Swans Commentary » swans.com September 11, 2006  



Prince Charming And Cinderella's Stepfather


by Karen Moller





(Swans - September 11, 2006)   As I walked home along rue Saint-Honoré and turned up Avenue de l'Opéra, a light spring rain began to fall. It was an ungodly hour and the bluish haze of the full moon shone between the clouds and layered the Opera in tiger stripes. A car passed by and made a familiar sucking sound. It sounded like Marriage to Patrick sucks. Words were real, destiny and fate weren't just words to throw around yet was it my destiny or fate that so many bad things were coming at me from all directions?

Professionally I was very successful and my work more innovative than ever, while my personal life was a complete disaster. "Was it impossible to have happiness in both?" was the question I'd put to Li, my business and creative partner when we'd met in Harry's Bar. We should have been discussing our new design book but instead we were drowning our sorrows by slowly getting drunk on whisky. Li shook her head and said, "Well maybe we do have too big a piece of the pie." "Yeah, maybe. Shit! I can't believe that. I'm in the middle of a tax audit and guess what? For the past couple of years my husband has been withdrawing money from my bank account and putting it in his own." How could I have admired and loved a guy who could do that? I asked in disgust. "I mean, I gave him access to my bank account and he spent my money however he pleased."

I wanted her to know that I'd never denied him anything. "It was supposed to be just a couple of years off work to give him a chance. You know, to see if he could write, not twelve, which it is now."

Li ordered us another couple of whiskies and I took a long swig. "Damn," I added, still trying to take in the fact that he had acted in such a despicable way, "when I asked him why, you know what he said? 'I wanted some money of my own.'" "Stealing from you makes it his?" Li remarked with a tone of, you are so naïve. I stared into the pale honey-colored liquid in my glass, too embarrassed to answer. She shook her head. "All those years of sixties ideology, you know, that money should be shared regardless of who earned it, didn't change a thing. And do you know why? You earned the money and that gave you power. Men don't like that!" She whipped out her bright red lipstick and smeared it perfectly across her sharply defined lips without using a mirror. "Just remember one thing," she continued on a different track, "there is nothing more enraging to most people than the sight of someone who is naturally and helplessly idealistic, or at least tries to be generous. It forces people to look at themselves, and they ended up hating you for their failings!"

Did Patrick hate me for his failings, I wondered? I shivered and glanced at the sky now darker and more threatening and decided he probably did. Did I actually care? The love I'd once felt for him had slipped away like sand washed from the beach, revealing the chasm of falsehoods between his intellectual discourse and the reality of his actions. My once great passion was little more than overwhelming pity for a man that was so much less than I had thought he was. Now that pity had become something far more terrible. A small, tightly-wound coil just under my sternum was unfurling, snakelike, extending itself upward through my chest until it had reached my throat. It was rage. Cold, blinding rage at the way he treated my daughter. Even if she hadn't been my daughter, I would have suffered for the way he behaved toward her.

All communication had broken down between the two of them when she turned fifteen and unwittingly touched the sensitive nerve. She'd asked Patrick why he didn't make any money. Tears fill my eyes and fury my heart as I remembered his self-righteous remark that his sharp slap across her face was somehow justified by her question.

I stood before my door in spite of rain now coming down in a torrent trying to cool the anger that spread like a blood stain over my entire brain. Red hot and furious rage at Patrick's inhumanity to a young and vulnerable human being under his care. "How could you hit her?" I'd asked, my words barely above a whisper for fear that I might fly at him and strike him a blow. "Her question was pointed but normal," I insisted. "You should have explained that you are writing a book. She would have understood that. Now she feels that you are doing something you are ashamed of." "I don't have to explain anything to a child," was his flippant answer. I shook my head. My poor daughter, my poor darling Cinderella, I said, feeling that I had failed her.

There are endless stories written about the wicked stepmother, but nothing about the devious, jealous manipulations of an intelligent, cruel stepfather. These manipulations concerned the minutiae of daily life, the very things that cement a family together or tear it apart. And Patrick was tearing ours apart.

Needless to say, Patrick's problem was more complicated than money. In fact, his refusal to engage with the world, to carve out his own creative and financial territory, however modest, threw him into a no man's land where he felt he was less of a man, not to me but to himself.

My daughter had been four when I'd first met Patrick. How long ago it seemed. How like a fairy tale that had gone wrong. We'd met in London at a typical 1960s party, typical in the great mix of people from all levels of society and the sense of danger that pervaded the atmosphere. Almost anything would be permitted and no one was quite sure where the line would be drawn. I was standing at the bar watching the amusing antics of the crowd when my concentration was interrupted by an exceptionally striking man asking, "Can a cute little redhead with a turned-up nose give me a cigarette?" When I told him I only had Gauloise, he took a package of the same brand from his pocket. "I knew we had something in common," he said smiling. "I'm Patrick."

I was charmed by his unapologetic lack of originality and rendered slightly tremulous, not so much by his presence, but by his apparent vulnerability. So opposite to those tough Jack Kerouac kinds of guys, who went mad on cheap wine and illegal drugs, and screwed anyone available. My curiosity increased as I listened to his soft American voice delicately string words together as we stepped out on the balcony and looked down on the city below. Maybe I'd never imagined that moment, but it felt like I'd never imagined another. Irresistible, I thought as my heart stretched out toward Patrick with a longing to share more than just that moment.

Yet, his troubled, dark green eyes showed only apprehension, as if he had lost something and was asking me to help him find it.

Sudden misgivings hit me like a cold shower and cast a shadow over my budding interest. Deep inside an old bruise from the past began to ache and I felt the wind, no longer cool but cold, whip the night air with a whisper, "He will never know who you are." Like a lamb led to slaughter I was charmed by Patrick's need for me, which I mistook for love.

Those needs were now a noose tightening around my neck. Without friends, family, and no one apart from me, I had become his emotional and social link. Losing me was equivalent to his losing his only contact with life. There lay the greatest problem. He only had me, and that was killing me.

The morning following my late night visit with Li, I felt groggy from the unaccustomed whiskey. Coming down the stairs, I overheard Patrick telling my daughter to eat the bits of old bread or she couldn't have any of the fresh bread she'd just been out to buy. I took the old bits of bread, shoved them in my mouth, and handed the fresh to her. Patrick's face flashed with anger and guilt, reminding me of the many times he had dished up the best portion of food for me, giving my daughter the worst. I'd simply switched our plates. Patrick slunk out of the kitchen, but the lingering smell of something slightly rotten reminded me of Tolstoy's wife. She had written that she disliked her husband's smell. I knew instinctively that she disliked Tolstoy.

I sat down and hugged my poor little Cinderella. With her antenna tuned to what might go wrong rather than to what might go right she had never found the world particularly friendly. But then it had never been easy for her without a proper father and a mother who worked long hours and traveled the world selling her designs. I knew it was time for her sake as much as mine to make some drastic changes.

My sense of failure was overwhelming as I mounted the stairs to Patrick's study on the third floor. I clung to the balustrade as the hallway grew before my eyes until it was as large as a cathedral and in the middle was the sad little face of Cinderella. For the first time, it occurred to me why the father of Cinderella wasn't blamed for not protecting his daughter from the wicked stepmother. He couldn't change the stepmother anymore than I could change Patrick. He could only leave her.

Patrick opened the door to my knock but seeing the determined look on my face, he shrank back, as if expecting a blow. I was confused until I realized he thought I was going to confront him about the money he'd stolen from my account. I sat down wearily on a chair. One day I hoped he'd realize that the money was only a part of his pattern of deceit, and insignificant when compared to his role as the wicked stepfather.

He looked almost relieved when I said I could no longer live with him. It was as if his guilt had been dramatically realigned. Instantly I sensed he was speculating whether he could get away with keeping the money. In that moment, I knew he would hide the truth from himself and from others. Little by little, he would create a new story of how he had left us, a story that exonerated him. It was simply part of his built-in survival strategy. I suppose it was foolish of me to have hoped for a pang of regret or even that he might say he was sorry. Instead, he taunted me. "I am the man of your life and you will never be able to replace me. You will return to one of those feminized men like the ones you had before you met me."

Yes, please, I prayed as I hurried to the door. Someone who was complete, male and female, not half a person, not just a hollow man afraid of life.

A few days later, I had a vivid dream and awoke in a state of shock. I had been in a large reception room filled with the smell of a Canadian summer. The scent of honeysuckle, raspberries, and fresh cut grass was almost overwhelming. In the distance, I saw Patrick standing in a corner. I walked toward him, but he did not recognize me. Was he refusing to recognize me or did he not know me? I shook my head in an effort to bring the room into sharper focus. Vibrant patterns spun outward and as the room returned to normal, I saw the person wasn't Patrick, but my mother. I looked at her but she didn't look at me. She looked through me. She was my mother but she didn't know me either. I was what I had always been, the unseen and unloved child. I turned away and left the room, but as I passed under the archway entrance, I saw above the door, carved in granite, "Love me and only me or thou shalt be banished from the Garden of Eden."

The clarity of the dream and its meaning was obvious: I had chosen a man as possessive and controlling as my mother, and been fool enough to believe that the second time around, I would win the love I'd missed as a child. A few years earlier, I had read somewhere that daughters married their fathers in appearance but their mothers in character. I had dismissed that statement as nonsense. Yet both Patrick and my mother had dangled the possibility of love in front of me like a carrot before a donkey. A form of reward that could be mine, if I made them the total exclusive focus of my energy, my interest, and my love.


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About the Author

Karen Moller is the author of Technicolor Dreamin': The 1960's Rainbow and Beyond (Trafford Publishing, 2006, ISBN: 1-412-08018-5) and a fashion designer who lives half time in Paris, France, and the other half in Venice, Italy. Here is more about her, in her own words:

I was born in the mountains of British Columbia, Canada and attended art school in Calgary. In 1959, in my third year of college, I read Kerouac's book On the Road. It changed my life by recasting the American myth, Go west, young man; freedom is waiting for you, to Go, young woman and forge a new identity. With that book I set off for San Francisco, the beatnik heartland just as hundreds of other young people were to do in the years that followed. That was only the beginning of the adventure with next stops New York and Paris where I had the luck to hang out with the little known but soon to be famous avant-garde. In 1962, I arrived in London, a city alive with political activity and the anti-war movement. Yet, even then there was little to indicate that England was on the threshold of a cultural revolution. That transformation began in earnest in 1965 with the Wholly Communion: the seven thousand strong poetry reading at the staid Royal Albert Hall. Unlike the later 14 hour Technicolour dream, which was a truly magical hippie event, the significance of the Wholly Communion lay, not in the poetry but the meeting of the influential figures of the cultural Underground. Those enterprising odd balls, many of which I counted among my friends, were the link between the old Beats, the Rock world and London's intelligentsia. They transformed the angry youth culture of the beatniks into a fun-loving, optimistic and idealistic hippie movement of carefree days and unashamed utopianism where we fought for just causes, made love, and made merry while living on innocent dreams of being a revolutionary. I shed my beatnik clothes for the multicolored petals of the emerging hippie counterculture and with money borrowed from friends opened a boutique to sell the clothes and textiles I designed. The seventies made my fortune and my international reputation in fabric design. In 1976 I moved back to Paris where I added "fashion futurist" to my activities. I now live between Venice and Paris with my soul mate companion, Alain Arias Misson, the well known American writer and artist.

You can read more about Karen Moller on The Paris Blog, a group blog about Paris, France.



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.Swans.com/library/art12/moller03.html
Published September 11, 2006