September 25, 1997
Princesses Don’t Always Live Happily Ever After
Photo by Julia Feldman
When the news about Princess Diana broke, I wasthinking about how I should spend Saturday night: Go see a movieabout a man who exploits a deaf woman just to prove he can? Or a filmabout Queen Victoria, who grieves for her dead husband and befriendsa commoner, only to reject him when she's over the grieving? Not inconsideration was the film about a woman who lowers herself so thatshe could be equal with a warrior mentality, and who shaves her hairoff to prove she's up to the task.
Instead, I stayed home and watched the unfoldingdrama about a glamorous aristocrat who had publicly confessed hersins and pain, vulnerabilities that made her an outcast to theroyals, endeared her to common folks and, in death, would change thestuffy monarchy that had turned her out.
The story of a princess who did not live happilyever after had a familiar subtext. Somewhere in the midst of watchingthe same bashed-in Mercedes Benz again and again, a song played in myhead. It was the song that I had chosen for the first dance at myfirst wedding with my first husband: "Someone to Watch Over Me."Don't tell Gloria Steinem.
I grew up in a Disneyesque atmosphere, crying myheart out for dead deer and humiliated elephants. But there was alsothe subtext. The whole Cinderella story is about protection. Itwasn't enough to be gentle, loving and patient. Cinderella needed theprotection of a Fairy Godmother, industrious mice and a washed-uphunting dog against cruel family members. I can still see herbluebird-made dress being ripped apart by her unattractivestepsisters. She almost didn't make it to the ball, almost didn'tmeet the prince and almost didn't live happily ever after. Finally, aprincess.
It was the midnight curfew that Cinderella forgotwhich actually changed her life. For if she hadn't been late, shewouldn't have lost the glass slipper, and her splendid evening wouldhave been just another fairy-tale moment instead of a fairy-talelife.
But Cinderella was no fool. If she hadn't beenclever enough to save the other slipper, even a fairy godmothercouldn't ensure her future. Cinderella, to live happily ever after,had to be in charge of the crucial moments. As do we all. Thatreminds me of an old Arab saying: Trust in Allah but hold on to thereins of your horse.
So who was that girl in white who had herself sewninto her wedding dress on April 6, 1963, so that the tailoring wouldbe flawless? Who was the free spirit who requested "Someone to WatchOver Me?" I certainly wasn't in charge of the crucial moments. I wasa girl unable to apply the brakes, a girl who married a boy in a bighurry to get to the top. He was improvising a life and believed thatluck was a factor in everything. We had this unwritten script inwhich I supplied the "happily" and he was to provide the "everafter." In the end, I felt unprotected and he feltunsupported.
We fell apart because we were prisoners of our ownfantasies and thought that we were free spirits at the same time. Butwe were not free at all. When you're free, you decide what'simportant, what has meaning. That's a difficult task because you'rein charge of the crucial moments, and the horror is that there are noexcuses for being in a life not of your own making.
Diana's funeral coincided with my granddaughterKaya's first sleepover. While changing channels and searching for aworthwhile children's show, the image of the coffin covered in whiteflowers flashed onto the television screen.
"What is that?" Kaya asked.
"A real princess died, and underneath the flowers,inside the box, is her body," I replied.
"I'm a princess," Kaya said.
The song plays on: "There's a somebody I'm longingto see...I hope that he...turns out to be...Someone who'll watch overme."
Linda Feldman, a former columnist for the LosAngeles Times, is the co-author of "Where To Go From Here:Discovering Your Own Life's Wisdom," due out this fall from Simon& Schuster.