Have you ever had a book that you just love? I mean love.
A book you love so much that you read it over and over. But you don’t just read it. You breathe it. You memorize it. You know the characters so well that they become old friends. For you, it’s not a story, it’s a memory that you read. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine was that book for me.
Well, one of those books, but that’s for another post for another day.
When I was a kid, I got a book allowance. Yes, I was that kid. And one day with my book allowance, I bought Ella Enchanted. I don’t remember if it was Barnes & Noble, a school book fair, or one of those Scholastic Book catalogs that were the highlight of my youth, but somehow that book ended up in my hands, and I fell in love.
If you haven’t read it, please go and read it. It’s wonderful. But I didn’t realize why I loved it so much until just a few days ago. Let me explain the story-line so you can see why.
Ella Enchanted is a retelling of Cinderella, but in this version the focus is on how Ella becomes a servant to her stepmother and stepsisters. Ella has been cursed with obedience and she must obey every order given to her. Some of them are harmless (put on a sweater), some of them are annoying (run along and bump into somebody else) and some are dangerous or even deadly.
And she has to obey.
For her own safety, her mother forbids her to tell anyone about her curse, so it becomes her own secret burden. Throughout the novel we see how it affects every aspect of her life. She constantly struggles to break the curse, and when she can’t, she plays games so that she feels at least the illusion of control. She learns to obey without following the order in the way it was meant, and she manages–not to take back her life–but to not be a complete pawn.
As in all Cinderella stories, she meets her Prince, but in this version, she has known the prince for years. They write letters while Ella attends finishing school (and struggles to keep her identity while her teachers try to make her just like everyone else) and they continue to write while Ella slowly becomes a slave in her own home (Side note: her step-family doesn’t know about the curse, they just know she must obey). And through the letters she falls in love. When she realizes the prince is going to ask her to marry him, she is–at first–elated. She thinks this will answer all her prayers. She will be taken from her pseudo-slavery and get to live with the love of her life!
But she will still be cursed. She could be ordered to kill the prince, or pass royal secrets to enemies. She would not only still be in danger, but she would be putting her entire country in danger. So she does the only thing she can think of: she lies. She sends the prince a letter–supposedly written by her stepsister–informing him that Ella has eloped and moved to another country. There is no danger of anyone recognizing her because of her station as a near slave in her own home.
But, as in every version of Cinderella, she goes to the ball. And inevitably the prince recognizes her, so she runs. When he reaches her home, he begs her to marry him, not realizing that he is giving her an order. The curse is telling her to say yes, her heart is telling her to say yes, her step family is telling her to say yes (and give them riches), but she knows it is the wrong thing to do.
She is standing there, surrounded by voices and feeling completely overwhelmed, and that is when she breaks her curse. Saving her own life wasn’t enough for her to break the curse. Keeping herself from being abused and exploited wasn’t enough.
But her love for him was enough. They were enough. Her country was enough.
And in that moment she wasn’t Ella the Slave or Ella the Cursed. She was Ella. Just Ella. For the first time in her life, she was free.
Do you see why I love this book?
I picked it up the other day, just to read for fun because–as I said–I love it. I hadn’t read it in years, and as I read the first few pages I started to remember how the story progressed, and all of a sudden everything clicked. I was only on page four, but I put the book down because of how strongly the realization hit me.
This book was the story of everything I had ever wanted.
I already had the ‘curse’. I had something I had to constantly work around, something that impacted every aspect of my life. And I was constantly trying to ‘break it’, to get over it. To get my life back. But nothing was enough. I wasn’t enough. I spent nearly 15 years suffering, just playing games to try and convince myself that I was in control of my life.
And when I met Rob I thought that all my prayers were answered. But the PTSD was still there.
I had the first 220 pages of the book, but I was missing the last chapter. I had danced with prince and fallen in love, but the clock was about to strike midnight. The curse was about to attack. And it did. It started to affect us. And the moment that I realized the PTSD was trying to come between us, I knew it was time to try and break my curse.
Our relationship was enough. We were enough. Something in me rose up and said “You can’t have this too”.
When I was 10 years old, I found a book that spoke to the part of me that yearned for something that made me stand up and say ‘this is worth fighting for’. I have read this book dozens of times in my life, but I am just finally moving through the final chapter of it. I am finally finding things that are enough. And now with the EMDR I am starting for the first time I am starting to be free. To be Laura.