Self Expression: The Moulin Rouge

I made an interesting bit of (partial) self discovery the other day.

I listened to the Moulin Rouge soundtrack for the first time in some years. While I do like it – especially the more melancholy second disc – I wouldn’t rank it among my favorites. And yet…

The Moulin Rouge soundtrack makes me feel like myself. It makes me want to dance and be free. Plenty of music makes me want to dance, but something about this resonates with my authentic self. I think it’s an expression of a part of me that I usually try to hide – my flamboyancy, color, art, drama, and intensity (none of that is a euphemism for sexuality, I promise). Regardless of the reason why, listening to it does make me feel like my most authentic self.

The truth is that I’m ashamed of my taste for The Moulin Rouge – even when I’m among others that I know like it. I don’t know this, but I’m wondering if I’m ashamed of it because I’m ashamed of that part of myself. I mean, I never danced beyond puberty (and still won’t dance), despite the fact that I’ve always wanted to. Then if that is accurate (which I’m not sure it is), then I wonder: why?

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Wild Horses

Oh man. I feel like I’m holding back wild horses.

I adore horses. They’re massive, strong, and glorious. Power ripples through their muscles when they move. And if you have ever spent time with them in the spring, you would know how dangerous they can be when finally released after a long, dull winter. Riddled with cabin fever, they must be lunged (if you don’t know what lunging is, then I encourage you to look it up online) for a good long time before you can ride them; if you don’t, you’ll find yourself grasping at control of a 1,500lb mobile madhouse. They’re downright wild after being couped up for so long!

Switching gears here: sometimes it’s hard for me to navigate my feelings, and most of the time, I go along making decisions almost robotically – simply executing protocol as it is clearly programmed. Other times, my feelings ring out strongly, and I get extremely passionate about the protocol – either because it’s obvious, or because it’s obviously wrong (or contradictory), or because the obviously (to me) correct course of action is one that is not written in the protocol and I’m pumped about the new path that we’re on.

Pumped or not, I still have to follow the correct steps to complete the protocol, or else I end up with an unsteady rocker from IKEA with four mysterious extra pieces that I later find out were vital to the durability of the rocker (stupid bent and collapsed rocker). I must complete all of the steps, and not just jump ahead to what I know is the correct destination. Sometimes this requires incredible self control. I’m just so excited and so convinced about what’s right that I want to charge in with the full strength of my team of wild horses. But I can’t. That would result in a lot of important things breaking (those horses are, after all, very wild). And I feel it. I feel like I’m holding back a team of winter wild horses that can smell the spring air and know that they’re creatures made to run. I want so badly to run with them. But they’re wild. They break things. No matter how badly I want to speak, that doesn’t mean people are ready to hear. No matter how badly I want to take action, that doesn’t mean that it’s time. No matter how badly I want to build, that doesn’t mean that this is the land. So I grunt in pain and sweat bullets as I pour all my strength into holding back these wild horses.

 

Porcelain Pots

In a very large shop, there’s a room full of porcelain teapots. Every day, the pots dress themselves and paint themselves up. Nearly all of them use bright, distinguished colors crying beauty. They are hoping to attract a buyer. They imagine a wealthy buyer who will care for them, place them in a glass cabinet as a crowning jewel to complete a set, who will use them for the finest tea parties, and to wake themselves in the morning. And so they paint. Some of the pots paint themselves to remind themselves of the porcelain that they’re made of. Most adorn themselves with dramatic, sharp strokes, and clever designs hoping to hide their cracks, bumps, or smudges – and some of these designs are more clever than others. Some use their paints to tell of the quality of tea that they hold inside – and sometimes it’s even true. A few others use nothing at all, choosing to instead allow the color and shine of their porcelain be what it is. Whatever their design, whatever their intent, nearly all of the pots try for beauty and use bright whites, and vibrant greens, blues, reds, yellows, purples.

This teapot that I hold in my hand is very interesting, indeed. I feel her warmth, open her lid, and breathe deep the steam that rolls out. I’m not an expert of many things, but I am an expert of fine tea. And the tea in this one is fine indeed – rich, dark, lovely, and complex. But she doesn’t adorn herself the same way the others do. Instead of going for beauty, she uses dark, dull colors, grays and dull browns. She deliberately avoids being noticed, and tries to make herself unattractive. I can’t be entirely sure, but I think she does this because she’s hoping someone will see beyond her paint. She’s hoping someone will see the substance that she secretly holds within.

Love’s Sacrifice

Part I: Love’s Suicide

On the farthest reaches of the land, there is a valley that stretches far beyond the visions of man’s eyes. All across the vastness of that valley, jutting out from the earth’s surface, are dozens upon dozens of tall stone towers. In ages long past, the towers each held a princess.

This story is about only one of those princesses. She wasn’t particularly beautiful or graceful like all the other princesses. She was not well polished, neither was she glamorous in any way. In fact, she was very rough from the depths of her being to the strands of her hair. The only element that she had in common with the others was that she was trapped within her own high tower. She knew that someday, a handsome prince would come to rescue her.

Many princes came, many princes left. Most were looking for a more beautiful princess than she. Most didn’t even recognize her as such because she was so very different from all the others. Her tower had not one, but many wicked dragons guarding it. She learned to despise the princes because she knew that even if they knew who she was, they wouldn’t bother with so many dragons to slay. They were lazy. They all wanted a princess that was easier to rescue. The few princes who did stop by her tower, she chased away with reasoning and criticism because of her bitterness.

Then one day, a lowly servant boy came to her tower and called up at her. Peering out from her lofty window, she saw him. “Dear peasant boy, why come to my tower? You are no prince! ‘Tis not your place to fight for me. Turn back now, for my castle is well guarded by many dragons and you have come unarmed!” She warned him. “My lady,” said he, “you are right in that I cannot fight the beasts inside! You are right in that I have no status nor right to take you as my bride. Be that it is your wish, I shall heed your warning and turn back now. But I shall not stray far! I shall remain near to you. I swear it upon the stars in the heavens that guide my way, I shall return!”

And return he did. He returned the next day. And again, on the next. During his visits, they spoke of many things. He helped her forget about the dragons, the beasts that haunted her. Every morning, she would wake and sit by her window, awaiting his return. She enjoyed his visits above all else. She indulged in his wit and his company. He learned of her imperfections, her roughness, yet he didn’t care. He loved her. She loved him. She knew that he couldn’t be her suitor, but she didn’t mind because she had been blessed in the finding of a most beautiful friendship.

She also knew that a darkness lurked around the corner, deeper than anything he could imagine. She tried to tell him about it once, but he didn’t understand. He didn’t understand it because it wasn’t a kind of darkness that he had ever known before. He knew of dragons, he knew of spells, he knew of devils. But this was an evil so much more powerful and strange than any of those things. He didn’t understand it, but she did. She not only understood it, but she also knew it intimately. She only hoped that she could keep her friend away from it.

For many a season, day after day, he came to her, she indulged in him, and he left untainted by the darkness within her high tower. She was very glad to have kept him away.

Then the day came that he called to her tower, armed for battle. He was girded in armor that didn’t quite seem to fit. He wore a helmet that covered most of his face. “Why bear the sword, dear servant boy?” She asked him.

“This is the day, my fair lady, that you shall be freed out of your bondage! This is the day that I shall rescue you!” he answered.

“No, sir! You are but one man and the dragons are many!” She hoped to drive him away, without telling him of the deep evil that awaited him.

“I need not slay every dragon, only to ward them off so as to carry you away from here! We can ride off to safety! I can be your husband! I may be but a peasant, but you can have a home brimming with happiness.”

She wanted to believe him, she wanted to be rescued, but she knew that no man could save her from the deep darkness, from her terrible secret that kept a wicked spell on her. She knew that she must first break the spell before any man could survive the mighty battle within her tower.

Again, she warned him, “Please, sir! I beg you! There is a force darker than you know! ‘Tis more powerful than the dragons that guard my door. ‘Tis stronger than you and I both! Storm not my castle on this day, but wait for another! To come today, you will surely bring only death and misery upon your own self!”

Her pleas only made him more determined than he had ever been before. With a mighty arm, he stormed the castle walls, slaying many dark demons and dragons on his way. Climbing the castle stairs, sword thrashing valiantly, he fought hard for his maiden!

The princess was torn within. She was glad to have a man come to her rescue! Her rescue for once! Not the more stunning princesses’, but hers! She was glad to have many of the nasty beasts slaughtered. Because of this, she cheered him on from her tower room, even though she knew she shouldn’t. She should insist that he stay away. She wished he would just give up and leave because she didn’t want him destroyed by the darkness. She knew that it was coming for him.

With a swift heel, he shattered her old bedroom door! He made it up to her! It was inevitable now. He was too close to turn back. The instant he saw her, he was taken aback in abject horror! It couldn’t be! This darkness that she spoke of was she herself? Is she the very thing that was sent to kill him? She had been transformed from a damsel into a demon. “This is why you bade me go?” he inquired.

“No,” said she, “this is a mere image. This is only part of the spell that I must break before you can safely rescue me. But I cannot break this curse with you here.”

“Then let us depart from here immediately!”

“Again, say I, no. For that too is part of the enchantment. It must be broken here. But that is not why I warned you to stay away. There is something else. Flee. Flee now!” He wouldn’t listen to her pleas, so her only hope now was to hurt him. With her beastly tail, she lifted him off the ground and cast him unmercifully into the bricks. “Go away!” She shouted. “Get out!” It was coming for him.

She was harsh, but he was determined. Staggering to his feet, sweat and blood dripping from behind his helmet, he answered her, “I know your screams are deception. I love you, and my heart is assured that you love me in return! I care not about the curse. I care not about The Dragon. My care is for you alone. I shall abide near to you in this tower. I shall endure the spell. My desire is only to bask in your presence. My desire is for you. I’ll not tolerate living one moment longer in want of you.” Throwing his arms around her, he kissed her.

Then, just as she knew it would, it came for them. As their lips touched and their hearts thumped, it came for them. The Dragon that he did not know to slay, The Dragon called Lust, loomed and swelled around them. Pulling away from his precious princess, he gasped. How could he have forgotten to slay the dragon that lurked in this very room? Promptly, he remembered his sword. Drawing his weapon with a fierce determination, he made ready for battle. Lust was an easy foe at first, weak and clumsy. But beware, mighty warrior, for Lust is a cunning foe.

With a skilled technique, the peasant battled The Dragon, stepping gracefully to and fro. But beware, mighty warrior, for Lust is a cunning foe. The servant boy fought with all his might! Sweating, struggling, the more he fought The Dragon, the stronger The Dragon became. He fought, but the dragon did not attack him. Lust only defended himself. But beware, mighty warrior, for Lust is a cunning foe. He fought so hard that he didn’t notice that Lust had lured him away from his Love! Now that nothing stood between Lust and the princess, The Dragon turned and lunged at her with a swift snap! She, having lived in this wretched tower with him all her life, already knew his cunning techniques. She dodged, she ducked, she nimbly slipped away.

She found a brief escape, and ran to her friend. But the closer she got to him, the mightier Lust became. Together now, they battled the beast! They fought hard! But beware, mighty warriors, for Lust is a cunning foe.

The Dragon was too strong for them! “Valiant warrior,” she said to him, “Lust has become too much for us to bear! There is only one way for us to defeat him now! Because of the enchantment that is cast over me, his strength becomes greater the more we fight him. We must separate. The Dragon is weak when you are not with me. Leave now, and he will be weaker still. Do not come back until the curse is broken! ‘Tis the only way to slay him.”

“No!” cried the warrior, “Our love will never let us be apart. If we are consumed by this beast together, then together we shall drift through all eternity!” The princess would not hear such foul language being spoken by her dearest. So she clutched him with her own claws, and tossed him out her window. The peasant landed hard on his back. He struggled to his feet, winded and in pain. He hurried back to the tower, but she had already closed off the entrance with rubble and rocks. He had no choice now, but to leave her to battle with Lust on her own.

The farther he was from her, the easier it was for her to fight The Dragon. Before the sun set on that very day, The Dragon claimed defeat and left her alone. Again, the princess was torn. She wanted the boy to come back to her and rescue her. But she could not let him know, for if he knew, he would come back and be consumed by The Darkness that he still had not yet seen.

The servant boy hurried back into town, seeking out answers, equipment, anything that could help him back into that tower. Night fell long before he returned to his cottage and still, rest would not come to him. Finally, the glow of morning began to seep into his small home. The boy gathered together ropes, picks, and sledges, donned his armor once again, and began the trek back to the tower.

Hard rock still blocking the entrance, the boy grabbed his heaviest sledge and took a swing at the boulders. A tiny shard fell to the ground. He swung again, and again, but only a few small bits of rock would break away. Realizing that this would take far too long, he decided to change his tactics. He pulled out his longest rope and his smallest pick. He tied the rope tight onto the pick and tossed it up toward the window. The pick glanced off the sill and fell flatly back onto the ground with a soft thud. “Princess” he called up to her, “can you hear me? I’ve returned to you! I beg you, show your face in your window and catch up the iron which I shall cast up to you. Anchor it fast into the stone of your windowsill so that I may climb up. Do not refuse my pleas, for I am determined to find a way up to you!” The only response that he could see was her two eyes peeking down to him and her hand reaching out to signal her consent. Two twirls and a toss later, the servant boy found himself clambering up the thick rope.

Inside the room, the servant boy was met with a devastating sight. His love sat weakly in the near corner, blood spilled into a pool round about her, her belly torn open. The dragon Lust loomed over her, proudly displaying what he had done. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, “I believed I had defeated him. I failed.” Suddenly, a hot pain shot across the boy’s eyes. The moist warmth of blood trickled down the front of his body. Searching for its source, the boy looked down to find Lust’s claw buried deep into his belly. Lust sneered at him as he fell to the cold stone floor. Lust sauntered back into his hiding place, wearing a satisfied grin.

The princess scrambled her way over to her friend and held him in her lap. She removed his helmet so she could finally look into the face of the man who had fought so hard for her. She was met with a great surprise; this was no man at all, but merely a boy! He appeared to be nearly a man, but not quite yet. “I am so sorry, peasant boy. Never should I have allowed you to come up here. There was no hope for victory. You had so much life remaining, much yet to see, much yet to experience. See now where you are for my sake. Sorrow wrecks my soul.”

“Fret not, my love,” the boy sputtered, “for I know a spell that can heal us both. All that is wanting for its completion is your heart.” The princess burst into hot tears. Utterly confused, he asked, “Why are you weeping so bitterly? Is this not a simple request? Your heart will be returned once the spell is complete.”

Through her sobs, she replied, “I have no heart! If only I could lend it so you could save us, but it simply isn’t there.” It seemed that all hope was lost. Surely, they would perish there.

 

Part II: Love’s Resurrection

In another part of the country, a knight had been called into the King’s quarters.

“Do you know why you have been summoned here today, faithful servant?” the King questioned.

“No, Sire,” replied the knight. “But it matters not, for I shall serve you in any and every way you wish. I shall go wherever you will send me. I shall do whatever you ask of me. I am lowly, treacherous, and undeserving, but I’ll be honored to accept any bidding from You, my Lord.”

The King cast a gentle smile on the knight; this is a man who has served him before. Yes, this is the right man for the task that lies ahead. “I fear for my daughter. She has been gone for many years, and I am filled with great sorrow, for she is trapped. You are to embark on a quest to find her and bring her back to me.”

“O King, I trust in your great wisdom, but I am ill prepared. How am I to battle against unseen things?”

The King motioned with His hand and a strong, middle-aged man walked into the room, carrying a plain wooden box. “My name is Magician. I am the servant of the King. Within this box are many potions that I have gathered together for your journey. There are descriptions and instructions for each. Take it. Learn its contents well. Use them wisely.” He bowed low with his arms reaching forward, offering the box to the knight. The knight carefully took the box and placed it in his satchel, then offered a return bow.

“I thank you, sir,” the knight said. The King dismissed Magician. “Forgive me for my insolence, Majesty, but how shall I know the way?”

The King motioned again and a thin, pale, white-haired man entered. “My name is Guide. I am the servant of the King. I am not of this realm, and therefore I can fight no battle for you, neither can I be harmed. I know all ways and shall lead wheresoever you need to go. I can offer you counsel and training, but it is your choice to follow me or not.”

“Only one thing remains before you can embark on your journey,” said the King. He unclasped the gold sunburst pendant hanging from his neck and removed the ruby encrusted ring from his finger. “You will need these to show others the blessing that I have bestowed upon you and your quest. Wear them always and all who see you will know at first glance that you are on a mission given by me. This will bring some to rejoicing. Others will tremble. Now you have all that you need. Go quickly! Time is short.”

Outside the castle, the knight mounted his horse and made himself ready for battle. “In which direction is the princess, Guide?”

“That matters not,” Guide replied.

“Shall we not go to her? If so, then it matters, indeed.”

“Whatever you do is your own choice, but we should not yet go to her.”

“I fail to understand. The mission is to find her!”

“No. The mission is to rescue her. We do not yet have all we need to rescue her.”

The knight was already getting frustrated. “The King had said only a moment ago that he has provided all we need!”

“Assume not what the King has said. He did not grant provisions to rescue, but provisions for the start of our journey.”

“Did you not repeat yourself?”

Guide gently placed his hand on the knight’s thigh and gave a reply of patience. “Trust me.”

They rode on for many hours in near silence. Night was beginning to fall and, aside from the road they were traveling, they had seen no sign of civilization since they left the village. Weary from the hard ride, the knight was about to suggest to Guide that they make camp for the night, but before he could open his mouth to speak, their ears pricked with the faint hum of music. “We can stay here,” Guide said as the wood broke to reveal a small, yet busy town. The knight’s belief that Guide does indeed know where they are going was restored. As they rode past a band that had been playing, the players suddenly stopped in the midst of their tune and fell to their knees. They saw the pendant and the ring. Immediately, people of the town rushed up to them and offered them their homes, food, water, supplies. They were constantly approached with things like, “Are you weary, sir?” “Are you in need of mending?” “Have you found a suitable stable for the King’s horses yet?” None would accept coin. In this place, they would be in want of nothing. Joyous tunes began to play as the townspeople celebrated the presence of a blessed man. Guide made all arrangements while the knight told his captivated audience about his adventures and what it was like to be in the presence of the King. “We must seek shelter inside this cottage now. The horses will be cared for,” Guide told him.

“I’ve not yet finished my meal, or my story” the knight answered with his mouth full of turkey.

“You have eaten more than your belly’s fill. The time has come for rest. Trust me.” The knight reluctantly followed Guide into the cottage. The knight wasn’t yet feeling tired, and so decided to use this time to study the contents of his new magic box. “Wise decision, friend,” Guide observed.

The knight gently smiled at King’s servant. Now that they were inside, he was glad to be out of the noise and clutter of people. He was glad to utilize this time for something productive. He opened the box to see two rows of several medium-sized vials resting perfectly in their container. Just as promised, they were all well labeled: Cure for Ivy’s Poison, Cure for Burns and Small Scratches, Ward Off Biting Insects, Cure for Insect Stings, Heal, Bind, Shrink, Blast of Force, Sap. Along the edge of the box, a piece of paper had been laid. The paper read, “Dear friend, The potions on the top row are fairly weak and for your own maintenance along the way. The ones on the bottom row are potent and meant to grant you assistance in battles that may lie ahead. Experiment with them so that you may learn them well, but use a scarce few drops at a time. They are dangerous and powerful, yet you have little to spare. Long live the King. – Magician.”

The knight awoke to Guide whispering in the dark. “Come, we must ride.”

“Is it morning? The sun has not yet risen and I haven’t said ‘Farewell’ to the people.”

“Whatever you do is your own choice, but morning is near. Our host has made us breakfast that we can take along the way. If we do not leave before the village is astir, the people will slow us.” So they gathered their belongings, saddled their horses, and left the friendly town to venture back out into the unknown wood.

For the next two nights, they stayed in friendly villages. They were well cared for, and the knight had time to test out his potions. He accidentally shattered their host’s table with the blasting potion and drained the life out of a small bird with the sapping potion. After some practice, he also captured a neighbor’s raging stallion with the binding potion and used the sapping potion to pull a snake’s poison from a cow. He enjoyed staying in the villages, but Guide continually reminded him that they must not be distracted from their mission. They must stay focused.

The fourth night, no village was near. They set up camp in the woods against the side of a large boulder. Guide suggested they stay there; he insisted that it was safe. “Where will you sleep, friend?” the knight asked, after rolling out his own pack.

“I don’t sleep. I shall be a watchman in the night. If there is danger near, I shall wake you,” Guide answered.

Two days later, they came across the mouth of a vast cave. Out from the darkness, they could hear a strange wailing sound. “Follow the sound,” said Guide. They crafted a torch and entered the cave. There were twists, turns, and narrow spaces, but they worked their way through. Every surface oozed with chilly beads of moisture. The air was stagnant and dank. Echoes made it difficult to discern from which direction the sound came, but it was certainly getting louder, and the sound was more and more reminiscent of someone crying. At last, the rough corridors led into a large room and they were able to stand, stretch and breathe with ease. On the far side of the room, a waist-high platform had been set, covered in purple velvet. Laid upon the purple velvet was a gold key, yet the knight’s eyes had fallen on something else.

“Ah,” said the knight, “my eyes have spied the source of the wailing.” Cowering on the floor to their far right, was a boy. Or perhaps he was a man. The knight never did decide which he must have been. Either way, he was weeping and clutching his hands close to his chest. “Son, why have you come here? And what has upset you so?”

The reply was seething with fury. “Don’t you dare talk down to me, pretentious fool! I am every bit a man as you! You believe yourself to have been sent by our King? Why? Because an old fool had given you a trinket and directed your path!” he said, pointing to the pendant. “I too am here because an old fool sent me. He said that the woman I love could be saved if only I could find this key. But listen to a fool and find a fool’s errand! I cannot even brush my fingers over it! Behold! It scorches my hands at every attempt!” The boy held his palms flat to reveal many burns.

“Friend, he reveals not all that I told him,” whispered Guide to the knight. “I gave him heed to first beseech the King, but he refused to listen. He feared rejection. Only one who has been granted the King’s blessing can bear the key; even then, he cannot use it, but bear it only. Apparently, this one did not heed my warning.” Intrigued, the knight approached the velvet platform. “Our quest requires it,” Guide encouraged. The knight drew a deep breath, closed his eyes, and swept up the key.

“Ha!” he shouted with relief. “Success!”

“Sorcerer!” spat the boy. “Witch! You perform the devil’s magic!”

“I implore you, sir, let me help you,” the knight softly suggested. He carefully moved toward the boy. “I have with me a healing potion. Let me mend your burns.”

“Keep your black magic away from me!” The boy cowered backward, revealing a sloppily dressed wound in his middle.

“That’s a grievous wound, sir. How ever did you complete the journey? Can you even walk?”

“With success, I ventured here. Does that not show my determination?” the boy sneered.

“At least allow me to help you stand.” The knight began to place his hand around the boy’s waist to lift him.

“AH! Remove your filthy hands from me!”

“Guide, fetch me my potions, please. We must heal him.”

“I’m sorry, friend. It would be wasted on him. There is nothing more that we can do for him. I’ll send a message to the King about this. He’ll be sure to send others after him.” Guide placed a reassuring hand on the shoulders of both the knight and the boy. For now, they must leave him be. The boy’s sobs grew more and more faint as the two adventurers worked their way back out of the cave.

“What shall I do with this?” asked the knight, as he fiddled with the key in his hands.

“Protect it.” Guide answered, leading them in the direction by which they had come. “Now we are ready to pursue her.”

Days and nights dragged on and on as they trudged through mile after mile. It was a dull and wearying journey. The knight passed the time by studying the layout and feel of the potions. Guide had advised that he learn them well because, should he have need for the powerful ones, he will likely need to think of them quickly and have his hand ready. He regularly used Cure for Ivy’s Poison and Ward off Biting Insects. The knight never worried about food; it seemed to simply come to them. Still, the days were long. Finally, the forest broke to reveal a vast valley filled with countless stone towers. “Surely, the princess is in one of these,” the knight wondered aloud. Guide’s silence was confirmation enough for him. “How am I to know in which to find her?”

“Your path will be clothed in blood,” Guide answered. The knight shot him a sideways glance, but asked no questions.

As they neared the towers within the valley, they heard cries calling out to them. A woman’s voice called down from the nearest tower, “Behold! A handsome knight, come to rescue me! Oh kind sir, I’ve waited my entire life for thee! ‘Tis I, thy princess!” He could see her beautiful face eagerly peering down at him from her window. His heart throbbed. Here she is! The journey is over!

“My lady! You are fair, indeed! Wait but for one moment, fair maiden, for soon I shall be by your side,” the knight answered her. Guide took him by the shoulder.

“Whatever you do is you own choice, but be not deceived by appearances,” he warned.

“Is this not the King’s daughter?”

“It is.”

“Are we not here to rescue her?”

“No. The King has many daughters. She is but one of them. Your path will be clothed in blood. This path holds only your own blood.” The knight sighed and turned away. He could hear her furious screams as he walked away from the girl he had just promised to rescue. There were fair maidens calling out to them from every tower. Each pleading rescue. Each promising much. Frustration nearly overtook him. Many times, he had to resist the temptation to simply rescue the nearest girl and take her back to the King. They all looked the same, surely the King would not realize. Just when he had nearly given in, he spotted streaks of rusty brown in the grass. This could be blood. As he followed it, the trail got thicker. Soon, a vile stench was in the air. Lying strewn about a rubble-ridden tower were dragons and pieces of dragons baking in the sun.

“What happened?” the knight inquired.

“This is the handiwork of the boy who came to this tower before you were beckoned. The trail of blood poured out from his wound.”

“Look! The entrance is blocked by all this rubble.” The knight readily pulled out his blasting potion without looking or fumbling. Just as he was about to pour a few drops onto the boulders, he was startled by Guide’s gentle voice.

“You must spill it all.” Trusting him, the knight poured out the entire potion onto the rocks. With a massive force that knocked them backward, the rocks were blown into dust. Their way was cleared!

Once inside, the stench of death stung their nostrils. Dead bodies lay strewn about. As the knight searched for the easiest, cleanest route, one of the bodies leapt after him! He swiftly drew his sword and severed its head. More creatures fell upon him from above. Some nasties spawned out of the wounds of others. This battle was in full swing now. The knight was a skilled warrior and fleshy monsters such as these are his game. His fight was like a dance as he dashed, lunged, ducked, twirled, thrusting his sword into the monsters. He was dancing with death. Skillfully, gracefully, he slashed his way through the creatures up toward the princess’ bedroom. He was almost there. With a final blow, he crushed the head of the last demon that stood in his way.

He warily set foot in the highest room and scanned it as quickly as he could. His fears and expectations were realized; two mighty dragons were living in here. But they were not rising to charge him. In fact, one dragon was wounded and lying on the floor. Where was the princess? The other dragon had caught sight of him, began to charge, but then stopped. Recognition beamed in its emerald green eyes. “YOU!” the knight shouted. “My sword still thirsts for your blood.” The dragon Lust sneered and slowly approached the knight. Lust lifted the knight’s chainmail and underamor to reveal the many scars that he bore. Lust softly raked its claw along the thickest one, the one that he himself had delivered. Yes, Lust remembered him too. “I killed you long ago!” he cried as he took a swift stab at the beast. The beast slapped him hard. A new battle has begun.

“Be not deceived by appearances. Your battle is not against flesh and blood,” Guide called out. The princess opened her eyes and caught sight of the man battling her enemy. This clearly was not the boy who was fighting for her in the days now gone. Glinting candlelight pulled her attention to the King’s blessed ring. She couldn’t believe it! It was impossible! Surely, the King would not send a warrior for her! But indeed, he had. He had sent a rescuer just for her. He battled now for her! Battling, and losing. She saw Guide from across the room, remembering him from days of old.

“Guide, I’ve been stricken, but what can I do to help this man overcome the enemy?” she cried out. At that moment, Lust was playfully crushing the warrior’s head underfoot just in front of the princess.

“Stretch out your hand. Is his wooden box within your reach?” Guide asked her.

“Yes!”

“Place it in his hands. He will prevail henceforth.” She painfully shifted her body over to where she could grasp it and did as commanded. Knowing exactly how the potions were laid, the knight pulled out a vial and began to pour a few drops of its contents onto the foot that held him down.

“You must spill it all.” Guide said. The knight emptied the vial’s contents onto the scaly legs of his captor. Very quickly, the monster shrank down to a size no larger than a mouse. The knight stood up and slapped the lizard off his face.

“By what great wisdom and magic was that accomplished?” asked the wounded princess.

“I saw that I could not destroy it, so I shrank it with a potion that the King’s servant gave me. Ouch!” The knight looked down to see a very angry little lizard snapping at his ankles. Recognizing the princess by her voice, he asked, “Princess, do you have a place that I can lock him away?” They placed the tiny monster into a canning jar, sealed the lid, and placed it in the cupboard. Suddenly, the princess released a piercing, sustaining scream of abject suffering. “Princess, what is the source of your pain?” he shouted over the screaming.

“The Darkness! It torments me!” she squealed. The temperature in the room dropped and they all felt as though the air was so thick that they could hardly move. The knight heard a whooshing sound and suddenly, he felt a searing pain in his thigh that brought him to his knees. He cried out and looked down. Blood seeped through his armor. “’Tis too strong a magic! We cannot defeat it.” the princess said.

“Guide, what do you say?” begged the knight.

“She knows well. We cannot defeat it. It is far too strong. Do that which you can, friend” In desperation, the knight grabbed the sapping vial and smashed it onto the ground. Seeping from the walls, the ceiling, the floor, a black cloud began to gather into the center of the room. Much of it seeped from the princess as well. As it did, scales began to fall from her. Her dragon-like appearance slowly melted away to reveal the most striking woman they had ever seen. “Focus, friend! You have forced The Darkness to gather. Now act!” Thoughts flashed through the knight’s mind: “What potions have I left? Her beauty is captivating. She has fallen asleep now. My hope is that she has not yet fallen forever. What if she is dead! I’m so hungry. Turkey. No! Potions. Heal potion. Binding potion. Binding potion!” In one smooth motion, the knight shattered the vial of binding potion just below the black cloud. The Darkness curled up into itself, forming a solid ball frozen in the air. “It shall remain for quite some time, but this is no eternal solution,” Guide said. “See to her. She is nearly dead. You have sapped the spell from her, but you hast also sapped her life essence.” Teary-eyed, the knight took the vial of Healing potion from his box. It was the last strong one left. “You must spill it all.”

“But Guide, what of my leg? This is all that remains of the strong potions and my leg requires but a little.”

“Your leg will ache, but you will yet live. Whatever you do is your own choice, but to spare her, you must spill it all.” The knight eagerly and hopefully poured out all of the vial’s contents onto the princess. It took some moments, but not much time had passed before she opened her eyes and began to stir. Yet her wound still remained.

“Why does her wound not close? I did all that you have asked of me,” the knight inquired.

“She is incomplete. She cannot heal until she is complete. Now is the time to use the key,” Guide answered.

When the knight pulled the key from where he kept it, the princess grew wide-eyed. “I have seen the pattern on that key! Lust guards and fawns over a small jeweled chest which bears that very pattern. I have neither known nor cared what it was that he cherished in there, but truly, those patterns are twins!”

“Where does he stow the chest?” asked the knight.

“In that far room.”

“Then I shall fetch it.” The knight hurried to the room, limping all the way, and immediately saw the chest of which she spoke. He stretched out his hand, but when he touched it, pain shot up his arm as though the chest were made of fire. “My lord! My lady! It burns!”

“’It is not for you. It is hers alone,” Guide answered.

“I cannot venture over there; my wound will not allow it,” said the princess.

The knight hobbled his way back to the princess. He gently placed his strong arms around her waist and whispered to her, “Then let me help you.”

“But what of your leg?” she asked.

“It will ache. But I shall yet live.” And so they held onto each other as they made their way over to the precious jeweled box. The princess used the key that the knight had brought, the chest opened with ease and they anxiously peered inside. There, beneath the cold, hard jewels, was a beautiful, soft, healthy, bright, red heart. As she had never done before, the princess wept tears of joy. She had believed that her heart was long dead, yet here it was! She excitedly scooped it up into her hands and hugged it to her chest. Like a drop of water melding perfectly with a pond, so too her heart settled perfectly were it belonged. Soon, where there had been life-threatening wounds, the princess bore only scars. She was finally complete. She leapt and danced for joy! She sang songs of praise! She embraced her new friend, the knight. She then stopped as she looked about the old stone chamber. Still, she was trapped here.
“Guide, how can the curse be broken so we can be free? The enchantment is still too strong for us. What are we to do?”

Guide pondered intently for a moment. “I shall send a message to the King. I’ll send a bird that can fly quickly.” He then walked over to her and embraced her. “Fret not, child. We shall see you set free yet. Trust me.” He was soon outside, communing with birds.

“My lady,” the knight said, “I shall wait here with you; you should not be alone.”

“I can bear being alone. I am accustomed to it. You can go; you have completed well your quest.” Although she had truly meant what she had said, she more truly hoped that he would stay. She hoped that he would choose to stay even though he had no obligation to.

“No,” he said. “Surely you could stay here alone, yet would anyone want to? I imagine you could use some fair company.” So the three of them waited.

 

Part III: Love’s Redemption

There were times when the knight would go out to gather food, but they never counted how many days or nights passed, but simply waited patiently. Then one day, the sound of a mighty blast pounded their ears! The tower shook and trembled. They rushed to the window to see what was happening.

“Who goes?” Guide called.

“I am Magician, the servant of the King. His heart was sore to learn of your bind. Therefore, He sent me to fetch you,” Magician answered.

“Then why all the clatter?”

“I did not want to startle you. Now I am coming up!” He didn’t stroll up the stairs like most other beings would; he rose up into the air and floated in through the window. “Already, I have observed the tower itself with mine own eyes. Show me at once what else you have here.” They showed him the Dark sphere that still hovered in the air. “I see you have heeded my counsel and used my potions well, friend. This is a powerful magic, indeed. Nevermind; the King’s magic is far greater.” No one there knew what Magician did that day to vanquish the evil. After many hours of muttering, wandering, and fiddling with things, he simply stood up and said, “Everyone, get out! Immediately! Gather your belongings and flee!” Not doubting his expertise, they did as they were told. As soon as they were out of the tower, the entire structure sank into the earth beneath it. It didn’t crumble, crash, or make a big noise. It was simply gone, as if the earth was thirsty and decided to drink the tower out of existence.

“Then I am free?” the princess asked. She was hopeful and could see it for herself, yet she couldn’t help but doubt its truth. As she stared back at the empty space where she had once lived for so many years, she wondered what had happened to the peasant boy. Did he ever find help? Was he alright? Did he find another love? Her hope was that it was so.

“Yes. You are free,” answered Magician, pulling her thoughts back to the moment. “Let us go home.” So they rode away from the valley, back toward the castle. There were only three horses, so the princess rode with her rescuer, her hero, her love, her knight, hugging him the entire ride home. THE END

Identity

“It doesn’t matter to me what you’ve done; I love you for who you are.” Kaela said that to me when I was on my way back home from a funeral in Chicago – from revisiting my old life there. It was quite probably the single most freeing thing anyone could have ever said to me. She loves me for who I am. But who am I?

For twenty nine years, I’ve felt like a non person. I didn’t really identify as anything. I didn’t really have big dreams, goals, and aspirations. I rarely have strong opinions about anything. I didn’t have a solid definition. I was without an identity. Even as a Christian, you have your “identity in Christ,” but what on Earth does that even mean?! It does hold some meaning, but it doesn’t help much; you still have to figure yourself out.

To identify as something may seem inconsequential, but it’s really important because it shapes the effect you have on the world around you, and it solidifies the world within you. It changes the way people see you.

I read that the Cleveland Indians are phasing out the image of Chief Wahoo. There is, of course, heated debate over this. Fans of the baseball team cling to this image as the beloved face that they’ve worn for over a hundred years. They claim that it pays honorable tribute to the first Native American to play major league baseball, Louis Sockalexis of the Penobscot Tribe. The Penobscot peoples rage that Chief Wahoo is a caricature that mocks their people and promotes racism against them. Identity and image matters. This is so heated because both groups of people know that identity is important. By the way, there have been many people – including the Penobscot Tribe and the Sockalexis family – officially protesting the use of Chief Wahoo annually since 1973; this is not new, and it isn’t a hip bandwagon for this crybaby generation.

After twenty seven years of wanting one, I finally buzzed my hair and got a mohawk. It’s great; I wish I’d done it much sooner. But the most amazing thing about it is how weird it… isn’t. It feels free. It feels fitting. I feel like I look in the mirror and I finally recognize myself. But it isn’t the haircut. I mean, it *is* the haircut, but it’s much deeper than that. It’s the fact that I’m finally able to accept and embrace what was already there within me. I’m finally able to freely be myself, whomever I am, and embrace it without fear. It took me nearly thirty years, but I finally have an identity.

Two Zones and Loneliness

The Friendzone:

Caveat: I realize that the “friendzone” can happen to anyone. But since I’ve only ever heard it used by guys talking about girls, that’s the perspective I’m going to focus on. Feel free to mentally adjust it accordingly.

The concept of the friendzone is more complex than I initially thought it was. I thought that it was simply the belief that if you’re thought of as someone’s friend, then there’s no way ever, never, not in this lifetime or any other that you’ll ever be more than that. “Nice guys finish last.” “Girls only date bad boys.” (I can’t really wrap my head around this because it’s all so laughably untrue.) And it would seem that this sometimes truly is what people mean when they talk about being friendzoned.

But apparently, there are at least two other levels of being in the friendzone that I had never previously known. There’s the notion that you’ll be your friend’s everything – except their boyfriend. You’ll be asked to be all the things that a boyfriend would usually be – their handyman, heavy lifter, top shelf fetcher, coat fetcher, ride, cigarettes lighter, and mechanic negotiator. (Honestly, I can’t really wrap my head around this one either because as someone who gladly bends over backwards for my friends, I don’t know why anyone would NOT want to do these things for their friends. But I can see how it can get obnoxious.)

And then there’s the third layer in which you’re used for all of those things, plus sex. You’re their boyfriend in every single way, but without the title. You’re friends with benefits. (This one baffles me from so many angles that I’m dizzy from just thinking about it.)

Whether I understand or appreciate the friendzone is irrelevant here; the real point is that the friendzone happens; the friendzone is stinking lonely. And that is something that I can really wrap my head around. I get loneliness. And I see that the friendzone is lonely.

The Girlfriendzone (or Boyfriendzone. But let’s focus on girlfriendzone for the sake of simplicity):

I recently read this thing (shared from… Twitter? Reddit? I don’t remember, which is part of why I can’t seem to find it now.) that was a message to “nice guys” written from the perspective of a single lesbian. She recounts her seemingly endless stream of guys who would be very nice to her and be awesome friends all the way up until the moment they realized that they were never going to have a chance at sleeping with her – at which point, they would inevitably bail. She then meets her best friend – a straight girl with whom she falls in love. But she decides to stand by her despite having no “chance” because, “She was the best friend I’d ever had. I was the best friend she had ever had,” and something about not wanting to destroy that just because she doesn’t want to be her girlfriend. The homerun hitting line is, “So before you complain about being friendzoned, Mr. ‘Nice’ Guy, remember this: you girlfriendzoned her first.” I have a close friend in real life (a few of them, actually) who has a very hard time making friends (male OR female), despite being an incredible human being. This is because her “friends” keep wanting more than friendship. So she ends up being alone a good chunk of the time. That’s the thing about being girlfriendzoned so much: it’s lonely.

Loneliness:

What I get out of all of this is that it turns out that people don’t like feeling used. They don’t like feeling unappreciated or manipulated. People don’t like being taken advantage of.

I know that you, dear reader, are thinking of your answer to this problem. But that isn’t my goal for today. Today, all I’m saying is that I see a swarm of lonely people among the crowds, and it’s a crying shame – especially since it totally doesn’t have to be that way.

Dear PTSD Cat

Dear PTSD Cat,

I understand.

You had a full life before your time here in our Haven. I don’t know where you come from, what you’ve seen, or been through. But I see the way you flinch when I move in certain ways, the way you run from certain items. I don’t know why you are the way you are, but I understand (or I think I understand) the way you feel.

It took you a long time to trust us, but I see how much you’ve relaxed since you first came here to Stablehaven. You trust us now, and for that I’m glad. I’m glad that you came here to us instead of gone somewhere else. Others may not have been so understanding of your hesitation. Others may not have been so patient. I cringe to think how you may have been treated in other homes. I’m glad that you can know this peace. I’m glad to see you home.