Once upon a time, there was a girl.
The girl was naturally happy, and grew up in a house filled with love. She was smart and adventurous and thoughtful. She had a knack for seeing the bright side. Although she had her moments (occasionally involving blue eye shadow and often massive amounts of hairspray), she wasn’t what one would call a “girly girl.” In fact, she was a bit of a tomboy who loved to camp and fish and get dirty. Once, in first grade, a rogue lizard was discovered in the classroom. While the rest of the class ran around, shrieking (including the teacher), the girl caught the lizard and set it free outside.
She could, at times, be very brave.
Though she knew the words to Cinderella by heart, the girl never dreamed of being a princess. She rarely played dress up and hated the color pink. But she did dream of having her own life, one similar to what she grew up with. That meant being a wife. And a mother. It was really all she ever wanted to be. It was her own version of a fairy tale.
Somewhere along the way, the girl met a blue-eyed boy from a far-off land they call The East Coast. He was brash and loud and passionate, and also intelligent and loving and sweet. He was different than other boys she’d met. His past was not as easy as her own had been, but he wanted the same future. She overlooked bumps in the road, things that, in retrospect, might have been warning signs of trouble ahead. She loved him, truly. So when the boy asked for her hand in marriage, she said yes. The usual fanfare was accompanied by fluttering golden aspen leaves on a crisp Colorado autumn day. Thus began a new part of life for the girl. Her fairy tale was beginning!
One by one, the mini-dreams of her childhood came true. She was a happy young wife, with a new home to fluff and a sweet dog to love. She clumsily taught herself to cook, hosted ambitious parties, planted a rainbow of flowers. She worked hard at her job, encouraging the boy to stick with his passion and turn it into a career. Years went by, some very good, and some bad. Such is life. Such is marriage. The girl tried hard to keep smiling through the rough times, and loved the boy as truly as she did at the beginning. It worked well for a long time. Milestones were celebrated and happy memories were made.
But the rough times became more frequent.
The girl couldn’t deny that she was struggling, though she tried to. There were cracks in her shiny happy armor that were starting to reveal the truth. Regardless, she kept working, loving, trusting, loving, denying, loving, supporting. Hoping. Praying. Pleading. Loving.
Then, on one fateful night, eleven years after the girl met the blue-eyed boy, his demons got the better of him. The girl was forced to flee into the night. She found refuge with dear friends, who tucked the girl away, filling her goblet and making sure she ate. Like a little damaged bird, she was in shock. And she stayed that way for days. Weeks.
Though massively significant, the details of That Night turned out to be far less important than how the girl reacted to them. She tortured herself, day and night, trying to determine what she should do. No one else could make this decision for her. Her thoughts kept going back to one thing: the family she knew she was meant to have. With children she didn’t even have yet in her mind, the girl made a choice. She did the last thing she ever wanted to do. She did the unthinkable.
She left the boy she loved.
She didn’t realize it then, but it was very brave.
The girl fell into a deep, dark pit of despair. She tucked herself away in a tiny corner on the top floor of a crumbling building. She learned that one can survive on frozen pizza and red wine, night after night after night. Some days, she made a cave out of her bed covers and stayed there for hours. She was slowly wasting away. She felt that her fairy tale was now a distant speck in the rearview mirror. Despite the events that had actually unfolded, she blamed herself. She should have done more before it was too late. Her guilt and sadness tried to destroy her, and her big, thoughtful heart froze over. It may as well have been removed. She would never use it again.
Thankfully, the girl had friends and family who deeply loved her. They carried her around on their backs until she felt strong enough to walk on her own again. Slowly, so slowly, she emerged from the Dark Pit. With the help of her loved ones and a fairy godmother named Dr. Kathleen King, the girl survived. Over the next few years, she learned to be a version of herself again, though she was unquestionably changed forever. She was able to lift her face to her old friend, The Sun, though her heart remained a brick of ice.
One of the dear friends who helped the girl during this time had nursed a broken heart, too. The girl had watched him seek his own fairy tale for over a decade. Princess imposters floated in and out of his life, wearing masks to hide their true selves, loving the idea of this boy more than the boy himself. He helped pull the girl out of the Dark Pit, and somewhere along the line, their friendship changed. It deepened into something else. The girl pretended it hadn’t happened for quite a while. After all, she depended on this friendship. To live. But inside, she started to feel her frozen heart begin to thaw.
It terrified her.
But she could be very brave.
As time passed, the girl began to realize that her story wasn’t over. Her fairy tale hadn’t ended. It was simply far more complicated than she had ever dreamed. The realization gave her hope, and the optimism she was born with began to dig its way out of its hiding place and show itself again in her smile. It was becoming clear to her that she was stronger than ever before.
The boy was not a prince. He didn’t rescue her. He simply reminded her, time and time again, that there was something beautiful worth salvaging within her. He held her hand tightly while the girl rescued herself. And that was the best thing he could have done.
The two started to dream. They went on adventures together, talking, talking, always talking about what could be. Deeper and deeper they went, until one day, atop a snowy peak, the boy asked the girl if she wanted to take a crack at their own version of Happily Ever After. The girl trembled. She looked into the eyes of her best friend and, quite bravely, trusted her now-warm heart. She said yes.
The two progressed with slight trepidation, unsure how to navigate the future but filled with anticipation. They moved into a small castle in a snowy magical kingdom called Park City. They fell in love with a teeny furball with crooked ears who became their mascot, and the three of them began to build a life of love.
The girl never wanted to be a princess. But on the day of their celebration, in a glorious gown and twinkly glass slippers, one would swear that’s what she was. The shine of the diamond on her finger was rivaled only by the sparkle in her eyes- the kind that comes with true love. Someone official asked, “Do you?” The girl said, “I do.” And the boy said, “Me, too.”
It turns out that they were BOTH very brave.
And with that, and after many clinks of their glasses and dancing into the night, two best friends rode off into the sunset on a horse named Air France to begin a new chapter in their adventure, as man and wife.
You may expect, at this part of the fairy tale, to read the words, “The End.” But the girl knows better than to expect the ending before the story has even begun.
And I’m pretty sure it gets really good from here.
In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer. –Albert Camus