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Taming the Beast: Women and Fairy Tales

Taming the Beast: Women and Fairy Tales.


The Hosptial

The Hosptial.


An Annotation of Katherine Hepburn’s

An Annotation of Katherine Hepburn’s Me: My Life in Stories

 

Katherine Hepburn was born on May 12, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut. Her mother was Catherine Martha Houghton and her father was Dr. Thomas Norval Hepburn.  She was the second to the oldest of six children. Her father was very athletic and encouraged Katherine and her siblings to become interested in almost every sport. As a result, Katherine became adept at such sports as gymnastics, swimming, diving, golf and tennis and continued to excel in many of these activities throughout her life.

Her mother and father were active in the women’s movement and her mother became the head of the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association. Her parents were well-educated, well-read, and progressive advocates of social, political and economic reform and equal rights for women. They were “dedicated to the bettering of men and women”  and they instilled a fierce independence, determination, enthusiasm, ambition and strength in Hepburn which would prove invaluable to her throughout her life.

Katherine wrote “Me: Stories of My Life”, her memoirs, in a conspiratorially intimate first person voice from an adult perspective. She utilized, at times, a nonchalant matter-of-fact autobiographical tone peppered with the keen sense of humor, style and decorum for which she has become legendary. Although she wrote from her viewpoint at the time the memoirs were written, which was well into her eighties, she aspired to stay true to the timeline of the story which spanned from her childhood in the early 1900’s to the time of the book being written, which was in the 1980’s. Her early life was centered on a comfortable lifestyle provided by her parents in an upper-class social atmosphere. The family employed a nurse, cook and housekeeper. She admits that she is a snob and, most refreshingly, writes like one.

The fact that Hepburn can so candidly laugh at her own snobbery, selfishness and temper is in and of itself a testimony to her honest nature. Her ability to never take herself too seriously and her often brutal exploration of herself and her life grabbed and held my interest, commanded my respect, and tugged at my heartstrings. Her frank narration of her brother’s suicide left me reeling.

She narrated this event from both the innocent voice of a fourteen year old girl’s bewilderment and shock at discovering her sixteen year old brother hanged and the eighty-something year old woman’s wise yet still possibly even more bemused voice attempting to speak for that little girl. Hepburn’s account of this terrible tragedy and she and her family’s apparent inability to come to terms with it, illicit feelings of compassion and helplessness from the reader as we understand that Hepburn has not ever fully come to terms with this tragedy.

How does one ever reconcile one’s self to something like that? On a personal note, I am aware that I have never been capable of properly voicing my own feelings at discovering my late husband’s death engineered in the same manner as Hepburn’s brother’s suicide. Her ruminations reflect the icy cold aftermath in which survivors of suicide are left to dwell; “…I burst into tears. This is what I thought I should do. People die-you cry-but inside I was frozen.” The fact is that seventy something years after this horrific event, Hepburn is still in denial; “Actually Tom’s death remains unexplained” and “Dad made a statement that it was very possible that Tom was practicing hanging himself. Dad had told us of a trick of pretending to hang as a kid”. This seems to in some way corroborate my own feelings of incongruity concerning my late husband’s death.

Although, Hepburn’s close family ties are evident and pronounced throughout “Me”, the majority of her memoirs are centered on her acting career. She focuses on each of her movies and goes into detail about many of them as well as her numerous disastrous attempts at acting in the theatre. However her professional life is so completely entwined around her personal life-friendships and lovers that she manages to efficiently weave everything into a series of memory flashes. These ultimately join together to bring the reader an accurate picture of what was most important to her. Her ties with family and friends were strong. Her ambition and selfishness were possibly even stronger. She was a shrewd businesswoman. She admittedly used people to get ahead, yet she was fiercely loyal to those who were loyal to her. She was many times selfless, although in the long run, the selflessness would ultimately benefit her own goals and desires.

I must admit that one of the reasons which I decided to read Hepburn’s memoir’s, aside from the fact that I have always been impressed with her strong blatant attitudes on feminism, was to uncover the mystery of Katherine Hepburn’s alleged affair with Spencer Tracy. I must also confess that I have seen few, if any, of Tracy’s movies and knew next to nothing about the man prior to reading Me other than that he and Hepburn were reportedly lovers and that he was a married man. Of course, Hepburn is astutely aware of this and saves it until the very end of the book; “Now I’m going to tell you about Spencer. You may think you’ve waited a long time. But let’s face it, so did I” (391).  If this is a tell all book-and it is to a point-Hepburn still manages to do this without doing it, so to speak…

For instance, she tells of her love affairs but never gives the details of whom she was intimate with and who she was not. This voice of decorum is not only founded in the time and era in which Hepburn was born and bred, but also in her character. No matter what anyone comes away with after reading this book, and there are a lot-insights, truths, pain, laughter and a life fully lived-it can never be argued that Hepburn was a anything but a lady.

Her honesty can also never come into question. Hepburn admits that she and Spencer Tracy lived together, that he was married, and that she indeed found him in bed dead. But she is careful to never state openly that she slept with him. In fact, she speaks of lying on the floor beside his bed talking him to sleep because he was an insomniac. She talks of going to see him in the casket prior to the funeral but not attending the actual funeral as it would not have been proper, although they were together for “nearly thirty years”. She does say; “I loved Spencer Tracy”. Her struggle to define this love, just as she defines her life, is simple yet insightful and moving; “LOVE has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get-only with what you are expecting to give-which is everything”.

Sharon Lynn Van Meter

Copyright 2008

Works Cited

Hepburn, Katherine. Me: Stories of My Life. New York: Random House, 1991.


A Time for Reflection

A Time for Reflection

Women have a very difficult time saying no. We are pushed and pulled from every conceivable direction, from children to spouses, from friends to business acquaintances, from obligations to more obligations. We must be there for everyone and we must fulfill all of our obligations, after all it is our responsibility and we simply have no choice, or do we?

Anne Lindbergh penned her memoirs “Gift from the Sea” as a series of present-tense logs in a diary she kept during her visits to her home by the sea during the 1950’s. She used different types of shells or stones from the beach or sea to convey meaning in regard to different aspects of her life.

Anne Truitt, author of the journal/memoir “Daybook,” wrote her memoirs in first person, present-tense over a period of seven years, spanning from 1973 to 1981. Sbe focuses on her family, her art and writing and the combination of them all.

Both Lindbergh and Truitt were successful artists and loving, devoted mothers. They also enjoyed full social lives and stimulating friendships as well as the much needed rejuvenation, inspiration and peace afforded by self-imposed solitude. Intimacy and privacy was essential to them and both acknowledged that women thrive on it. Sensitivity was vital to them both as well and Anne Truitt eloquently surmises this in Daybook when she states; “Many of us [women] have been lonely too, deprived by our male peers of that sensitivity they had to brutalize out of themselves…” (200). But that which is crucial and speaks volumes regarding these accomplished women and their flourishing lives is the profound emphasis they placed on alone time; it was not a luxury to them; it was a source of survival. As Lindbergh says:

Actually these are among the most important times in one’s life-when one is

alone. Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone. The artist knows he must be alone to create; the writer, to work out his thoughts; the musician, to compose, the saint, to pray. But women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves…” (Lindbergh, 44).

Lindberg elaborates on the essence of what it means to nourish the woman’s soul by articulating that Virginia Woolf’s thoughts in her classic work on the woman artist, A Room of One’s Own, which merely cracked the door for women to enter. Although Woolf acknowledges the financial security required for a woman to purchase the room, or the time, of her own, she stresses that “…even in poverty and obscurity, [to write] is worthwhile (125).” For instance, both Lindbergh and Truitt were both financially able to afford this time to rejuvenate and replenish their inner selves, however Lindbergh acknowledges that the “problem is not entirely in finding the room of one’s own, the time alone, difficult and necessary as this is. The problem is more how to still the soul in the midst of its activities. In fact the problem is how to feed the soul” (Lindbergh, 45).

According to Lindbergh, the demanding lives which most women lead are not ones of simplicity but of multiplicity “that the wise men warn us about” (20). It is interesting here to note that it is “men” who are presumed wise. Could this be because most men have no difficulty or reservations whatsoever in saying no, especially to something or someone which interferes with their plans or personal alone time? I must agree with Ms. Lindbergh in her hypothesis that this life of multiplicity which most women lead “does not bring grace; it destroys the soul” (20).

If this is so, then why do women continue to allow themselves to be pushed to the absolute breaking point? There are many possible reasons, from the archetypal female ideal, which society has placed upon a pedestal for all women to emulate, to the biological roles assigned to women in motherhood, to the women’s liberation movement which theoretically delivered equal rights for women.  But these rights failed to get past the front door of the living room. Women could bring home the bacon and cook it up in a pan, whereas until just recently (and still it appears to be rarely), men were only expected to bring the bacon home but not step a foot into the kitchen. That was women’s territory, along with the nursery, the laundry room, entertaining, shopping, the list is endless. To an alarming degree, this idea that women must not only conquer the outside world but remain in control of all domestic responsibilities, especially that of rearing children, remains prevalent even in modern society.

It is somewhat disconcerting that a strong, independent and self-reliant woman such as Truitt says of her domestic responsibilities, “I could lower my standards but in doing so would sink with them, taking my children with me” (Daybook, 63.) However she swiftly defends this statement, by stressing the importance of structured mealtimes to nurture children through stimulating conversation. Ms. Truitt must be commended for her unswerving devotion and untiring dedication to her family and her artistic craft.  Although she steadily pushes herself to the limit time and time again, she not only takes time for her children, friends and social life, but also for herself.

The profound insight found in Anne Lindbergh’s compelling questions is a revelation and assertion regarding her hypothesis that a life of multiplicity destroys the soul. She asks; “Can one actually find oneself in someone else? In someone else’s love? Or even in the mirror someone else holds up for one” (60)?  She echoes her answer by quoting Eckhart, the German born spiritual teacher and author of The Power of Now; “going into one’s own ground and knowing oneself” is the only way to find one’s true identity (Eckhart qtd in Lindbergh, 60). She further expands on the dilemma of the overwhelming demands faced by women, especially by loved ones, by saying “My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds” (Lindbergh, 116) and with understated grace and timeless eloquence, Ms. Lindbergh instructs all women how seemingly simple it is to feed one’s soul: “The past is so far away and the near past is so horrible and the future is so perilous, that the present has a chance to expand into a golden eternity of here and now” (Lindbergh, 118).

So if we as women can beg, borrow, buy or steal the time and place to be alone, how do we nourish our depleted bodies, minds, hearts and souls once we are alone? Anne Truitt dreams. She dreams a repetitive dream about the sea (which seems to be a milieu for the creative process.) She dreams of a man whom she is deeply in love with, indeed she is “one with (84)” Stating that their “bodies are the same texture (83)” and she and this man “love one another so closely that each other is only as much as we are other than the sea (84).” In the dream, Truitt and her lover are carried into a crescendo of surging and crashing waves and once more, as in the other dreams, they survive. However, the end of her dream is crucial to the nature of the male /female relationship in context with the fierce, lonely, elated independence of woman as artist and individual; “The magic begins to recede. The color is draining from the rocks, the water, and our bodies. We are separating. We are conscious of each other. We are separate. I begin to feel ‘I’ ” (Truitt, 84, 85).

According to Truitt, the man in her dreams is her animus, the masculine aspect of her personality which affords her the strength and, dare I say-selfishness- to become an independent and successful artist. She learns to “create” the ability to “create” by recognizing and nurturing what her soul needs and how to feed it.  All women must follow this example and create the time, place, state of mind needed, to seek out the people who nourish our souls and to discard those who deplete our dreams and who hamper our inner peace. In essence, we must do what likely appears brutally selfish and insensitive to women who have long accepted the roles of socially appointed caretaker and self-inflicted martyr, and ask ourselves the candid and philosophical question: What do I want?

Works Cited

Lindbergh, Anne Morrow. Gift from the Sea. New York: Pantheon Books, 1955.

Tolle, Eckhart. The Power of Now. Canada: New World Library, 1999.

Truitt, Anne. Daybook: The Journal of an Artist. New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1982.

Sharon Lynn Van Meter

Copyright 2008


Taming the Beast: Women and Fairy Tales

Taming the Beast: Women and Fairy Tales

            The love/hate and submissive/manipulative relationship between woman and man has long been depicted in fairy tales as that of a beautiful, naive and helpless young girl who is seduced by a hideous, controlling, forceful (yet inexplicably kind and gentle) beast. He is at once repulsive and seductive. The damsel in distress is eaten, beaten, ravaged, raped or otherwise tortured and abused by the hideous creature. Even so, more often than not, she willingly manages to miraculously “change” the loathsome yet somehow loveable creature into a handsome young prince through her loving kindness. The “new man” then is compelled to prove his virility still intact by “rescuing” her from…herself.  Here we may venture to ask, who writes this stuff anyway?

Distinguished author and analyst Marie-Louis Von Franz, who worked closely with psychoanalyst, C.J. Jung until his death, examines the relationship between women and fairy tales in her book, The Feminine in Fairy Tales. According to Van Franz, fairy tales “express the creative fantasies of the rural and less educated layers of the population”. Thus they have the “advantage of being naïve (not literary) and of having been worked out in collective groups, with the result that they contain purely archetypal material unsecured by personal problems.

Though, initially written for adults, fairy tales were rejected and distributed to the nursery in the late 1700’s because of appearing to be “irrational” and “nonsensical”. However, in modern times, they have become increasingly popular in psychological studies. Von Franz intimates “Feminine Figures in fairy tales are neither the pattern of the anima (Jung’s name for man’s femininity) nor the real woman, but of both….some […] illustrate more the real woman and others more the man’s anima, according to the sex of the person who last wrote down the story…”(4). Many fairy tales do not reflect a woman’s point of view, but the feminine “anima”. This explains the reason why women in fairy tales and in society today “play the role” of the beautiful maiden as portrayed in The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm in “Snow White”, “Cinderella”  and “Brier Rose”, which is intimated to them by the male anima (feminine part of the male personality.) This is most likely initiated by their fathers…and of course through other countless male-authored or influenced fairy tales.

In regard to the nature of relationships between modern day man and woman and those heroes and heroines in the fairy tales of yore, we are still Beauty and the Beast personified. Von Franz observes that “Just where the man has a most uncertain delicate feeling, the woman places the thorn of her animus; and where the woman wants to be understood or accepted, the man comes out with some anima poison dart”. In light of this truth, can a woman transform a beast into the man of her dreams through domestication, and on a deeper and more intimate level, does she truly even want to? I propose that women do not desire to liberate themselves of the savage brute (Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “beast” as “a four footed mammal…, a contemptible person” or “something formidably difficult to control or deal with”), and, in fact, crave the beast on an erotically sexual and primitive echelon which would explain the immense popularity of fairy tales such as Beauty and the Beast.

According to Christina Bacchilega in Postmodern Fairy Tales: Gender and Narrative Strategies, “Beauty and the Beast” is one of the most popular fairy tales. Bacchilega states that Folklorists have deemed it a “sub-type C” or “Search for the Lost Husband” fairy tale and they have counted over fifteen hundred versions”. A famous French author of over seventy books, including stories and works for children, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, wrote the immensely popular version of “Beauty and Beast, published in 1757,” (which she based on a longer version penned by Mme. de Villeneuve). Beaumont’s enchanting version is found in Beauty and the Beast and Other Classic French Fairy Tales, which is edited by renowned critic and editor of fairy tales, Jack Zipes. In Le Prince de Beaumont’s adaptation, Beauty is the youngest daughter of a rich merchant widower.   Because she possesses a kind, selfless character and great love for her father, she becomes his favorite which generates a great deal of envy and animosity from her two older sisters.

As in so many other fairy tales, such as “The Maiden Without Hands” found in The Complete Fairy Tales Of The Brothers Grimm and “Belle-Belle Or The Chevalier Fortune”, which is alsotranslated in Beauty and the Beast and Other Classic French Fairy Tales, the father either loses his wealth and, whether inadvertently or not, in some manner promises one of his daughters (usually his favorite) in exchange for his life and/or wealth. In Beaumont’s version of Beauty and the Beast, Belle’s father loses his wealth, goes away on a business trip and spends the night in the enchanted castle of the Beast, who threatens to take his life for picking a rose unless he gives the Beast one of his daughters in exchange.

Belle’s love for her father is so great that, although he adamantly prohibits her from going to the Beast in his place, Belle finally persuades him into taking her back to the enchanted castle. After meeting the Beast, Beauty is terrified yet that night she has a dream in which she is told that the “good deed” she is performing to save her father’s life will not go “unrewarded”.  However, the next morning, Beauty is convinced that the Beast intends to “eat her that night,” (which could also be interpreted as a sexual connotation).

Beauty soon is attracted to the beast for his “innate” kindness and tells him that this realization causes him to no longer appear “ugly” in her eyes. When the Beast agrees that he is good yet still a “monster,” Beauty admonishes him; “There are many men who are more monstrous than you and I prefer you with your looks rather than those who have pleasing faces but conceal ungrateful and corrupt hearts (Beaumont qtd in Zipes,).” This observation is indicative of the moral in many fairy tales which unfortunately uphold society’s double standard which dictates that a man may be as ugly as a beast and still be desirable as long as he is good-of high moral standards- (and perhaps even more desirable if he is not) however a woman must be both good and beautiful in order to be desirable, or at least what fairy tales and society represent as the “beautiful” archetypal fairy tale woman.

As is typical in this form of fairy tale, Belle finally realizes that she cannot live without the Beast. After she promises herself to him the Beast is miraculously transformed into a handsome prince, and since Belle has broken the evil spell, they live happily ever after because their relationship was founded on “virtue.” However, it is of great significance that Beauty cannot help asking “What happened to the Beast?” And as Bacchilega quotes from Jean Cocteau’s 1946 movie, Beauty and the Beast, “Beauty has a mixed response to Prince Ardent’s looks, and when asked if she is happy, she answers “I’ll have to get used to this” (Postmodern Fairy Tales).

But does a woman really want to get used to losing (or reforming) the beast?  Bacchilega deduces “One need not be a Freudian to realize that ‘Beauty and the Beast’ depicts a woman’s struggle to reconcile sexuality with ‘love’” (Zipes, Beauty) Beauty has abandoned her childhood dreams and come to terms with reality as well as her sexuality. Unfortunately whenever she finally comes to “terms” with the Beast (her sexuality) and can conceive a happy future with him, he disappears. This metamorphosis occurs with virtually every new wife and/or in every new love/sexual relationship. Just whenever a woman is ready to settle down and “play house”, her Beast turns monotonous (the sex and the man), and, as Bacchilega quotes Barchilon “Le conte merveilleux” in Postmodern Fairy Tales: “When the fear goes away, so does the beast, a charming irony.” And as Bacchilega adds; “A magic trick which leaves almost no trace of Beauty’s desires and losses”.

So why does a woman continue to endeavor to tame the beast if in the process she loses her passion for him? Women feel that they must tame the beast because in doing so, they tame their own natural and primal desires which they feel is necessary in order to reconcile into a long-term monogamous relationship. However, is this really true? Fairy tales never venture beyond “and they lived happily ever after” because theoretically there is no wild and passionately erotic “happily ever after,” which survives past the electrifying, “virginal” and tumultuous throes of love’s early passion. This is precisely why Romeo and Juliet must die and Catherine must die in Wuthering Heights. This is why Elizabeth leaves John in the immensely popular erotic movie 91/2 Weeks; to stay any longer would have been emotional suicide for their affair since it was primarily based on sexual passion and domination. Courtly love between a Knight and a Lady of the Court was similar; Lancelot and Lady Guinevere could never consummate their love, thus they were assured that their passion would never wither and die.

That is not to say that a man and woman cannot continue to share an erotic sexual and romantic relationship, however the intensity will never be quite the same as in the initial stages. Just as in steamy, passionate love affairs depicted in books, movies, etc., fairy tale romance is also filled with erotic, sexual tension because it teases and tantalizes us with not only forbidden love and lust but sexual taboos such as implied bestiality portrayed in “Little Red Riding Hood: The wolf “hid himself under the bedcovers and said to her….come lie down beside me. Little Red Riding Hood undressed and got into the bed where she was astonished to see how her grandmother appeared in her nightgown” and in “Little Red Riding Cap,”(the original Grimm version). “After the wolf had fed his desires, he lay down and fell asleep…” (Zipes, The Brothers Grimm).  The majority of these fantasy tales are never entirely played out which makes them even more subtly erotic.

It is interesting to note that, according to Jack Zipes, (Brothers Grimm, xxix) most storytellers were women. Perhaps this is due to (most) women’s biological deep intuitiveness and natural openness. In Postmodern Fairy Tales,Bacchilega insists that anthropological and historical research has shown women to be more commonly identified with and closer to nature than to culture. Unfortunately, in a “patriarchal structure [this] makes them symbolic of an inferior, intermediate order of being…by show-casing women and making them disappear at the same time, the fairy tale thus transforms us/ them into manmade constructs of ‘woman’” (Bacchilea). On the bright side, fairy tales allow women the beauty of utilizing the “mirror image” for reflecting, refracting and faming (Bacchilega).

According to Von Franz;

Woman to a great extent-and the less they know about it, the worse it is-rule even life and death in their surroundings. If the husband dies, and the children die, very often women had something to do with it. But it would be inflation and absolutely destructive, if a woman thinks she is responsible…”

It is also Von Franz’s belief that a person is indirectly guilty if [she] hasn’t realized the evil within [herself]. Thus, a woman must be able to look into the magic mirror, so to speak, and see the evil along with the good and accept it. This is what fairy tales allow us to do. For, as Von Fronz infers; “The more one has looked in the mirror and watched one’s own face for hate, jealousy, dissatisfaction, etc., the better one can read the other person’s face and be wise enough to keep out of the way”.

If a woman is truly honest with herself and in touch with her inner psyche, she will likely admit that she is sexually aroused by a dangerous, controlling and forceful man and everyone is fascinated on some level by the “forbidden.” In numerous surveys, women have admitted that a “dangerous” man is highly provocative as well as attractive and this is repeatedly highlighted in literature among heroes such as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights and Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre and is witnessed by the immense popularity of fairy tales such as the aforementioned “Beauty and the Beast” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” as well as the phenomenal and hugely successful Disney movie trilogy, Pirates Of The Caribbean, featuring seductive bad boy, Captain Jack Black.

And more recently, we see Stephanie Meyers, author of the immensely successful Twilight book (and movie adaptation) series, embraces this identical “Beauty and the Beast” theme. Edward, the forbidden vampire and his nemesis, Jacob the werewolf, are both forbidden beasts. This tale of illicit love and romance carries strong sexual connotations of women’s secret desires for the “bad boy”, the “dangerous and forbidden” and, of course, the all-consuming “beast”. Whenever Bella, the “beauty” finally changes to conform to society’s patriarchal “bad girl”, we note that she also must retain the majority of her “good girl self” in order to be accepted by the same patriarchal society’s standards of the female archetype. Edward and Jacob both can remain in the “dangerous and forbidden self” but they also must possess a “kind and gentle” side as well.

Most women will concede that a dangerous, controlling man is not a good choice for a lifelong mate and therefore she must either “tame the beast” or find one who is already “domesticated.” Bacchilega suggests that since “Cupid and Psyche,” “King Crin,” and “Beauty and the Beast  […] all represent marriage as a social and ideological institution (Postmodern Fairy Tales),” and according to Bacchhilega, in the two aforementioned tales, the wives enjoy their husbands “mysterious nocturnal visits” with a “sexual attachment not matched by the trust, sensibility, common sense and intellectual affinities, which by today’s standards would presumably make for a solid marriage.” So a woman with a “dignified, resolute and courageous character” such as Beauty’s, although the “object of an exchange” may turn […] her victimization into heroism”.

Thus if a woman and man are both secure and balanced in their animus/anima, it is entirely possible to live as Beauty (with her masculine side) and Beast (along with his feminine side). Just as women are drawn to a Beast who is in control, men are drawn to a woman with a “wild nature” who is also in control. However, for this union to be successful, both parties must also agree to allow themselves to be “out of control” to a large degree, just as are the characters in fairy tales find themselves.

Above all else, it is imperative that they reconcile their passion with love, for one without the other can logically never survive. Equilibrium in the male/female relationship is difficult to achieve, especially when one must overcome societies archetypal male and female roles such as those which are ironically portrayed in fairy tales such as “Beauty and the Beast.” “There is no love without thorns,” thus; “the thorny hedge growing around the castle blossoms suddenly into beautiful roses in a Fairy Tale (Von Franz.)” Passion does not have to die and the equality in this liaison will reveal a couple’s natural amorous desires and thus prevent a woman from waking in the morning to ask in dismay; “What happened to the beast?”

Works Cited

Bacchilega, Christina. Postmodern Fairy Tales: Gender and Narrative Strategies. Penn:

University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997.

“Beast.” Miriam-Webster Dictionary. 11th Ed, 2007.

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Random House, Inc., 1944.

Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights.New York: Random House, Inc., 1944.

Meyer, Stephanie. Twilight. New York: Little Brown and Company, 2008.

9 ½ Weeks. Dir. Adrian Lyne. Perf. Mickey Rourke, Kim Basinger. Turner

Entertainment Company and Warner Home Video, 1991.

Pirates of the Caribbean. Dir. Gore Verbinski. Perf. Johny Depp, Orlando Bloom,

Kiera Knightley. Walt Disney Entertainment, 2004.

Von Franz, Marie-Louis. The Feminine in Fairy Tales. Mass: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1993.

Zipes, Jack. Beauty and the Beast: And Other Classic Fairy Tales. New York: Penguin Books, Inc., 1997.

Zipes, Jack. The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. New York: Bantam

Books. 2003.

Sharon Lynn Van Meter

Copyright 2009/Revised 2012


Take My Breath Away

Gravity battles centrifugal force as she maneuvers the small sports car around the sharp curve in the road. The speedometer tops 110 miles per hour as her foot grinds the gas pedal even further into the floor. But her mind is moving even faster than the car; scattered thoughts twirl like a hurricane inside her brain. The tiny beads of perspiration which cover her forehead belie the chill of tiny goose bumps rising on her arms. Her antenna is attuned to every little nuance inside of the automobile although the eerie unattached feeling which is insidiously engulfing her mind invokes an atmosphere of surrealism. She stares blankly ahead, eyes unflinching, with only one sentence turning over and over in her mind; “Please God, let him be alright.”

 

“Mrs. Rhoades, your son has been involved in an accident.” The sinister words cut through the numb chant, threatening to break her frozen resolve. Her pulse was racing as she anxiously anticipated the words that would follow. “Thrown from his motorcycle…” Her knuckles had turned blue as her fingers clutched the phone tighter, waiting. “…critical condition…”  Those words had ground her world slowly to a halt, her oblivious co-workers had suddenly seemed to freeze: the sounds of the keyboards tap, tap, tap… the ringing of the phones, the buzzing of the voices.  All faded into a sluggish distant groan, somewhere faraway. “MercyHospital Emergency Room,” the unattached voice on the other end echoed.

 

Where is her coat? She glances briefly around the interior of the car, not finding it. However she is thankful for the brief momentary diversion of sweet normalcy in her thoughts. At least she has her presence of mind. Her brain is still functioning. Breathe deeply, in and out.  Just breathe. Minutes drag like eternity as she circles the parking lot searching desperately for a parking space. As she plunges the car into an empty space she comes too near to the car in the next space and cannot open her door. She thrusts the gear switch forward into park and her fist accidentally hits the radio button.

 

Jessica Simpson blares out “Take my breath away”, literally taking her breath away as she is taken aback to another night nearly eighteen years ago when Berlin sang that same song; it was the night that her son was conceived. She was powerless to the seductively exotic demeanor and captivating dark looks of the Spanish pre-med student. Three months of breathless romance had left her temporarily oblivious to her fiancé, who was off at N.Y.U. Her mind races over that night as she jams the car into reverse and then propels it back into the empty parking space. She is momentarily haunted by the deep brown eyes which her son inherited along with the small sexy mole on his right cheek, in almost the same identical spot as his father’s.

 

She feels she is going crazy as she allows the words to shroud her “Turning and returning to some secret place inside.” Two enchanting weeks later, her fiancé’ had returned and she ended the affair. She had married, moved to New York with Randy and had never seen her Latin lover again. Guilt had prevented her from revealing to him that he had a son, and guilt had in turn eaten her alive like a cancer for the rest of her life. But how could she have told him? She had felt obligated to Randy; after all they had been high school sweethearts. She had never again seen the man who had taught her the meaning of true love. She had heard that he had went on to become a very successful surgeon or something…Her thoughts jerk back to the present hellish nightmare as she turns off the ignition, terminating the song as well as her brief sojourn into the past.

 

 The harsh yet mysteriously comforting sterile smells of alcohol and iodine hit her sharply in the face and seem to swallow her up as she rushes into the hospital emergency room; That’s just a front, she thinks fleetingly. That intense smell merely covers up the real smells of sickness and …She shakes her head fiercely, pushing the dreaded word resolutely from her mind. No. God, please let him be alright. Please. Please. Please. She repeats for the millionth time.

 

“May I help you?” a stiff elderly nurse inquires.

 

Yes, they called me. My son was brought in. Trevor Rhoades,” her shaky voice sounds strangely foreign, as if it belongs to someone else.

 

The nurse’s face seems to soften knowingly at the sound of the name, the corners of her lined mouth turning down in a feeble attempt at a smile. “Yes we have him. Are you alone, dear?” Her voice is suddenly like melted butter which is somehow ominous. ‘Oh no, she is trying to prepare me for the worst.’, Rachel thinks.

 

“Where is he? Can I see him?” She breathlessly pushes past the nurse, who grabs Rachel’s arm in a firm grip, a contradiction to the old woman’s frail looking demeanor.

 

“Hold on, honey. Is there no one else with you?” Rachel shakes her head. “Maybe you’d like to wait for your husband…?”

 

“My husband and I are divorced.” She hears the anger in her voice, knowing not where it comes from, “He is in New York. My son and I just moved back…” Her voice breaks helplessly, “Please, I have to see my son. Where is he?” She looks searchingly past the older woman down the long white and black checkered corridor surrounded by doors on either side, some closed and others slightly ajar. She hears faint moaning and muffled crying from behind those knowing doors, sounds of pain and fear.

 

“Come along, then. The Doctor is with him now and they are preparing him for surgery.” She speaks in the rapid tone of a seasoned nurse who has become a professional at combating time and fate. “I’m afraid he has suffered a traumatic head injury …” She pauses as she pushes the magical button on the wall which swings open the huge intimidating double doors. “He is in intensive care, right this way. Doctor Rodriguez will explain to you more. He is the surgeon who is going to operate on your son.”

 

“Operate?” She echoes feebly, her mind attempting to register this rapid onslaught of information. But, even before she has time to think or speak, the nurse has opened the door to a glaringly white room and she follows her inside. She blinks at the extreme brightness as she enters the room and her pulse races as her eyes land on the outline of her son lying on a stretcher in the middle of the room. There are doctors and nurses in white all around him along with numerous tubes and massive machines.

 

Before she can make her way across the floor to her son, a tall dark man steps in front of her, blocking her view, and extends his latex-gloved hand. “Hello, Mrs. Rhoades. I am Dr. Rodriguez, head of neurosurgery. Before you see your son, I would just like to assure you that he is in the best of hands and we will do everything possible for him. He is in critical condition and it is imperative that we operate as soon as possible.” His familiar enunciation sends shivers up her spine and she abruptly looks up at the doctor, forcing herself to speak.

 

“But, what happened? They said he was in an accident…is he going to be alright?” Her voice becomes strangled by the lump in her throat. She gazes into the dark brown eyes and seizes the instant flicker of recognition. Her eyes travel down the right side of his cheek to rest on the small dark mole. The trembling inside of her now has taken control of all of her muscles, and she begins to visibly shake from head to toe. The room starts to spin like a merry-go-round and she cannot seem to catch her breath, which is like dry sand cutting through her throat. The words turn round and round in her mind “Watching in slow motion as you turn around and say ‘Take my breath away’…”

 

“My son…you don’t understand…” she sobs breathlessly, as she falls helplessly into him, her hot tears against his white coat. Her voice whispers hoarsely into his ear “Enrique”…the name somehow rolls off of her parched tongue. She looks up into his searching dark eyes, pleading “Please save my son…”

 

His strong hands gently grasp her body to him in a long ago familiarity that defies the hands of time. “I understand,” he says evenly in a voice meant only for her ears. “Rachel, I know,” his deep voice soothingly strokes her.

 

Their eyes lock in a knowing embrace; words are no longer necessary. The nauseating feeling is replaced by a warm and downy cloud as she spirals into sublime oblivion in his exonerating arms, the words wrapping around her soul;

Never hesitating to become the fated ones…

Through the hourglass I saw you,

In time you slipped away.

When the mirror crashed I called you,

And turned to hear you say

‘If only for today I am unafraid’…

Take my breath away…

Sharon Lynn Van Meter

Copyright 2004

 

 

 


The Hosptial

I wasn’t looking forward to working the graveyard shift again and was dragging my feet. I’d been on the ward for over a year and loved babies, but it could get a little monotonous sometimes. I was stationed with the head nurse, old lady Crotchet and our only male nurse, Jenderlaps; why in the hell would a man want to be a nurse? Geeeez. Me? I was the token Hispanic. My credentials sure hadn’t landed me the gig; I’d slid through nursing school by the seat of my minority-laced pants. I’d dubbed this place “Our Lady of the Worthless Miracle,” but for some strange reason, I had a feeling something was about to go down tonight. I stuffed my crap on the bottom shelf of the blue-white checked cubicle and did a quick once over.

The scene around me was pure chaos. Doc Killjoy and the resident, Doc Dubiouse, stood inside the adjoining cubicle huddled over a patients chart; their faces grave. The attending pediatrician, Dr. Lousitup and the Anesthesiologist, Dr. Heven, were rushing a newborn to NICU. A lady appeared out of nowhere. She asked breathlessly, “Is that the Hewitt baby?” Dr. Lousitup muttered something, hauling-ass down the hall with the incubator.

She shot over to my station. “I’m Ms. Van Buren. They just took my daughter in for an emergency C-Section. How is she? Was that the baby? ”

Nurse Crotchet downed a shot of plain black adrenaline and disappeared through the double doors of the OR.

Mrs. Van Buren was a petite, soft-spoken blonde, probably in her mid-forties; she looked tired. “Why did they perform the C-Section so soon? The doctor last night said they had to wait at LEAST eight hours after the second steroid shot before they could even THINK about taking the baby!”

I glanced over at Doc. Killjoy and Doc. Dubiouse and they just turned their friggin’ backs to me. She focused on them; I was merely the vehicle. Nurse Crotchet returned, announcing the daughter was doing fine. Ms. Van Buren’s son-in-law, Mr. Hewitt, followed; His face belied her words.

Doc Lousitup scurried up, explaining that the baby’s lungs were very small for twenty five weeks. Mrs. Van Buren asked if they could “administer respiratory assistance.” He said they couldn’t because the lungs were so small. She couldn’t understand the logic in that, but all he said was he’d “work on the baby for the next hour.”

Then Mrs. Hewitt was wheeled from OR, poles and tubes dangling everywhere. She sure looked messed up and kept on asking for her baby. After they went into her room, Nurse Crotchet said she was assigning me as her floor nurse; that witch hated me from day one.

Dr. Lousitup returned, summoning Mr. Hewitt and Mrs. Van Buren. Using almost the proper amount of respect, he explained that since the baby’s heartbeat had stayed at twenty five, they’d decided to “terminate resuscitation efforts.” They had “called it;” the baby was dead. They’d only worked on her for twenty minutes; I couldn’t believe it! I looked at Nurse Crotchet. Her mouth was hanging wide open, just like mine.

I followed them back to the room. He was big as a line-backer, but Mr. Hewitt wept like a little boy as he held his wife’s hand, “Baby, she didn’t make it.”

Mrs. Hewitt’s pretty face was all scrunched up; her petite body trembled. She flailed her arms, jerking loose her IV. “I want my baby! Why can’t I have my baby?”

Mrs. Van Buren tried to calm her down, but could hardly speak. She turned and ran from the room, meeting Doc. Killjoy outside the door.

She stared at him, wide-eyed; her voice shaking, “Why did you operate? The baby’s heartbeat was normal before. You were supposed to wait for that steroid shot…”

“Do you think I like getting up and coming here at four in the morning to perform a C-Section?” Doc blurted.

Mrs. Van Buren, “So did she have Placenta Abruption?”

“I don’t know, did she?” He said.

“I was standing in the examining room six weeks ago when you told her she did!” She accused. “You drew us a diagram, for God’s sake!”

Standard hospital procedure was to “allow a deceased baby to stay with the mother if the mother so desired.” I could easily understand why Mrs. Hewitt did not “desire” this and so I was sure surprised when Mrs. Van Buren took me aside and asked to see her “granddaughter.” She was taken to the empty room next to her daughter’s. I went along with Nurse Crotchet to get the baby and bring her to the room.

One lone rocking chair sat in the middle of that big, empty room and in it sat Mrs. Van Buren, her nose red and her eyes swollen the size of enchiladas. She was so petite, I thought she’d disappear in that big chair, but she carefully took the bundle from Nurse Crotchet. She gently unwrapped the blanket and there she was; a beautiful miniature doll dressed in a lavender dress, bonnet and booties.  “She’s perfect,” She breathed.

I held my breath; I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. I felt it was going through all of our minds; just thirty minutes ago this little baby had been alive, just like us. It was hard to explain something like that, even more hard to understand. Mrs. Van Buren brushed her lips across the tiny, little face. She held the teeny-weeny fingers in her hands, and then removed the booties, counting each little toe. She took the bonnet off and I saw the dark shiny wisp of hair. She cuddled the baby, whispered, and rocked.  I guess she forgot we were even there and we quietly slipped out of the room, gently closing the door.

“She’s saying goodbye. Somebody had to do it.” Nurse Crotchet sniffed gruffly. It was the first time I ever saw her cry.

I thought about the last few years I’d struggled in nursing school and about Doc Killjoy and Doc Lousitup with all of their medical degrees. Suddenly, they didn’t seem so superior anymore. I nodded at Jenderlaps with new respect as I followed Nurse Crotchet back to the station. And I held my head a little higher.

Sharon Lynn Van Meter

Copyright 2009