Before I even begin, I must tell you that the following story is True. Well, mostly. There are a few of the usual em-BELL-ishments… Yet the subject of this story has given his full permission to have it published in this blog.
People have been asking me if I worry about folks recognizing themselves in my stories and my answer is “I most certainly hope they do!” I hope we all recognize ourselves! We are all some version of these beloved customers in the shop, struggling to make something fit us better in some way, whether it is a pair of pants or Life itself. We are all Magnificent and Weak. But my shop “characters” are not really Real—merely believable. As their guardian, I change their sizes, nationalities, ages, or genders to scramble their descriptions beyond recognition. I told you on page one: “All the names (and other identifiers) have been changed to protect the insolent.” But I digress. On to this week’s True Story—a Mother’s Fairytale:
Once upon a time (last week), there was a handsome young prince who recently (this past June) came of age and was wont to set out in the world and seek Adventures. He announced to his mother, the Queen that he wished to go see the world or at least some of the bigger National Parks. (She is not really a queen but we know she is probably a Princess of some sort because she sits for hours at her spinning wheel, just as all the storybook princesses do. And when princesses grow old and crabby and start bossing people around and threatening to chop the heads off woodland creatures if they poop on the carpet one more time, they get the reputation of being Queen. So, for the purposes of this story, we shall call her the Queen.) The Prince said he wanted to travel, test himself, experience adventure, and reconnect with Nature.
Frankly, the queen thought this was a terrible idea. She had been hoping he would reconnect with Nature by introducing himself to the Palace lawn mower and vanquishing a few weeds. She sighed. She could see the zeal in his eyes and she knew in her heart, like all fairytale mothers, that it was time to send him on his way with a bannock and a blessing so he could leave home and have some sort of heroic quest to find Himself, or some apples, or a Golden Fleece of some sort. (“Ooooh! Yes! Please let it be a Golden Fleece!” she thought, momentarily thinking of her spinning wheel rather than her darling son.) The Prince's plans, she found out, were to travel in his mother's Royal Carriage, a Ford SUV, with an exceptionally clever and talented damsel who, though of age, had no driving license. The thought of him driving cross-country with no back-up driver—especially since he had racked up no fewer than FIVE moving traffic violations in the previous five months—made the queen Very Nervous indeed. She issued a very unpopular Royal Decree: No Ford. Besides, heroic journeys are always, at least partially, on foot. (I don’t recall Hercules setting off in an air-conditioned SUV with full stereo and satellite navigation system, do you?) There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth but the Mean Queen held firm. The King, the prince’s father, stepped in and offered some Royal Air Miles but the damsel bagged out. She was not interested in a Heroic Journey on public transportation. Only the Royal SUV would do. So the Prince had to decide to go alone, which, if one thinks about it, also makes more sense for a Heroic Journey anyway. What hero brings a girl on a Quest? He might save one or two along the way, or need them to save him, but either way, they tend to pop up according to plot demands.
So the Prince continued his plans solo, though sadder at the loss of the SUV and the companionship of someone so lovely and clever. He graciously and gratefully accepted his father’s Royal Air Miles and packed an enormous rucksack for his adventure. When he had installed his tent, gear, clothes, and toothpaste, it weighed nearly 55 pounds. He decided not to bring the big camera. He took out half his clothes. He got it down to a manageable 48 pounds.
The night before he left, he saw his mother, the queen, putting some green things in his shoes, hidden under the insoles. “What are you doing?” he wanted to know. “Are those leaves?” he asked, wrinkling his nose in suspicion. He was used to her doing witchy things with herbs.
“These are not leaves,” she said, “this is in case of emergency. It’s called money. It’s very old-fashioned stuff but it still has magic and might come in handy.”
“Oh, I don’t need money,” he replied airily. “I have my phone. I am a thoroughly Modern prince. I use Venmo and Paypal.”
“Well,” she said, “just in case. If anything happens, you can pull these old ‘leaves’ out of your shoes. They might be helpful. Each one has a little number in the corner. That will tell you how much it is worth.”
“Where is your itinerary?” she wanted to know. He waved the phone at her again. “Your list of contacts?” Phone. “A map?” He just kept smiling and looking at his phone. By this point, he was texting someone. He didn’t even hear her. He was looking at slice of glass barely four inches by three inches on the palm of his hand, through which he could see anything, anywhere, except that which was right in front of him.
The King arrived to take the young Prince to the airport and lifted his pack. He groaned and said a few words that don’t really belong in fairytales and insisted the Prince repack. The Queen intervened on the Prince’s behalf and said that Experience is a wondrous teacher and that all astute young men learn the same way to pack lightly in the future. It is a rite of passage she would not have him denied. So off went the old King, muttering, and the young Prince, also muttering, with forty-eight pounds of Experience-just-waiting-to-be-had on his back and a sliver of the whole world, all he needed, in his pocket.
In the silence that descended after their departure, the Queen performed all sorts of prayers and enchantments to keep her naïve Hero safe upon his quest. As in all proper fairytales, she sent her Blessing after him to prevent him from harm, as well as a few Guardian Angels. In her heart, there was deep foreboding and misgiving, so she asked Archangel Michael to tag along too, totally forgetting that he has a sneaky sense of humor. She did not sleep that night. “What the hell was I thinking?!” she asked herself a thousand times. “How could I let my only son be flown to VEGAS of all places—that den of Sin, where he would have to spend a night alone, just so he could hop on a Greyhound bus for 5 hours to get to Zion National Park?” At least the King had thought to book him a hotel room near the airport. At least he had his phone (the Prince that is, not the King)(though one presumes he had one too) and she could text him every twenty minutes and check on him. Again, the Prince that is, not the King.)
From the moment the Prince arrived at Logan Airport, the journey was doomed. His flight was cancelled due to engine failure. The next available flight was five hours later and went to Phoenix, not Vegas. He managed to get a connection to Vegas and turned up very late at night, only to discover his good father accidentally had booked him into an over-21 hotel which refused him entry. Undaunted, and with the use of his phone, our Hero managed to transfer his reservation to a different place, where he slept until he nearly missed the bus the next day. After five hours discussing saxophones with a cool jazz musician, he was dropped off in Saint George, still two hours away from his destination. The Queen was frantic when she found out from his sister, Princess Tattle-tale that he had taken to hitch-hiking! (The Prince immediately blocked them both from all his social media posts.)
In old-fashioned fairy tales, the hero does not need to have booked a campsite ahead of time—but our modern Hero was chagrined to learn he should have thought of this, especially at the height of tourist season. Seeing him standing at the information booth looking forlorn and perplexed, wilting under his enormous pack, two young women from New York took pity on him and invited him to share their campsite. The three of them shared a fire and a conversation that lasted until the wee hours of the morning about Life and Direction and the Vision Quest that each was making in his or her own way. The Queen slept more easily that night, knowing angels in the forms of confused twenty-six-year-olds were guarding her son and asking him why the hell he was shouldering such a heavy pack.
“I’m kinda lonely, Mom,” he said two days later, on his third call to the Queen that day. She noticed that he was calling more frequently. It turned out that a heavy pack was a lot of work. (Surprise, Surprise!) It was hot in the desert. He was exhausted from sleeping on a mattress pad that deflated a few minutes after he fell asleep. He kept waking up on rocks digging in to his bruised shoulders. He was getting nosebleeds from the dryness. He had to walk miles to go anywhere or do anything. He found himself just sitting alone in his tent looking at Snapchat. He was being plagued by squirrels. Squirrels? Seriously? The Queen was confused. She had never heard of these sorts of torments in the Myths and Legends she read to him as a child. Were there no monsters to slay? No Truths to defend? No Virtues to discover? “They aren’t like the squirrels at home,” he insisted, “These are wee bastards! They are CRAZY!”
The next day, after an amazing hike, followed by a trek into town to buy groceries, he returned to the campsite to find his tent wiggling furiously. It was filled with squirrels after some pistachios he had left in his pack. They had chewed a hole in the tent, holes in the pack and some of his clothes and they had jobbied all over everything. Two of them were dead, from heat stroke or perhaps from nibbling his socks. The tent reeked of Squirrel Excrement and expired rodent. Thoroughly disgusted, our Hero picked up the whole tent and dragged it to the nearest river to wash all his gear, including his sleeping bag, as best he could. As he was doing so, his phone—that magic window on the world, that umbilicus to Starbucks, Venmo, SnapChat, and his parents—slipped from his pocket and into the river, along with all the Squirrel turds, and Died.
Now, his Adventure would really begin….
For the next two days, she received random text messages from him on alien numbers, as kind strangers let him borrow their phones. For fifty-six hours, she did not hear from him at all, as he navigated his way back to Vegas, to the airport, to Boston, without the use of a cell phone or watch, relying on helpful bystanders to tell him the time. When she finally collected him in Boston, she was surprised to see how Calm he was, how Serene. How Changed.
“You know, Mom,” he said thoughtfully, “the moment my phone died, suddenly I wasn’t lonely anymore. I just went back to the river and piled rocks for three hours. I couldn’t think of what else to do. And then, it was just great! I got so into piling rocks and being with the water and the river and the sunlight. It was magical. I was like that young swamp-rat I used to be as a little boy, before I ever got a phone, down behind the old Tavern in the marsh, playing for hours with no real plan. Just Being. I went on a great hike and because I could not take pictures, I stopped and stared at things for as long as I wanted. Sometimes I sat down on the path and just Looked. And I realized that that was what I came here to do. I really did connect with Nature. I saw all these people rushing by, click-clicking away, and I thought about how much they were missing. I thought about my friend who took his life. I thought about the music I love. I thought about past and all sorts of things. It was awesome. I connected with real people too. My last night, a Mormon family took me into their home so I would not have to wait at the bus station alone. They had a piano and I played for them. They loved it. I learned that people everywhere are basically helpful and kind, except in Vegas, which is an ugly, ugly, insane place! I lost ten pounds schlepping all my squirrel-scented crap around and I learned I can survive without any of it, even a phone—in fact, life was so good without my phone I’m not going to get it fixed right away! In a weird way, breaking my phone was the best thing that happened. It turns out that the only person I really needed to contact was Me.” The Queen smiled at him with tears of joy in her eyes. Everything had turned out Perfectly.
All they have to do Now is live Happily Ever After. May it be so.
And for all you dear Readers too! BE Well and do Good Work!
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