I have often joked about having no romance left in my soul. That is not entirely true. The truth is that I placed that softer side of me, that one who believed in intimacy, in some distant and secure place, far away from my reality…
“Why?,” you might ask. Hmm… The answer, I guess, is that she was too much of a distraction, and her naivety and gullibility made her a hindrance to all I was trying to accomplish for my self… Driven by an obsessive compulsion to find that specific “one,” that mythical being whose soul was promised to me, led me down many dark and twisted paths, into narrow alleys without escape, across dangerous minefields promising maiming consequences for any wrong steps, and up to countless dead-end walls blocking my access to that imaginary “promised land.”
Turns out, I have been much happier without her around, so I do not regret my decision to bench her at all… But times change, and so have I, and for some, as yet, unexplained reason, I find that lately she has been clamoring for a way out. I don’t know why, and I don’t really care; I know it is not about someone new coming in to my life, for her restlessness is not directed. Rather, I suspect, it has to do with Wholeness, and the fact that my soul is missing some vital piece by keeping her locked away. And so today I choose to release her…
Am I afraid? Yeah, a little bit, I guess, as we did not part on the best of terms, she and I. But I believe the time has come for me to integrate all my “bits” into a cohesive whole, so I will take this step regardless. Vulnerability is not a bad thing in and of itself, and I trust myself today to handle the consequences of such a decision…
So… With all this in mind, I offer you the following story in its entirety. That makes it a very long read. Please do not feel obligated to slog through this madness simply because you follow this blog; my offering is mostly symbolic, and I would probably be relieved if you didn’t see this side of me. (Lol!) This story was completed in December 1997, and would become the last actual writing of significance I would do for almost two decades, until just before I started this blog last year.
Please accept it as my gift and my confession; I am not always as rational or grounded as I try to sound… 🙂
Photo of me, circa 1983, when I still believed in romantic love.
Photo taken by an ex, Jeff Schramm
“The Princess and Her Prison”
Once upon a time there lived a princess… At least everyone assumed she was a princess because she lived in a huge castle high upon a hill. But there was something different about this princess. For example, this princess lived alone in her castle, and always had. No one knew how she came to be there, or even who she was. Since she had always been alone there, she had no name. This wasn’t really a problem, since she had no one there to call her, but she wondered sometimes what she might have been called if there had been others there. And she couldn’t help but wonder why she was alone.
The castle she lived in was made of steel and more closely resembled a fortress than a castle. The walls were high and smooth, with no obvious crevices in the dull sheen one could see. They curved around to create a great circle with only four doors and one window to disturb its perfect form. The doors were evenly spaced, one each facing East, South, West and North, with no visible means for opening them. In fact, the doors were so perfectly fitted into the walls that the only indication of their presence was a tiny keyhole cut into the steel at each of the four cardinal points. (Of course, none of this really mattered since the doors were locked and the princess had never seen a key.) The only window looked south across a large meadow and an ancient forest, but the steel bars that covered it marred the tranquil beauty of the scene. And so the princess’ castle was also her prison.
The princess grew up there in that steel fortress. She often wandered through the labyrinth of dark corridors within wondering why she was imprisoned. But there was little of value within the castle walls to answer the questions that plagued her. So she would often turn to the window and look longingly outside her prison for answers she could never reach. And that was how she came to know that others lived beyond the walls, as bands of merry travelers passed by her forest home. She would watch them from a distance, and wish that she could join them But she could not leave the prison in which she had been born.
That’s not to say she didn’t try. She spent many years, and many tears exploring the dark inner sanctum of her home. And she had examined every inch of the outer walls of steel. She had crawled upon her hands and knees in search of loose stones upon the castle floor that might yield to her probing fingers. She swallowed her terror and crawled into the tiny nooks and crannies where even light would not willingly go. She threw herself against the doors to see if they would budge. She pushed and pulled upon the window bars until her hands were bloody and raw. But in all the days and ways of searching, the princess never found a single weakness in the structure of her home, and all the wishing she had done fell worthless on the cold stone floor. Even her prayers seemed trapped within, as though some magic force prevented their escape, as surely as the walls of steel kept light and warmth without.
When all her efforts failed, the princess looked to others. She stood proud and tall behind the bars of her window and called out to those who passed. And when they came to stand below her, the princess would tell them her sad plight, and ask them for their help. Many stopped to hear her tale and add their efforts to the cause, but none succeeded because the outer walls were as impenetrable as what she’d found within. And when all ideas had been exhausted upon the walls of steel, the travelers would offer sad good-byes and empty words of hope as they moved on.
But there were those who would not quit when they promised her release. So taken by the young girl’s beauty, so moved by her unfettered spirit, they each longed to be the one who set her free. And long after wiser souls had given up, they would continue to beat their hearts against the walls, leaving blood and sweat and tears to mark their paths. Until the princess begged them to leave her be and save themselves. Yet even then some would not listen, and the princess could only stand helplessly by while they battered their souls to death. For never was there flesh that could force its way through steel.
When the sound of their assault died down, the princess would look out between the bars of her window to see the bruised and broken bodies lying prone, like weathered stones upon the ground. Their still and lifeless forms strewn haphazardly about her walls would make her shudder with regret. And while the tears she cried could obliterate the sight, they could never wash away her guilt and shame. Grief and sorrow weighed heavily upon her soul, and with listless steps she would retreat to the dark inner sanctum of her home. As the years passed, and the pattern repeated itself again and again, the princess began to understand that no matter how perfectly her flesh was imprisoned, it would never approach the isolation of her soul. And she grew grateful that Fate had decreed her unworthy of life among the people outside, and had locked her up inside.
In time, the princess abandoned the fruitless hope of youth, and settled in to live her term without conviction or reprieve. When the loneliness drove her to her window seat, she was careful to stay out of sight. When curious travelers called out to her, and the urge to respond overcame her, she chose to speak in cryptic code that none would understand. And when the need to affirm her existence drove her to expose her self, she used the magic of mirror and smoke to cast shadows upon the walls. In this way she showed herself, that others might know she was there and she was real, without ever endangering them. So skillful did she become with her tricks and illusions that the princess no longer recognized her own reflection in the dull shine of steel, or understood the messages she cast beyond the walls.
But there were times, in the twilight hours of dawn and dusk, that the princess would catch a glimpse of something shiny in the distance. And it would stir long forgotten memories she couldn’t understand. In the still silence between day and night, the young princess would awaken with but one thought: “Four doors, four keys, and not one of them within. Could it be that somewhere, out there, is a key that can set me free?” But when the sun moved on into its rightful place, and the distant gleam faded, so, too did the remote hope within. And acceptance of her destiny became the cloak that comforted her through lonely days and nights.
***** ***** *****
One day while the princess sat beside her window with nothing but the scene to fill her mind, a knight encased in shiny garb advanced toward her castle on the hill. He rode proud and tall upon a midnight steed, with royal robes and ribbons fluttering in a gentle breeze. So lost was she within herself, she hardly noticed his approach. Until at last, with regal stature, he stood before the door.
And finally the sight impressed itself upon her feeble senses, and gradually she became aware that something here was different. Without a word, the knight below approached the southern door. As she watched he reached beneath his breastplate to remove a silken cord. On that cord, a single key, he slipped into the lock. And silently the door slid open as the princess sat and watched.
In an instant the princess realized that she was free at last. And in a sudden panic, she ran deep into her fortress. As she raced through twisting corridors, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the steel, and she was stunned to note how much she’d changed during her imprisonment here. For the beauty of her youth had fled with the slow passage of time, and left in its wake a dim reminder of all that she once was. The thought of being seen like this by any human being was more unthinkable than any thought should be. And she realized, in a flash of insight, that she’d always been alone, and had never had to face a man with eyes level to her own.
As these thoughts raced through her mind, the panic grew within, until she knew that she would never have the courage to even look at him. So she ran ahead into the deepest places of her home, and found a place to hide where he would never go. And there she fell upon her knees and prayed that he would leave.
But the silent knight was not afraid, and he had come here on a quest. He would not leave this steel fortress without the lonely princess. So he searched for days within the walls, leaving nothing there to chance, until at last, the final room lay just within his grasp. The door gave way with little effort, and slowly he advanced, into the very center of the prison Fate had Fortune cast. The room was small and dark, cluttered with mementos of a long-forgotten past. And there amidst the litter the princess kneeled, and sobbed into her hands.
“Go away,” she shouted at the knight in a voice husky and low. “You don’t belong here! This is my prison. This is my home. I cannot go!”
“Of course you can,” the knight responded his tone gentle and warm. “Why else would I be here, if not to set you free?”
“But you don’t understand,” the princess promptly countered. “This prison is the only home that I have ever known. Outside its walls I would be lost, I wouldn’t have a clue. And I’m too old for fairy tales, I know they can’t come true… So go away while you still can, and leave me to my fate. No other soul has walked these halls or looked upon my face.”
“But I have traveled far to be with you,” the knight insisted. “I have to say I am surprised to find you so resistant. Still, you needn’t be afraid of what lies beyond these walls, for I will walk along with you; you’ll never be alone. Outside this place the sun is shining and everything is bright. I’ve but a single purpose here – to lead you to the light.”
“And if I refuse,” the lady asked, “will you force me to go with you?”
“Why would you refuse me, when all I offer you is refuge?”
“My mind’s made up; I will not go, no matter what you say. I cannot face the world beyond, where the sun brings forth each day. This is my home, where shadows play, and it is always night. Know this, brave knight, I will not leave my home without a fight!”
Exasperated, the knight stepped forth to bring her out by force. But the princess kept her word and struggled; ‘til objects flew with curses and the scene became a battle. As they rolled among the broken pieces of the past, the lady caught a fatal wound from a broken shard of glass. As the last strength of her will subsided in a gushing flow of blood, the princess felt herself aloft, and whisking down the corridor. She closed her eyes and drifted off to somewhere safe and warm, where armor clanged like silver bells, and the scent of Life was strong.
When she awoke, she found herself laid out on grass so soft and green, and gentle hands caressed her brow like the fragrant summer breeze. She smiled at the radiant sun, so warm upon her face, and reached out for the stranger who had brought her to this place. “Before I die I’d like to see the face of him who set me free. Remove your mask before I go, and let me gaze upon your soul.”
Without a word the knight complied, removing his shiny headpiece. And as he turned to face her, she saw tears slide down his cheeks. The reflection that she saw in them revealed the true beauty that she was, as eyes the color of emeralds gazed down at her with love.
“Who are you?” she whispered, “Why have you come? Do you know me? Or why I was imprisoned?”
Sadly the knight began to nod, but his voice was slow to follow. “You are the one I’m promised to, for many years I’ve searched. But everywhere I went I found no one who knew of you. Long ago, before this life, we swore that we would meet, and I have spent what time I’ve had trying to fulfill that destiny… We knew we might forget these words by the time we came of age, so we took our case before the Fates to ask them for a way. After much debate we won the chance to prove our love to them, and if we were successful, we’d never have to be apart again.
“We’d argued that our love was true, that we’d pass any test. So to prove our point we’d have to love, even if one did forget. So they placed you here, within these walls, and gave me the only key. You agreed to wait for me, and they took your memory.
“Four times I’ve tried to get to you, and all four times I’ve failed. By the time I found your prison here, you’d already lost your faith. Every time it ends the same, and I am left alone. This was our last chance at this, and soon you will be gone.” And as these final words slipped out, the knight began to cry. The princess held him close to her, and sadly closed her eyes.
As she lay there upon the grass, she thought her heart would burst. To have him here, so near, and yet so far… And lost memories returned to her. Slowly they came back – such love, such trust, such hope, and she knew that she had always known that someday he would come. She remembered dreams, and distant gleams so bright against the dusk; a dark-haired knight who filled her sleep with promises of love.
Eagerly she pushed him free, searched out his eyes of green, looking for the proof of what her inner eye had seen. But when her hands were clear of him, she found his warmth remained, which drew her eyes away from him, to see the stains his blood had made, while she had held him near. “I couldn’t face this end again,” the handsome knight revealed. “This time we’ll go together to meet eternity.”
When the shock had passed, she realized that he would soon die, too. And she laughed at him, the irony, of what she understood. “Too late, I think, to stop our fate, but not too late for us. Alone I’ve been, without you here, but in spite of that I loved. It’s love that trapped me here, I know, because it was so true. No other love could set me free, while I belonged to you… I love you now, and always will, and it’s clear that you love me. And now we live, though soon we won’t, and as the Fates decreed…”
She held her breath and waited, her heart pounding in her ears, and wondered if he’d get her point while they were both still here. As she watched, his eyes lit up, and joy replaced his misery. “We’ve passed the test,” he shouted out, “and now we’ll both be free!”
***** ***** *****
The two lovers embraced, rejoicing in their triumph, and the princess gazed back at the prison that had held her fast through all the lonely years. Only now there was no sorrow or emptiness within. As her mind traveled back along the corridors of her home, she saw promise in the empty rooms of what would come to be, and there was love in every corner of her darkest memories. Gratefully, she recognized how the walls had protected her and kept her true to course, even when she could not understand her fate. She wondered at her lack of faith, her fear, her ignorance; she marveled at the perfect way it all worked out. She realized her only prison had existed in her mind, so limited by what she saw, so terrorized by time. The greatest gift was always there with her, carried in her heart, and all her greatest efforts had gone toward finding a way out. Had she escaped her prison, she would have lost her way, and she’d have never known the one she loved with all her soul!
When the sun slipped over the western horizon, the lovers followed suit. A fog rose up from the valley floor to shroud the castle hill and obscure its walls of steel. Legends were born to tell the tale of the Princess and her Prison, and there are those who still believe she lives upon that hill. They claim the fog arose to protect the naïve travelers who would waste their lives pursuing the long-imprisoned princess. They believe the walls that held her tight were created by some evil, who lies in wait for others who are pure of heart and spirit.
But there are those much wiser still who know the truth. They smile when they hear those tales, and keep their secret close. They know the only evil is created in men’s minds, when the prison of illusion distracts them from their lives. There is a plan much greater than the human mind can grasp; it leads us on our journeys whether we’re aware or not. For things are never quite as dark as they may at first appear, and nothing is impossible so long as Love is there…
— C. 1997, Lisa R, Palmer