My Lady

“Snow White — where’s Snow White?”

I’m seven years old, and I’m rummaging through the records stacked beneath the record player. I’m hunting for a soundtrack. I’ve rifled my parent’s collection of religious music and holiday carols, but “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is nowhere to be found. I call to my mother, on the verge of panic.

“I can’t find Snow White!”

“You listened to it just yesterday,” my mother calls from the kitchen. Her reminder is tinged with irk, but tempered with resignation. “You’ve listened to ‘Snow White’ almost every day for a month!”

I can’t hear her. I’m too intent on finding my favorite album. I go back to the top of the stack. There! Right on top lies my prize.

I slide the vinyl from its cardboard sleeve and lay it gently on the turntable. Our record player has four speeds — 78, 45, 33, and a slooooooow setting. Sometimes my sister and I mis-adjust the speed for fun and laugh till our sides hurt at normally solemn singers doing ‘Chipmunks’ versions of their songs. I always play ‘Snow White’ at its proper speed.

The record begins, and I sit in the window, perched on the cold radiator cover on a blistering hot August afternoon. Late in the summer, the dining room and its radiator are the only cool things in the house, and this is where I make myself comfortable to pore over my copy of The Legends of King Arthur and collections of elementary-school-level Norse mythology collections. Today, I’m in the mood for musical myth, and intently study the album sleeve on my lap. Snow White is poised on the cover… dainty… her skin pure and milky… her hair long and dark. As the characters from the movie run through their numbers, I fall into a kind of trance. I’ve read the story of Snow White, and I’ve memorized the faces on the album cover, but I’ve never seen the movie. I imagine what all the characters must be like, and watch the drama unfold in my head from a distance.

In truth, not much on that record speaks to me. I don’t identify with the femme heroine, who manages to remain poised and pure through the worst of trials, the most offensive of indignities. Even at age seven, I consider her loyalties misguided. When her stepmother treats her badly, she puts up no resistance. And as for the dwarfs who “save” her, she couldn’t have picked a more unfitting, undeserving bunch of louts to wait on, hand and foot.

I don’t identify with Snow White one bit. I pity her. I don’t admire and want to emulate her. I am deeply and hopelessly in love with her.

I’m in love with Snow White. There, I’ve said it. As I sit at the window and watch the comings and goings on the street in front of our rowhouse, I long for Snow White. She might be impractical, romantic and helpless, but that pulls me to her with an inexplicable, irresistible attraction. That longing gives me fathomless endurance, the patience to sit through one mindless song after another, till our song comes on. When it does, it grabs my attention from the street and transports me into my dreams.

“Someday, my prince will come… someday I’ll find the one…”

She’s singing for her prince, praying for salvation at the hands of a brave, mounted stranger. Her voice is sweet with longing, anticipation, trust. Yes, someday her prince would come. I am that prince. I see myself astride a white steed, dressed in white silks and chain mail, my long, sharp sword sheathed behind my saddle, a short sword hanging at my side. My battle standard is a fierce, attacking lion painted in brilliant colors on my body-length shield. I am a crusader, a knight errant, who wanders the world alone, in search of my one true love. I fight barbarians, I slay monsters. My sword is sharp, my blows powerful, and I tolerate no injustice that crosses my path.

Yes, Snow White, you’ll find the one, I think. I am the one. I’m not a little girl in this dream. I’m not bespectacled, prone to sinus infections and small for my age. I’m not a nerdy little bookworm, absorbed in the medieval mythos of pursuing the impossible grail, who runs from bullies and does everything my parents tell me is right. I’m the prince of her desires, the one who will take her away from all that, the one her heart calls out for.

“And how wondrous that moment will be… on the day when my prince comes to me…”

Yes, I’ll come to her. I will. There is such certainty in her voice, such trust. She has complete and utter faith in me, and that faith gives me hope. There is no hesitation in her expectations. It will be wondrous, when I finally come to her, and each time I hear her say so, it gives me strength. She’s waiting for me with open arms and open heart, and no matter how long it takes me to find her, she’ll forever remain open and faithful and chaste. For me.

“He’ll whisper, ‘I love you’…”

Here, I always falter. He’ll whisper? Where did this ‘he’ suddenly come from? Up to that point, I’ve managed to skirt the gender requirements of the title “prince”, but when she enunciates in no uncertain terms that it’s a man she wants, my fantasy unravels a little. Undaunted, I decide to take this fantasy into my own hands. Surely, she’ll realize her mistake and change her mind about this he business, once I come on the scene.

In my mind’s eye, I see myself charge the prince who leans over My Lady in the forest glen, about to kiss the piece of poison apple from her mouth. I cry, “Sirrah! Arm yourself!” and in a fierce clash of steel send him scurrying on foot into the forest underbrush, brought low in defeat, his standard smeared with mud and blood, his sword broken in two, his horse spooked and long gone. I see myself tie my own horse to a tree, go to Snow White’s side, and lay a sweet and gentle kiss on her lips. Her eyes open, she looks up at me with unbounded joy, all her fondest hopes realized, and we ride off together into the sunset.

“… and steal a kiss or two…”

Wait — what’s this about “steal a kiss or two”? My literal mind balks at that. I have no reason to steal anything — certainly, not a kiss from My Lady. I would earn all her kisses. And why would there be more than one kiss, anyway? Everybody knew the prince only kissed her once. Once was enough to dislodge the apple.

I asked my mother once, what that line meant. The one about “stealing kisses”.

Mom explained, “Sometimes boys kiss girls when they don’t want to be kissed — or when girls act like they don’t want to be kissed.”

“Why?”

“Some girls like it when boys do that.”

“But why?” I asked, my sense of chivalry offended.

“Some girls think it’s nice,” sighed Mom. “They think it’s romantic.”

“That’s dumb,” I snorted.

Mom paused a moment, thoughtful. “You know you never have to let a boy kiss you if you don’t want him to…”

“Oh, Mom!”

“You don’t,” she said emphatically.

This point continues to concern me. But my concern isn’t for myself. It’s for Snow White. Why should anyone steal anything from her? I wonder. I’m outraged. Why would a prince, of all people, go against her wishes, whispering “I love you,” then taking what was not offered to him freely? Is that any way to treat the woman who’s waited so patiently, so faithfully, for so long? Is that any way to treat My Lady?

No. I’ll not permit it.

In my mind’s eye, I see myself happening upon the prince and My Lady in a secluded room in a castle. He’s whispering sweet nothings to her, and she giggles self-consciously. I see him sneak a kiss on her cheek, and she blushes. Then he sneaks another, and she blanches. She tells him, “No – please – ” but he persists. She gives in to his advances, but I can see she doesn’t want him.

With an indignant roar, I burst into the room. My short sword is drawn, my guard is up. I come at the erring prince, deman-ding he let loose My Lady. He reaches for his dagger, but I slap it from his hand with the flat of my sword. He cowers, nursing his stinging wrist, red-faced and humiliated.

I demand that he apologize to My Lady. At first he won’t, but when I lift the tip of my sword to his throat, he swallows hard and does it. He makes a full gentleman’s apology to My Lady, and I hand his dagger back to him, hilt-first. As he leaves, I turn my attention to Snow White, but in her face, I see sudden alarm. Pivoting, I meet the prince’s back-stabbing lunge with a graceful parry and sent his dagger scuttling across the flagstone floor. With my sword to his neck, I back him towards the door, delivering an artful lecture on the importance of good manners. At the threshold, I bid him go and trouble us no more. As he turns to flee, I smack his behind with the flat of my blade, and My Lady giggles.

“He’s gone,” say I, returning to her side. “He’ll trouble you no more.”

With a small cry, she throws herself into my arms. I’m not old enough to imagine what a real kiss looks or feels like, but the fantasy of her in my arms is enough for this seven-year-old baby butch dyke.

With me, I think, there would be no stealing kisses. She’d give herself to me freely and invite my affections. I’d make no advances, until bidden, and then do so with greatest care. I would be ever tender, ever considerate, ever kind, always attentive. Never would I push on her what was not her expressed wish. I would be her prince, her knight, her protector, her champion.

Forget the prince in the story books, I think. I am your prince. I’m your champion, the unshown, unknown, unnamed stranger not shown on the album cover who charges into your life to take you away from it all… I stare down at the album cover, transfixed. Snow White, with her dark-haired beauty, her blue eyes like the sea, sings with such plaintive, helpless longing. It’s a longing I want to satisfy with the fact of my presence alone. I am the prince. I am the champion.

“Though he’s far away… I’ll find my love someday… Someday when that dream comes true… Someday when that dream comes true…”

Yes, Snow White, I think, someday your dream will come true. I can forgive her now for singing about ‘he’ and ‘him’. She’s seen in my dream what she can expect from him. True love is not found in a fairy tale of any man’s making. I am here, looking for you, far and wide. Our love may be far away, but no time or space or trial can keep us apart. In my mind’s eye, I see her sitting in the window of the seven dwarfs’ hovel, mountains of dirty laundry behind her, unwashed dishes piled in the sink, her hands raw and chapped from hard work, a pail of soapy water sitting at her feet, waiting to do more damage to her tender hands.

How I resent those seven dwarfs. What does My Lady care for those contorted, maladjusted little men? She’d be better off living alone, I think. She’d be much better off. She could support herself by taking in laundry and cleaning. She does it for them — why not do it for herself? At least she wouldn’t have to sit around all day, waiting for those losers to get home from work, stinking of sweat and the mine. Why does she bother with them, anyway? Can’t she see they’re just using her?

I’d never use her that way. I’d share the cooking and cleaning and encourage her to get out of the house more. I’d not hobble her with my own neediness. I’d encourage her to make her own money and live her own life. I’d be good for her, good to her, treat her right. I’d never act badly and expect her to put up with me with a sweet, understanding, long-suffering smile.

But My Lady is cut off from me. She’s far away… so very far away. I know it. I feel it. And the distance between me and my beloved is more than geographical. It’s the distance that not-knowing puts between wish and reality. It’s the distance that not-naming puts between head and heart. It will be years before I hear the word “lesbian” or learn the story of Joan of Arc. It will be nearly a decade before I meet a dyke, and even longer until I become one. I’ll not only need to go far, I’ll have to go deep, to find my love someday.

But one day that dream will come true. I am a prince, a knight errant, and I am not so easily put off my charge. My Lady stares out the window into the forest — the forest where I ride, miles away, in search of highway robbers, kidnappers, evil lords to conquer, maiden-devouring monsters to vanquish, and love to forever defend. She knows I am out there, and My Lady never loses hope.

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One thought on “My Lady

  1. Pingback: Oh, to simply be #queer | Loren Stone

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