My mother kills fairy tales.
She read us Lord of the Rings twice.
The Nargun under the Stars, though it gave us nightmares.
She dredged up British classic and found swamp ridden Australian delights to amaze and frighten us. Day of the Triffords, Watership Down, The Dark is Rising, The Hobbit, and forever our minds were fed.
And with it all came a grain of salt.
We sat watching Victor Victoria.
Possibly too young but it didn’t matter in our house when “I want to be dirty” was not a line from Rocky Horror but about playing in mud.
But when King Marchand steals into Victor’s room, and an ensuing scene of near misses commenced we giggled together, three girls and their mother, all of us crowing; “Bitch, bitch, bitch!”
And then with wide eyed wonder and somewhat skepticism we watched King Marchand see “Victor” in the bath. And that little feral grin on his face when he knows that Victor is in fact a woman.
For all the movie’s delicate humour and beautiful songs, something twisted inside.
We kept watching in avid attention of exactly what would unfold, and how this would all resolve.
But three girls in front of screen watched as Victor, on the run from the police, protected by King Marchand’s quick thinking, stood in a Paris alley with snow cascading on their panting forms, enraptured in the moment.
“I don’t care if you are a man,” King Marchand declared as he laid his lips passionately on Victor’s.
Heaving breaths, Victor confesses. “I am not a man.”
“I still don’t care,” Marchand declares, and cue kissing.
But three little blond head turned to their mother, and all three whispered; “He lied.”
And her calm reply still echoes in my mind; “Yes, he did.”
What should have been a movie about acceptance, about freedom, about finding oneself despite all that could stand in the way was caught, snatched, snared, on this singular lie.
And it didn’t end there.
In the 90s we moved to the city and my mother could get us to local dance classes. Tap, ballet, contemporary, we did it all, and while I could digress into the growing dysmorphia that occurred over this period, I will stick to the lies that weren’t about my body, from either strangers or loved ones.
Michael Flatly, that blonde mullet of a dancing god, had every girl I knew interested in dance ready to sell their souls for a chance to dance with him.
We watched Riverdance with the kind of passion that should have been poured into teenage romances. We danced the parts in our living room, stomping our feet in semi trained awkwardness that was at least in time and didn’t damage the floorboards.
But something stayed with us. Something tainted the dance.
For all our Irish stained blood, the beat of the music catching us and the rise of our heartbeats and fighting spirit, there was one that would not be caged with song alone. One that would not settle or be tamed.
One that belonged to no man but wholly to us.
And it’s subtle birth was given in a single sentence.
In the dance there is a male and female lead. Michael Flatly and Jean Butler.
I was in love with their romance.
As a teen with more social issues than a politician has skeletons in his closet I hungered for that kind of passion, that kind of love.
But it was with careful word that a constant irritation I had observed between the pair became clear to me in my mother’s words.
We watched a dance between the lead pair, and my mother whispered; “Look at them, look at their eyes; she hates him, and he knows it.”
It may never have been true.
It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t.
There may have been parts they loved, parts they hated, parts they wished to be together and never apart.
All I remember was the look in their eyes when my mother said it and I knew she spoke a truth.
There would be many stories over the years.
Ones we’d watch on TV, ones she’d read to us, but every more did we look for the lie.
The man who’d snuck into a private room without permission. The man who pretended to love the woman, all the while she loathed him. She taught us to see what was not said, not shown, not there. But it hovered under the surface, an ugly stain across the smiles of those who were supposed to entertain us.
Film after film, book after book, a niggling part of me never left.
Was what they’d done right? Fair?
It ingrained in me a deeper sense of what it was to be a woman, to be listened and lied to and evermore I listened for the lies. I feared them.
Because I knew that they could happen to me. And I swore they never would.
The time I think my life was at it’s lowest I knew I was being lied to, and ignored it.
Just as the dancer in Riverdance, just as Victor in the film, all the lessons I’d ever learned gone in an instant and for what? Some semblance of job security where I told myself that I was just trying to fit in.
All the while the lies burned.
They raged on distant hills until they were inside me and I was choking on the smoke and couldn’t stop the flames, the world was ending and I only had myself to blame for the chaos inside, made real for accepting the lies of the outside.
There was no music here.
Only the lie.
I don’t know whether it would have been better to live in naïve bliss and acceptance, but that would never be what I would have wanted.
I’ve walked the tightrope of the story and the lie all my life and sometimes not always to my benefit.
But what I can tell you, even as I lived the lie, was that every tear stained moment I learnt.
I saw the liars and though the magic of the story was gone, there was some that remained.
That’s what I bring to my stories.
The tale without the lie, and if it’s there I do not hide or fight it.
I see it for the snake in the grass it is and unlike every time it has left me confounded, alone and lost in my life, in my stories you see it for the lie that it is and it is you who knows. Now you can see the lie too.