed down her face in streaming rivulets. She wept, but she did not cry out. Instead, she fought. Squirming, scratching, biting anything that she could reach. She hated him. She hated him more than anything in the whole world and she wanted him to go away. And, as he pressed her tightly to him, the voices rose behind her, “honey, this is your daddy. This is your father. This is your daddy, sweetheart. He loves you. It’s alright.”
And, somewhere deep down inside, she had already known. Maybe it was something in the spicy smell of him, or the shadows of some distant memory, realized. He didn’t look like the father that she had invented in her mind. In fact, he didn’t look anything like him at all. And as continued to hold her there, she finally did scream. She screamed with all of the strength inside of her. Despite all the knowing and the reassuring voices, she screamed and screamed until he finally let her go. For, in finally meeting him, he had dispelled that perfect, forgiving father that she had created in her mind. Gone was the image of the man who loved her from across the ocean; the man who would never ever leave her for anything. All that was left to take his place was this queerly forlorn stranger.
The years passed quickly by in this place, her new home. Things were better here in some ways. In others, well…
She still hadn’t grown accustomed to the idea of the strange man being her father. She doubted that she ever could. In the early days, she would sneak out from beneath the covers at night and creep to the side of her mother’s bed, just to make sure that he wasn’t hurting her. Of course, he hadn’t been. They were merely lying there sleeping, and that was all. Still, on some nights she would stand there next to her mother for hours, frightened for her safety, and cling to her hand as she slept.
As the years passed, she came to trust him more. He was kind enough, and treated them all with respect and consideration. Still, somewhere deep inside of herself, she couldn’t forgive him the past. She couldn’t let that go. So, as the years went by, there continued to be a pervasive undercurrent of estrangement between her and her father. In time, it crept its way out from between them and grew to alienate her from the rest of her family as well. Her sister couldn’t understand how Teresa felt. She had been old enough to remember her father when he had left. Teresa hadn’t. And her mother…her mother was always too busy to listen. She had taken a job since they came to this new place, just like her father, and was hardly even home anymore. Eight thousand miles seemed a long way to travel to be alone again. All the creature comforts notwithstanding, it suddenly seemed a long way, indeed.
Then there was school.
School was hard for her. Of all the new hardships that she had to face, maybe that was the hardest of all. The children were cruel and hurtful. She couldn’t decide which were worse, the children who picked on her and called her names like Chink, Gook, and Jap, or the other children that looked like her, but taunted her because she didn’t know how to speak proper English.
It was tough with no friends and no one to turn to. Often, she would walk to school and sit, dreaming on the steps in front of it, until the bell finally rang for dismissal. She was getting older now, nearing nine in fact, and she started to learn a lot about what it felt like to be an outsider. Crying had lost most of its allure for her. She had cried out of frustration, fear, loneliness, sadness, dejection…she had cried for just about everything under the sun, and it never won her a single reprieve. Not a single compassionate moment, at all.
The years continued to pass.
She was a smart child, and she knew that. Five years of being called stupid by her peers had left its mark, but she hadn’t been beaten down completely. Rather than curl up and give in to them, she turned to reading at home, and studied with her father who was much more proficient in this new language than her mother or her sister. It helped. In fact, it helped dramatically. By the time she was ready for highschool, she had mastered English with a proficiency that many of her classmates lacked. The balance had begun to shift.
Other things changed, too. Gone was the scrawny frame of a child. In its place was the figure of an astonishingly beautiful young woman coming into her own. The boys had started to notice a couple of years ago. But, although the attention felt good to her, she could not forgive them their pasts, either. She remembered the cruel taunts and jibes that spilled from their mouths those short yesterdays ago. Moreover, she remembered the names and the faces that went with them. Those misspoken words had hurt her in ways that they couldn’t understand. She had been alone, and very afraid. Instead of offering her comfort, they chose derision. It was too hard for her to just cast that all, casually, away. Now, when she looked at the friendly, smiling faces, she only saw the wanting there. Only the cool desire to take something from her; from someone that none of them had ever spoken to in kindness, or known as a friend. As much as she wanted to be accepted, she couldn’t allow that to happen to her. To her, there were some things far too precious to trade away for the comfort of illusion.
So, the children invented a new set of names for her. Now, they called her “Stuck Up, Ice Queen, Bitch,” and still she stayed away. She would take her lunch, each day, in the quiet corner of the schoolyard quad, alone. Sometimes, as she sat there, she would think about the new life that her father had come to win for them here. She’d think about the things they had, and the terrible prices that went with them, and sometimes she wasn’t very sure of anything at all.
And, day-by-day, the years continued to creep slowly by.
Summer fell away in its typically beautiful transition of auburn skies and golden leaves. Teresa was facing her first day of highschool with an uncharacteristic amount of trepidation. Not only did she expect more of the same, she expected it on a grander scale. There is a limit to the strength of any heart, and she feared that she was reaching the end of hers.
Highschool was somewhat different than what she had expected. There was more autonomy, and many new faces. Of course, she received all of the attention that she had come to expect of late, but even though many of the faces were new to her, her sense of the ugliness behind them remained the same. She came to think that maybe she had been broken inside from all the suffering. Maybe the problem was with her. How could all of these people be nothing more than facets of the same charcoal-black nothingness? How could every face appear to be so different while all that lurked behind the eyes remained, so clearly, the same?
She went to class after class and everything was just an exercise in repetition. There was less to follow her through her day here, but at best only the faces had changed.
The days came and went. A semester had passed and she had breezed through it effortlessly. There was nothing academically challenging for her here. All those years of loneliness had forged a brilliant intellect and an inquisitive mind. For her, the greatest joy of all came from reading. She loved to read stories about people who went out and lived their lives to the fullest. English class didn’t do it for her, with its archaic language structures and boring essays. She loved the stories that embraced life. Stories that were about life, and full of the joy of it, too. She had taken to writing for her own personal pleasure, but hadn’t pursued it much in school for fear of facing criticism. This semester she was going to make a change, though. She had decided to sign up for journalism class and write articles for the school paper. For her, it would be frightening, but she also hoped that it would be rewarding, too. For the first time in a very long while, Teresa had something that she was looking forward to.
She was lost on that first day, somewhere between the pondering of fear and possibilities, as she made her way up that long flight of steps that led to the journalism class. One misplaced foot, and the world tilted sideways…everything was falling, shifting. She fell, straight back into the arms of the young man behind her, and as she folded into him and caught his gaze, her world came to an abrupt and breathless halt.
This man, there was something different about him, and she knew it instantly. What it was, she could not bring herself to say. Whether it was evident in the gentle grace of his smile, or the vibrant love of life that she read in his eyes, she didn’t know. In time, she would come to understand that it was all of this, and infinitely more. As she hung there, cradled in his arms, something was exchanged between them. As she looked up at him and wondered, she could feel the echoes of her own questing emotions rising up at her from the deep wells of his eyes. Different.
Now, the prince (and that is what we shall call him for this exercise. For, every humble man who falls in love with a beautiful princess must, by all the conventions of good taste in fairy tales, be known as such.) loved her from the very moment that she fell into his arms. In that moment when their gazes locked, a recognition occurred. Far aside from the awesome impact of her physical beauty, there was a spiritual connection that blindsided him. It was there in her eyes, those beautiful eyes.
He was smitten. For him, love was no stranger. He loved everything beautiful, and spent a good deal of his time nurturing that beauty wherever he could find it. Never before had he encountered another human being who resonated before. That was the best way to explain it, really. She resonated with a pent up passion; an inner beauty unlike any that he had ever experienced. If asked at the time, he couldn’t have told you plainly, but what he recognized was a kindred heart. Given the trial-ridden nature of his life, such people were rare. He had friends. In fact, almost everyone seemed to like him, but that wasn’t the same thing. To him, they were almost childlike. When he would sit with them and speak of the things that filled his heart, they would nod blankfacedly, but that was all. He wasn’t better or more brilliant than they were, only different. And, as in any relationship, the limits of his friendships were defined by that commonality. Where they stopped understanding, he stopped existing. It was sad for him. There were whole vast worlds of wondrous beauty that he longed to share with them; with anyone who’d care to sit and marvel with him. So, he made his way through his life like the tiniest tip of a giant iceberg, with all the core of his humanity hidden beneath the surface of the darkling waters, unnoticed.
Unnoticed, that is, until she turned those eyes upon him. In that moment, he knew that she actually saw him. She did. And, as much as it all sounds foolish and contrived, he saw her, too. It was a moment of miracles for the both of them. Locked in that awkward, supporting embrace, the world melted away into silence until all that was left was the rhythmic thunder of their beating hearts and the sunshine feeling of having finally come home.
In a short time, they came to be the closest of lovers. They shared in everything, and never tired of each other’s company. When summer would come, he would spirit her away into the mountains for days on end. There, they would walk together among the fields of flowers, and lay together by the shores of the quietly rushing streams. He taught her to let the world speak to her, and they’d often sit and discuss what they’d learned from watching the sun warmed earth, and the almost casual way that the wind caressed the living trees.
She called him Druid, and he called her Beautiful. For, in all the collected works of man, there could be no more succinct a word to describe her.
She taught him love, acceptance, and all of the secrets to the powerful circuits of Love, Honor, and Courage. Through her, he came to understand the concept of responsibility as something other than burden. Too often it had been conveyed to him as such. In the rambling arguments between parents, he had often heard the term used as a weapon. Responsibility.
Now, he had a responsibility to her. Ah, but he loved her truly. No book, no ring, no hollow ceremony could ever stand to sanctify or ordain what they shared. Fucking presumptuous frippery. His responsibility to her had become the highest honor, and he would carry it until the very end of his days upon this earth, willingly. Forever.
(Each knew what they meant to the other, as nothing between them was protected or hidden away. Theirs was an almost perfect circuit of communication and trust. Still, the truth of it was solidified for him on the day of her eighteenth birthday, when they walked up to his silent grove, together, and laid to rest the imaginary remains of her childhood father. She said that she could finally let him go. All the make-believe love, acceptance, and protection weren’t necessary any longer. She had found them now, in him, this smiling prince. And, the reality of it was far more fulfilling than any dream could ever be.
They sat together, late into that cold January evening, and held each other until the stars rode high across the firmament, loving.)
Time passed blissfully by, and the beautiful lovers continued to dwell together in harmony and peace. She had taken a job at the local library while she was going to school, and he had continued his own studies, while intermittently traveling abroad to help the needy.
No, the prince wasn’t a wealthy philanthropist or anything like that. He was just a man, and sometimes, not a very good one at that. He lacked the power of wealth or the engineering talents that were so hungrily sought after by the people who had nothing. He had only himself, his hands, his spirit, and a will to ease the suffering of his brothers. There was no spiritual “higher calling,” as this prince acknowledged the existence of no God, or any other requisitely evil monster above. He was just a man, and that was what he did. That’s all.
In all the days of his travels, he never ceased to be astounded by the difference that a kind word, or a friendly hand on a shoulder could make. He was always amazed at how little it took to make an appreciable difference in someone’s life.
And every time that he would return home, his princess would be there for him. She would always be waiting, full of stories and love, for the moment that he would return to her. And, when they were together, they would fall into each other with a gentle ferocity that would consume them both, acting…reacting. They would lose themselves in a love that stretched across the barrier between physical and spiritual and united the two in a kind of perfect harmony that no word has yet been invented to properly explain. Come the morning, they would emerge, reborn, and count the precious moments until they could surrender themselves again.
Then, one day, the prince returned from one of his forays, changed. He was feeling under the weather. Not in the way that some people claim when they begin to contract a cold, but worse. He rested for a few days, and things seemed to normalize. No more fever, no cramps…nothing. He was still a little pale and weak, but those things were to be expected, weren’t they? He though so, and with nary a thought for the consequences, made off to a hearty Thanksgiving dinner with his family.
Later, somewhere in the silences of the dark morning, he came fully awake, shuddering. Drenched in sweat, his heart rate was soaring up past the 140bpm mark, and climbing. He was sweating profusely, and at the same time, he was shivering cold. His limbs were thrashing, violently, and he could not control them. He was very ill.
The princess was terrified, and rushed him off to the hospital, where all the collected science of man could find nothing overtly wrong with him. Nothing. In their opinion, he had little more than a common cold virus in his system. There was nothing wrong with his brain, his heart, or anything else for that matter. Except for the trifling bug, he was in perfect health.
So, she took her ailing prince home, and did her best to make him comfortable. Still, the symptoms would not abate, and the prince suffered in ways that he had not known were possible before. He lay awake for fourteen days before his body relaxed enough to allow him a few hours of fitful, restless sleep. His heart. His heart would not obey him. It pounded and thundered, though he did nothing save lay still and calm. The powerful contractions of it were so strong that he moved against the bed, visibly, with each explosive spasm.
He did his best to reassure the princess. Of all the things that served to make him suffer the most in that time, nothing equaled the pain of seeing the worry etched into her delicate features. He tried and tried to get better, but the days faded gloomily into months, and still he worsened. He was wasting away. His limbs had grown small and weak from being unable to walk, and his appetite had all but fled completely some very distant time ago. Everything that he owned had been sold to sustain him. Everything traded away, and still the doctors couldn’t find a problem (small irony that he was studying to be a doctor, himself).
So, in an act of desperation, he left his lovely castle and the now perpetually worried beauty of his lovely princess, and returned to the home of his parents where they could care for him with a greater degree of constancy.
That the prince was gravely ill was a definite certainty now. He had begun to lose his ability to see, and his memory had begun to fail, leaving great holes in his perception of the continuity of time. His family loved him dearly. They spent every cent that they had, trying to find a doctor who could save him. Ten-thousand dollar consults that lasted fifteen minutes, with the doctor throwing up his hands in surrender and immediately asking for his check. There were doctors flown in from Sweden, who demanded payment but lacked the power to offer assistance. Payment, payment, always payment. In the halls of medicine, nothing comes without a price-tag. But, the prince’s parents loved him dearly, so they spent and spent until nothing was left, and the three of them dwelt in poverty then, waiting for the ultimate and seemingly inevitable conclusion.
Now, the prince suffered greatly through all of this, that’s a surety. He suffered from his mysterious illness, but the pain of that was nothing compared to being forced to watch the toll that his slow demise was taking on those whom he loved so dearly. Chief among them all was his darling fairy-tale princess. How it cut him to see her tearstained, smiling cheeks when she came to visit. He was so far away from her now, and he knew how much it hurt for her, too. If the roles had been reversed, he knew he’d never have found the strength to be as strong as she. Oh, through the mists of confusion and pain; through the slowly creeping horror of the inevitable, how he clung to his love of her. In all the breadth of his existence, it was the only truly pure thing that he had ever known.
So, he made a choice then. He knew that while he could do nothing to spare the suffering of his family, within whose home he now dwelt, he could do something to save his love. Maybe he wasn’t thinking correctly. Maybe the disease had crept so far into his brain by then that nothing was free of its twisting taint. Whatever the case, he called her to him one day, and told her the awfulest, most horrible lies that he could imagine. He dealt her blows that no amount of time or healing could ever repair, and in the end, he sent her away forever. And it hurt him so terribly to do this. It cut beyond words and understanding. Still, in his own battered view of what mattered, he knew how desperately she loved him, and he knew also what watching him die would do to her. He would have endured anything to spare her that. What a foolish and naïve princeling he had turned out to be, after all. The last of his effort spent, our prince gave up and finally lay down to die.
And, die he did. Several times, actually. He died and died again, as his heart stopped pumping for that same, mysterious, medically indefinable reason. Every time, they brought him back, though. They wouldn’t let him rest. Ah, the sweet taste of nothing that lay beyond that final veil. He hungered for it then, but they would not let him have it. And, as he lingered on, the months gave way to years.
Later, as the days continued to drift painfully by, his parents received a call. It was from a doctor who had been shown the princes medical record by an intrigued colleague. He was agitated, and insisted that he knew what was wrong with the prince. He asserted that he could nurse him back to health. While the prince’s parents were filled with a renewed hope at the prospect of revivifying their son, they had grown accustomed to the way these things worked. They asked him what his consultation fee would be, and what the treatments would cost. Flummoxed, the doctor informed her that there would be no fee. He would do as much of it as he could for free, and what he couldn’t do for free, he’d pay for from his own pocket.
When asked why he’d do such a thing, he replied that is was the right thing to do. He felt that the prince had suffered all this time, needlessly. He went on to assert that any physician could have cracked open a desk reference at any time and drawn the same conclusions as he had. What the prince was experiencing was a very rare and well-documented reaction to a very common virus. There was not great mystery to it. All that was left now was to nurse him back to health.
So, the prince attended this doctor. By then, he couldn’t walk very well on his own, and had to be wheeled about, mostly. But, the doctor told him not to worry, and started him on a series of infusions that, he said, would bring the virus to controllable levels in the body before actual treatment could begin.
The prince went, and he lay in the room with the dying children, and he received his due. It didn’t take very long at all for the symptoms to reverse themselves. Within two months, the prince was up and walking regularly, and had even begun to rehabilitate himself with weights.
Still, he had to return to the room with the dying children and receive his due. He was not strong enough, yet. But, the prince felt that if this was his due, then so be it. He learned new lessons on love, life, and loss there as he lay amid the irreversible tragedies and uncountable sorrows. But, he lay still and received his gift of salvation, even as the children around him fought and bravely died. Through it all he thought only of his forsaken princess. Only that and nothing more.
Soon, he was ready to begin his treatment. The miracle cure? Vitamin E and subcute injections of vitamin B-12. That’s all it took. That’s it. No irreversible damage. No lingering malady. Nothing. All that he had lost was gone for lack of that, and nothing more.
That’s the story of how the kingdom of love was laid low by a lingering case of the common cold.
But, the prince was alive again. He was alive, and hungry to find his love. He tried every avenue that he could, and still turned up nothing. He spoke to his friends and family, and asked if they would help; if they could tell him anything at all about what had become of her.
And, the horror of what he learned had never even crossed his selfish fucking mind.
Of course, he had never spoken of his having sent her away to anyone. He had been terribly ill and, as a result, rarely spoke to anyone at all. More than that, what he had done was a deep and private shame to him. He would not idly speak of it to anyone. Still, he never expected that his friends would think that she had left him. But, they did. They all thought that she had abandoned him on his deathbed, and so they shunned her. They shunned her as coldly and completely as he had, without care for feelings or consequence. Now, she was gone. Gone away forever.
The prince railed inwardly. It was not his place to be angry with anyone but himself, and he was. He was furious; coldly furious. And in that moment, a part of him finally did lay down and die, forever. It just went away, and never came back.
The prince was wracked with all manner of feelings. He couldn’t bear the scent of this place, the very air was an affront to him. He needed to be gone. For a brief while, the cloying sweetness of eternal peace called to him again, but he had fought too hard to turn back now. Still, he had to leave. So, it wasn’t much of a surprise that he finally did go when he got that fateful call. A distant relative, asking him to come and pay a visit. Thousands of miles across the globe, and all expenses paid. He never stopped to ask why, he just went and he never looked back. Not once.
Another world, another place, things moved differently here and so did the prince. Gone was the gentle soul who loved. In its place had come the taker. Dire and consuming, the prince now drove a $120,000 car and lost himself in what his associates jokingly referred to as a job.
For a while, he cared little for anything other than himself and his dreams. Those dreams, they haunt him still. No distance, no woman, no thing or action could help to wash them away. For, every night, still, he dreamt of her. Through years, and death, and thousands of miles distance and every conceivable thing this world had to offer him; still, only her.
Then, he fell in love a second time. No, it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t anything like that, but he loved his new lady, nonetheless. Her name was Maria, and she was like Teresa in many ways. Pure and innocent, she lived a simple life and loved the details of it. He never thought of her as a replacement, and in his fashion, he loved her very much. He did.
They got a flat together, and lived there happily for some time. She was fair, this lady named Maria. Her hair was golden and her lips were full and soft. Late at night, as they slept together, she would sometimes run her delicate fingers across the muscles in his back, exploring. He loved that. He loved the touch of it, the gentle intimacy of it, and often fell asleep to the sensation of it. And still, he dreamt of Teresa.
More time passed, and work called him off to visit another country. He was to be there for a while, so he packed up his belongings and left to another land with his new love in tow.
It was a beautiful land, this place that they had come to. The city was as close to being beautiful as any that he’d seen before, and the people were warm and friendly. He’d heard tales of tensions in the area through the local news station, but paid little attention to things of that nature. No one did, really. Everyone just went on living their peaceful, smiling lives, with nary a thought for the brewing storm, and so did he; this wayward prince and his lovely Maria.
And so it went that on an otherwise quiet morning in this distant land, he stood on periphery of an all but empty square, and watched the woman he loved cry out to him for help as a distant sniper pumped one shot into her, and then another, silencing her voice, and a part of his heart, forever.
Thusly girded, the prince then marched out to war.
Only cold. Only black emptiness remained. There was nothing in the core, anymore. No compassion, no love…just loss and the cold, cold absence of feeling that marks the truly dangerous.
There was money to be made here. There is always profit in war. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either a liar or a fool. Some would pay for an escort out of the city. Others would pay for protection. Some would pay by default, giving up everything that they owned by passing from this place in their finality…dead. There were bounties for guns, bounties for military patches, paper, insignia…Some even paid bounty for ears.
He was consumed here, in the very heart of this maelstrom of madness. A place where bands of armed “soldiers” attacked small communities, leaving only brutally molested children alive. Sometimes, they wouldn’t even leave that. It was a war against the spirit of a people, and the repercussions were staggering. Every act was consciously calculated to engender hatred and fear. Colors and sides meant nothing. There were no rules, no conventions. Not even the vaguest pretense of them. Nothing.
How the wayward prince reveled in it. He came and he sang great, thunderous songs of death at those who marked themselves as worthy. In time, he came to love the bucking impact as his weapon spilled its poison forth, among them. He was achieving some notoriety among his (sometime) peers. They would clap him on the back and bark at him in their chopped up language, calling him Glory Boy for the risks that he would take without thought for life or limb. He hated them. Tomorrow, he might find himself shooting at their onetime friendly faces. It didn’t matter. He would do it without a second thought. All that mattered was who paid, and who deserved it. And, in this place, everyone deserved it…even him.
Like the others before them, these people didn’t understand either. In the prince’s mind, he was already dead. He was dead a thousand times over, and every morning that he rose from the place where he slept, he would shake off the pissy stink of his fear, bless his lost loves, and sally forth again…uncaring.
Oh, the horror that he witnessed. The things that he saw. How they stuck there in his mind and robbed him of everything noble and good. Everything in him; every single part of him was tainted by the knowing of it. Everything except her. Still, he dreamt of her as he slept, huddled against the frozen earth, and he loved her fiercely. He loved them both. And, at last, he surrendered the things inside of himself that made him princely. He let them go. Maybe that was his tertiary purpose here; to burn himself down, spring forth from the ashes, and baptize himself all over again, in the blood of all these ghosts of ghosts of inhuman ghosts that didn’t matter one fucking iota, just like him.
And, on a cold winter’s morning, somewhere on the snowfrosted slopes of that far away place, the prince was finally lain to rest, there among the ashes.
Where the prince had left, long ago, a man returned. Nothing more. He came first to the arms of his mother, and looking upon her, he saw her as though seeing her for the first time. All the sorrow and sacrifice, all the love. All of her quiet, desperate dreams, culminated in this, her reality. He vowed then, to himself, that he would never leave her again. He would never leave the people that he loved, not in his misery or theirs. It was little solace now, but it was all he had to give.
Ultimately, he did run in to the princess again. He met her casually in a party that one of his friends had thrown for his return, oddly enough. She came as the date of a friend’s friend, and neither she nor her man-friend knew for whom the party was intended. She fainted when she saw him, because she had thought him dead for years. She stopped, and as their eyes met again, she fell dead away, right there on the ground.
He rushed to her, picked her up, and carried her to the bedroom, angrily shouting the other people out of the room. She was fine, of course. It was just the shock of seeing him, that was all. And, when she came to, her eyes welled up with tears, and she threw her arms around him, crying and crying. It was a while before she was able to catch her voice again, but when she did she couldn’t stop asking him questions. Many of them were unfinished, paused for the interjection of one of her mighty hugs or a heartfelt, “I love you.”
He wept too. Sure, he might have been broken, reborn, and all that nonsense, but his love for her still dominated all else. She was everything to him, and in knowing that she was well and safe, a large part of him was finally emancipated.
A short time into their reminiscence, a tall, good-looking fellow stepped into the room. He introduced himself as her husband, and sat down to inquire about his wife’s health. At first, the princess was stunned speechless. It seemed almost as if she were struggling to remember who this man was; this tall man with the wedding ring who claimed familiarity with her. Then, haltingly, she reached out and took his hand, holding it every bit as firmly as she held the hand of the man who used to be her prince.
He could see in her eyes that she loved this man. And, he could see, also, that he loved her. It was enough. The onetime prince gazed hard into her eyes for a final moment. Oh, how he loved her then. She was everything bright and beautiful, she truly was. If anything, the years had only moved to add a heartbreaking grace to her features. They talked for a while, the three of them, about little things that didn’t truly matter. At the end of it all, they parted with a friendly embrace and a gentle kiss on the cheek that lingered, perhaps, just a little too long to be entirely comfortable for her husband. He did love her. He always would. At the very least he loved her enough to let her go, and that is what he did.
Now, there is a man. He is not noble or good. He lost all claim to that some years ago. He does the best he can with what he’s got, and hopes with all his heart that, one day, he will know the saving grace of being loved just one more time.