After minutes of grueling strategizing and thought-processing, I have a plan. On Wednesdays, I will post an excerpt from the long fiction piece. I’ll also create a page where each excerpt gets moved so the whole thing is available (up to its most recent published excerpt). Note that I do not have a working title for this piece. I’ll get on that. Soon. Ish. Also: this is a work of fiction. Some of my own life and experiences are the inspiration, but the piece, as a whole, is fiction.
When my inner voice tells a story, it always start with “once upon a time.”
Once upon a time there was a princess…
Once upon a time there was an evil king…
Once upon a time there was an industrial analyst with a bad comb-over…
When I deteriorate to stories that start, “Once upon a time there was a plumber who couldn’t make the appointment window and needed to have his ass crack spackled,” I pretty well figure it’s time for a glass of wine.
I’ve done this ever since I can remember. Especially when I’m narrating my life. Because when you’re five, or thirteen, or twenty-five, or thirty-eight, somewhere something needs to be special and you need – you need – to be unique and clearly set apart from everyone else who is average and ordinary and oh-so-not-special. And average Beth who plays hopscotch, or typical Anne who has Barbies, or banal Sandra who has scuffed loafers, got drunk at the frat party, or who didn’t get the regional position, they would never have stories told about them. Let alone ones that start with “once upon a time.”
So my inner narrator says the words reverently, like Mary Poppins reading a book. “Once upon a time…”
Once upon a time there was a woman in her thirties who was divorced, pigeon-toed and inherited a nose that could only have graced the face of a drunk Irish peasant. Truly I think it looks more like an Italian peasant nose, but the Italian wouldn’t have been drunk, plus I really think that there can only be Irish peasants in my family, being from Ireland and all. My grandparents and parents reverently (and secretly, I might add, none of them have this nose) held the DNA sequence for this nose tightly in their genetic grasp to spring it unsuspectingly on a daughter whose self-esteem was never going to weather such a ignominious gift.
But I digress.
Once upon a time there was a woman who was nearing forty who didn’t feel all that bad about turning forty but often wondered where exactly nearly four decades of life had gone to and found herself compulsively taking stock of her life’s accomplishments as if trying to decide whether or not she had enough in the account of Things-I-Have-Done. Imagining successes the same way one tallied a bank balance in a Christmas Club Account proved difficult. For example: is divorce a success or a failure? Are you failed because the relationship didn’t continue unto death, or are you a success for taking the risk and moving to a better place? If you think it’s a failure, where do your children belong? Are they a credit in the bank statement or a debit? And how can you count the ended relationship a liability if the children are an asset? If you can’t un-want them, can’t think of anything you’re prouder of, then how can their origins be placed in the failures column? In which case I really don’t know where the hell I am with my accounting and for all I know I could be completely emotionally overdrawn and not even know.
This is why I love online banking.
Once upon a time there was a woman who had an ex-husband, a new husband, a dog that was the clearly the product of intimacy amongst Terriers and Swiffer Dustmops, a son, a daughter, a step-son, a step-daughter, an 98 Civic in need of a new timing belt, a house that stubbornly declined to clean itself despite fervent prayer, and a crepe myrtle that intended to engulf the tri-county area if only it would get watered properly.
When I was little my once-upon-a-times were wrapped in chiffon, roses, glass slippers, chivalry, at least one horse (color variable), no dwarves or talking animals, but a mystery identity was a must and the culmination of the tale was always, infallibly, the discovery of my true destiny as a kind and benevolent ruler who wore taffeta gowns and pearls. To bed even.
When I was a little older, once-upon-a-time started with my every day self, and ended with my magical self. A la Samantha. It was never a question of “what if I had magic powers,” but “when I discover my magic powers.” They were there somewhere; obviously, I simply hadn’t unlocked them yet. They probably only activated at midnight on some mystically important day – like my thirteenth birthday. I just had to wait it out and practice wiggling my nose.
In my teens, “once upon a time” started when I graduated high school, conveniently glossed over college, and ended with my living in a loft in New York, working as a writer, and drinking whiskey out of a peanut butter jar. I was only allowed minimalist, industrial flavored furniture in this tale, and I wore mostly black turtlenecks. I also looked like a beatnik Audrey Hepburn. But somehow the whiskey filled peanut butter jars were the most important prop, and once-upon-a-time orbited them.
In my twenties, once-upon-a-time started to get harder, because my life had more form, and so many of my earlier stories had somehow not manifested. I was not an accidentally misplaced princess, I was not a witch, I was not writing for Vanity Fair and as it turned out, I didn’t really have a taste for whiskey. The road that stretched behind me was mysteriously free of secret identities, horses, mysticism, chiffon, or major publishing houses, and crafting new once-upon-a-times that carried me into sleep were having a harder and harder time ignoring the normalcy in which I seemed to be embedded and started getting a little put out if I pushed them too forcefully into Never Never Land.
‘’Once upon a time there was young woman who wandered the corridors of an Italian Villa…”
You’ve never been to Italy.
“Shhhh…doesn’t matter. She was poor, but striking…”
Striking’s not really the word you should use to describe that nose.
“Shut up! Wearing simple homespun…”
They don’t buy clothes in Italy?
It just got a little too frustrating. So my personal fairy tales began starting with “Once upon a time there was a woman who bought a lottery ticket…” and by the time I was at the full-time housecleaner, I was drifting off to sleep.