Your assignment for this week is to write about a memory of yourself WITH someone else.
Creative writing, Sophomore year of high school. The teacher, middle-aged, squat, and blonde, was on closer inspection one of the most surprising people I’d ever met.
Although her front hair was cut in a short, no-nonsense matronly fashion, a long thin braid extended down her back. She wore oversized tie-dyed t-shirts over leggings, somehow becoming a blend of hippie and 80s power woman.
She gave us some of the most challenging assignments I’d ever had (until then, at least). She sent us out to interview people in the community. She made us write and rewrite, and then rewrite again, the way all the best writing teachers do.
But that is not what I really remember about her. My most vivid memory is of the day we started our discussion of archetypes and stereotypes. That was the day she showed us a clip of Cinderella, and asked us why Cinderella only ever dreamed, and did nothing to actively make her dreams come true.
I was 15, and young for my age, especially where my hopes for the future were concerned. I had only given up my dolls and imaginary games a few years before; I was still convinced dreams and wishes had power of their own. I thought of love and happiness as things that just – happened – to the deserving.
And then, while I was still digesting this shattering of a childhood icon, the travesty. She took Cinderella out of the VCR, put another movie in, and pushed play. At first, I was delighted; she had started up my favorite movie of all time, The Princess Bride. I could – probably still can – recite the movie by heart. A school day, watching my favorite movie? Score!
I quickly remembered what she had just done to poor Cinderella, though, and rebellion rose up in me. I glared at her from my seat, for the first time immune to Westley’s charms as he scaled the Cliffs of Insanity and fought Inigo “not left-handed.” She wouldn’t dare! She couldn’t possibly find anything wrong with this masterpiece of romance and comedy!
She did, of course. “Watch this,” she said. “Why is Buttercup all out of breath? She was just carried up a cliff, and she’s the one who needs help?”
“Or, here, let’s watch this scene. What on earth is preventing Buttercup from hitting that giant rat? The love of her life is fighting to save them both, and she’s completely useless!”
The proper conclusion to this story, I know, would be that I suddenly saw the world with new eyes, that I realized the power I could exercise in my own life, that I recognized the dangers of putting too much faith in stereotypes to explain the behavior of real live people. That I thanked my teacher for giving me this invaluable lesson.
I did not. *coughahemmumbledy* years later, I still don’t feel that thankful, to tell the truth. Oh, she was right. I’ll give her that. I, and probably most of the other girls in the class, needed to hear it. I’ll even admit that I now think some of the same things she pointed out, when I rewatch The Princess Bride (what!? it’s still one of the best movies EVER).
You can’t make me be happy about it, or stop wishing I could still believe in happily ever after. Real life is good. Wonderful, even, especially when I know my own wits and strength have contributed to my happiness. Still, does anyone ever thank the person who ruined the fairy tale for them?