I was more tomboy than princess growing up.
I was cumbersome, heavy-footed, rough and tumble and largely disinterested in the usual girly things that occupied the minds of my peers, but I was a young tomboy who believed in fairytales and happy endings, one who wrote love stories—long, elaborate love stories.
In my love stories, I married people (yes, every member of NKOTB, multiple times over) and named my future children and in each of those stories, nothing ever went wrong. Ever. It was perfect and shiny, just the way I believed fairytales were.
But my younger self had very little idea about true fairytales.
She didn’t know that darkness and happiness were inseparable, riding together on horseback. Nor did she know that fairytales started right there with her, not her prince. And she was completely clueless to the fact that the true fairytales were not formulaic, they were the ones where you wrote your own ending.
I knew none of this when I met the man of my dreams on a train platform in Tokyo.
It was a perfect sliding doors moment, gushing with romance and a certain hint of fate. I was a fresh-faced and barely 22 year-old running to catch her last train at Akihabara. He was a gorgeous and exotic musician wearing loud pants, his dreadlocks tied up in pigtails, reminiscent of Jean-Michel Basquiat.
I passed him with my head lowered, holding my breath, too mesmerized by his beauty and too shy to talk. But as the train approached, I heard a chocolaty voice call out to me. It was him, my Basquiat, running up to the door where I was standing.
My heart skipped a beat as we boarded the train together, the clanking of the metal doors and beeping sounds lapping at our backs. We found a seat and talked the whole way. He told me I had a face he just had to talk to, one warm and different to others. Red flushed my cheeks and my insides did somersaults but I stayed externally calm until my stop approached. He handed me his number, I spat out nervous words: “I’ll call you.” I sucked up the moment, took in his face, exited the train and stood on the platform, watching him disappear into the darkness.
In that moment, I was never surer that fairytales existed, exactly like I had read growing up. And I was convinced I had found my prince.
It took me hours of giddy delay to call him the following day. That one phone call led to us getting completely lost in each other in the two months leading up to my departure from Tokyo. And those two months led to us chasing each other around the world, traveling the seven seas and crossing continents for the next three years. Until those three years eventually lead to him moving to Australia to start a new life together, living out the fairytale promise of a happy ending.
We made a home. We made love. We created a baby and we got married.
The whole journey was filled with lofty romanticism and adventure. My eyes, head and heart were so stuffed with it that I was certain this was everything I could have asked for.
And I was so bent on the magical idea of this happy ending that I didn’t see all the seams ripping open and the darkness seeping in.
Worse still, I saw nothing of the part of me that I was losing. Not long after our wedding, I would’ve been blind not to see the cracks in our relationship growing by the second. And I would’ve been an idiot not to see that my husband was far from my prince and as his lies and emotional abuse grew and grew, and my sense of self got more lost, I clung even more to the happy ending, as if it would somehow save me.
It was what was expected. It was what I expected out of what was meant to be the happiest moments in my life. I filled the cracks with excuses, fake smiles and silent suffering.
I watched my husband, the soon-to-be father of my child, with sad and distant eyes. And I watched as we grew further and further apart to the point where he was not my prince but a total stranger. I, too, was a stranger to myself.
Three months after the birth of our child, I was a broken and hollow mess. Somehow, somewhere, I found myself in tears on the phone to my mother. The words finally broke free from my mouth: I am miserable. I don’t think I can do this any more.
That night, when my husband finally came home, I asked him to leave. I remember sitting on the floor of our bedroom as his tires screeched out of the driveway, weeping uncontrollably, my three-month-old son cradled in my arms. This was no happy ending.
My fairytale was dead. I was a twenty-seven-year-old single mother and a mess of a woman.
I struggled in the days, months and years that followed. I sailed with my ship lost at sea, through constant waves that fluctuated between unrealistic elation and a dark hole that I could barely keep my head out of. I held it together—just—for my son, but inside I bled. I latched onto the ideas that I was a mess of a woman, every man was going to cause me pain and that fairytale endings were a load of utter crap.
Fear drove me to the point of exhaustion.
A year after our separation I started seeing a holistic counselor. It was her words that shifted my focus: No one can ever take your power; you can only give it. This is the lesson you needed to learn from this. Find yourself and find your boundaries.
It took a while for her words to sink in but I knew she was right. I wasn’t really sure of myself. I wanted the fairytale so badly but the fairytale had to start with me.
All that energy I had invested in being lost, angry and disbelieving, I started to pour back into myself. I searched and discovered—what I loved, what I wanted, what made me happy, the kind of mother I wanted to be and the kind of person I wanted to be. I started to write my own happy ending.
The more I did this, the more things opened up—my experiences, my life, my heart and my sense of self. I grew stronger from it, more determined than ever. And I started to believe again. It’s been four years since I separated from my husband.
Now, in place of anger and resentment, there’s gratitude. I never would have found myself, had I not so completely lost myself. I read a cute quote the other day: Once in awhile, right in the middle of an ordinary life, love gives us a fairytale. It’s true, you know.
Falling in love on the train that night gave me the opportunity to realize my own sorta fairytale, and if I ever had the opportunity to re-write it, I wouldn’t change a thing.
It’s exactly how it should be.
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Asst Ed: Judith Andersson/Ed: Bryonie Wise