2003-06-02 - 8:31 a.m.
Once upon a time there was a beautiful single Princess who owned her own business. One day a Prince saw her and fell in love. He slipped her a note during her Advanced Baking final and asked her to call him. The Prince and Princess ended up having coffee for four hours one Thursday evening and making out against the Princess’ car in the 80% humidity. The Princess was overwhelmed by the Prince; he had Margaret Atwood poetry on his answering machine. He had Aimee Mann, Anne Sexton and Basho quotes taped up on his walls. The Princess came to love the Prince, the Prince also to love the Princess, and soon the Prince moved out of his tiny tower apartment and came to live with the Princess in her single-floor shared-wall condo.
The Princess loved the Prince’s Japanese family, who came to refer to her as “The Egg – White on the Outside, Yellow on the Inside”. The Prince enjoyed the Princess’ parents, who took him to eat oysters steamed with ginger and scallions. As if by magic, the Prince’s allergies were unaffected by the Royal Kitty Katze, who adopted the Prince’s lap for her very own sitting stool. All seemed well.
But as time went on, though the love between Prince and Princess grew, problems grew like royal weeds. The Prince hated the Princess’ new job and attitude. The Princess thought she was maybe ready to get married. The Prince stopped talking for days at a time. The Princess believed it was her fault and worked harder to make the Prince happy.
Children, listen closely now.
The Prince and the Princess did not pass Go. They did not collect $200. Instead, they went on a classic generation X break. The Prince moved into his own apartment. The couple continued to have love and dinner and sex until one day, while shopping for beets and olive oil in Trader Joe’s, the Princess suddenly knew that he was sharing his bed with the Evil Ex. She examined the evidence; she counted back the number of days since the Prince had last called for a quickie, and she knew. Whereupon the Princess fled the grocery store, hitting speed dial on her cell as she ran to the car. And there, sheltered from pouring symbolic rain, the Prince wirelessly fessed up that he had been shtupping both the Evil Ex and the Princess for many weeks now.
The Princess had never felt such pain. She railed against fate, she cursed the gods, and then she drove to the Evil Ex’s house and kicked the door, cursing. She drove to the Prince’s new apartment and smashed the picture he kept of the Evil Ex. But in the depths of her heart, the Princess was careful. First she carried the picture into the shower, so that when the Prince swept up glass shards, none of them would damage his lovely feet.
The Prince went for a long drive up to Ukiah to clear his mind. The Princess called in sick to work and lay in her bed fighting nausea. She thought about STDs and the sexual reputation of the Evil Ex, but could do nothing but wallow. When her phone rang late one Monday evening, she answered, thinking it would be the Sympathetic Lady in Waiting or the Helpful Queen. Instead, it was the Prince with a message for her: I want you back, Princess. I want only you. Let’s go to counseling and work this out.
And then the Princess made her only mistake. She took back the Prince, letting her heart rule her mind, not realizing that the next nine months would be an exercise in futility. For though the love between Prince and Princess was still alive, it was inexorably damaged, and neither the Royal Counselor nor a genuine wish to forgive could heal that wound. So one day in May, three years after he’d slipped her his phone number on a PostIt note, the Princess let the Prince go.
Now children, there are a number of lessons you could learn from this story. You could remember that this only a tale; there are omissions and time reductions, and maybe you don’t know the whole story. You are bright children; you know that the Prince’s story would be different from the Princess’. What the Princess wants you to retain, though, is the new ending to her story.
The Princess wanted a day to cleanse herself of the Prince, to remember him with honor and to admire their efforts at building a life. On a beautiful June day in Northern California, she decided to drive the road between Placerville and Auburn. This road is high enough to have deep red clay soil and manzanita bushes, ravines and cross-backs, and excellent access to the South Fork of the American River. To visit that river, she drove offroad under an overpass. And it happened, just as her father always said it would; the car became stuck. Her right front tire had no traction; it simply spun away the loose river soil. The Princess, lost in a town of 200 called Lotus, had to ask for help.
For two hours she waited for a tow truck, frantically crossing the freeway again and again for confirmation that the gate which would allow access to her vehicle had not been relocked, trying to stay cool in the 100 degree weather, and wishing to god that AT&T would run some goddamned wires up here and give her service. The Princess grew angrier and angrier at herself. Her internal dialogue grew fierce and sailor-like in its vocabulary; she called herself stupid and stubborn, rash and miserably short-sighted. Dumbass, stupid fucker, lousy woman decision-maker. She refused to cry; she had no room for panic; there was still the possibility that the car wouldn’t budge even with 4x4 assistance.
Finally the tow-truck, like rain on parched earth, came and rescued her. The Princess laughed in relief with the owner and his wife; she wrote them a check and congratulated them on their three children and their now river-wet dogs. The White Knight clambered under her car and pronounced even the oil pan sound; he believed that the Princess had been very, very lucky. The lucky one climbed gratefully into the car, drank her last bit of diet Pepsi, and drove away from the town of Lotus, California forever. And when she was a few miles away, she found that her hands were shaking. She pulled over carefully and stopped the car. She looked at herself in the mirror and found that her burnt cheeks were wet with tears.
The Princess doesn’t remember how long she sat under that enormous oak tree on the edge of Highway 49, or when she pulled back on to the road and headed home. What she does know is that somehow, while perched between despair and hope for two hours in Lotus, her heart was cleansed. She forgave herself for taking back the Prince. She forgave the Prince for his mistake. She let herself be sad for what might have been between them. And finally, she left him like a sunwarmed stone by the American River, free for the water to wash away or leave standing, as it wishes.
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