Every once in a while I have homework to do for my Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation program (IPR). Last week I gave a little presentation about someone famous who suffers from my brand of mental illness (Stephen Fry, of course), and showed part of his documentary “The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive.” Stephen is one of my heroes, so it was fun to share him with others.
Now, I’m tasked with writing my Life History. Groan. If I had not done this a million times before in a million different ways for a plethora of mental health professionals, I might not mind mucking around in all that sour, spilt milk. So, I tried a different approach—inspired, no doubt, by watching three seasons of Once Upon a Time in four days. I offer you the results.
♦ ◊ ♦
a Life History Fairy Tale
Once upon a time, in a land of Patchwork People, a baby girl was born.
“Oh, no!” Mother cried, pushing the baby away. “She is missing a patch—a huge patch!” She narrowed her eyes at Father. “This is your fault. Go at once to the doctor and make sure we have no more of these disappointments.”
“Yes, dear,” Father said, because his only wish in life was to make Mother happy.
“Get that thing out of my sight,” Mother said to Sister.
“Gladly!” Sister cried. “She will be my dolly. I will dress her so no one sees the missing patch.”
“Good,” said Mother.
“Humph,” muttered Brother behind his book.
But as the Patch Girl grew, she tired of the clothes Sister made her wear. They were too tight, too scratchy, and much, much too heavy. One day she stripped them off and stood in her natural patchy-ness.
“Stop!” Sister yelled. “You are my dolly, and I will dress you however I like!”
“I am not a dolly. I am Patch Girl,” the young one said.
“Humph!” Sister sniffed, pointing. “A Patch Girl with a big, ugly hole where a patch should be!”
Patch Girl looked down and, sure enough, there was big, ugly hole where a patch was meant to be. “Give me my patch!” she yelled at Sister.
“Ha! I don’t have it, stupid child! Go away and find it. You’re not my dolly any more.”
Patch Girl ran from the farmhouse with glee. If I find my patch, Mother will love me, she reasoned. If I find my patch, Father will protect me.
She climbed over fences and danced around trees. If I find my patch, Sister will play games with me, and Brother will come out from behind his book! If I find my patch, we will live happily ever after!
She ran first to the barn to look for her missing patch. Esmerelda the Cow swayed in her stanchion, chewing her cud. The mouse family scurried across the cement floor to their homey-hole. Hay dust drifted in the sunlight like golden snow, and the air smelled green.
“Oh,” Patch Girl whispered. “What a magical place. Surely my missing patch is here.”
She touched Esmerelda’s wet nose and felt the breath huff out her nostrils. “Do you have my patch?”
The cow blinked her soft brown eyes and swallowed. “Ask the Cat,” she lowed.
Patch Girl tip-toed further into the barn to a warm, dark nest behind the bales of hay. Mother Cat lay on her side with three kittens suckling. Patch Girl saw their tiny paws kneading Mother Cat’s white fur, their perfect little claws flexing in and out.
“Oh,” Patch Girl sighed, feeling full and whole. She touched one finger to the calico kitten’s head. “This must be my patch.”
“No, dear,” Mother Cat said. “You already have that patch. See?”
Patch Girl looked down and saw one of the patches next to her hole glowing with golden light.
“But, I must find my patch,” she told Mother Cat, unhooking the calico kitten’s claws from her patchy body.
“Go see Grandmother,” Mother Cat suggested. “She may have your missing patch.”
Patch Girl hurried from the sweet-smelling barn and followed a grassy path through the apple orchard. At the end of the path, through a flowery trellis, she found a white cottage ringed by violets and dandelions. Patch Girl rounded the cottage and spotted an old woman digging in her flowerbed.
“Hello,” said Patch Girl. “Are you Grandmother?”
“Oh, I’m much more than that,” the old woman smiled. “What is that flower there?”
Patch Girl bent to where Grandmother pointed. A delicate face looked up at her—fuchsia veined with purple. Patch Girl sniffed the flower, and the petals were so delicate they went up her nose and tickled.
“It’s a petunia!” she laughed.
“Exactly!” Grandmother laughed with her. “And that is what I shall call you—My Little Petunia.”
“Is this my missing patch,” the young one asked hopefully, the flower’s tangy scent still in her nose.
“No, dear. You already have that patch. See?”
Patch Girl looked down and another patch around her hole glowed like a fire opal. “Do you have my missing patch, Grandmother?” she asked, tears wetting her cheeks for she already guessed the answer.
Grandmother brushed the dirt from her fingers. “Come with me, Little Petunia. We have work to do.”
“Work?” Patch Girl jumped up, forgetting for a moment about her missing patch. “What kind of work, Grandmother?”
“Why, we have lace to tat and embroidery to stitch.”
She stepped into the cottage and rummaged through a wooden chest full of baubles and trinkets.
“Oh,” Patch Girl breathed, picking up a tiny porcelain tea cup, then a brass Chinese dog with smoke drifting from its mouth.
“Or…” Grandmother’s muffled voice came from the bottom of the chest where she was digging. “…should we start with the watercolors? Wait! I know!”
She pulled herself out of the trunk, a little flushed from being head-side down. She held up a paper tablet in triumph. The bright red cover displayed the noble profile of an Indian Warrior.
“Stories!” Grandmother said, placing the tablet in Patch Girl’s outstretched hands. From her silver curls, she plucked a sturdy pencil with a fine eraser. “Write me a story, Little Petunia.”
Patch Girl smelled the wood of the pencil, the dusty magic of the paper. Once Upon A Time she wrote on the first line of the first page.
“Oh, Grandmother,” she sighed, feeling full and whole, “surely this is my missing patch.”
“No, dear,” Grandmother said. “You already have all these patches. See?”
Patch Girl looked down and, sure enough, a patch next to her hole glowed amber like the lights in the library. Another glimmered azure blue like the little square in the watercolor palette. And still another gleamed like a tapestry with rosy stitching.
Patch Girl burst into tears, for while her patches were wondrous and beautiful, the hole of her missing patch had grown deeper and more painful.
“If I find my missing patch,” she sobbed, “Mother will love me, Father will protect me, Sister will play with me, and Brother will come out from behind his book. I must find my patch, Grandmother. Then, we will live happy every after.”
“Oh, dear,” Grandmother worried. “I don’t have your missing patch, my Little Petunia. Perhaps The Mage has it.”
She pulled out her sewing box and sorted through the scraps. “It is a long journey, and you need something to hide that hole.”
“Sister stuffed me in doll clothes,” Patch Girl sniffed. “I didn’t like that.”
“Ah, try this.” Grandmother’s blue eyes twinkled. She fastened a scrap over Patch Girl’s hole by safety-pinning it to the surrounding patches. “You are a clever, clever girl. Your cleverness will keep those pins strong and in place. No one need ever know about your hole.”
“But, I can still feel it, Grandmother. And it hurts.”
Grandmother smoothed the make-shift patch with her big hands, then dug in the pocket of her apron. “Have a cookie, dear. It will help.”
She led Patch Girl out of the cottage where a sliver moon smiled in the night sky.
“Listen to the stars, My Little Petunia, they will guide you,” Grandmother said, waving her onto the road. “Good-bye.”
“Good-Bye, Grandmother,” Patch Girl replied, nibbling the cookie (it did help dull the pain of her missing patch).
She travelled long and far. Night became Day. Days became Years. Sometimes Patch Girl forgot why she was on the road, and then the hole of her missing patch ached, and she remembered to look for The Mage.
She searched in churches and universities, for surely Wise Men labored there. She took jobs and quit them again when no Mage appeared. She befriended other travelers who adored her for her wondrous patches, but Patch Girl never let them too close for fear they might discover her safety pins and the secret behind them.
Once, she met a Scribe who looked up from his book long enough to smile. He reminded her of someone, but she couldn’t remember who.
“Marry me,” she told the Scribe. “Protect me.”
“Humph,” he answered, returning to his book. “If you like.”
But the Scribe could neither protect her nor come out from behind his book for long. So, Patch Girl continued her search.
One day, a Black Imp danced out from behind a tree.
“Halloo, Patch Girl. I understand you seek a Mage.”
“Yes,” she answered. “Do you know him?”
“Know him?” The Imp cavorted around her and made her laugh. “I am him!”
“You?” Patch Girl eyed him skeptically, but she was weary from traveling. She had lost many of the safety pins Grandmother had given her, and just wanted the search to be over.
“I see your hole, Patch Girl.” The Imp leered at her. “I have just the thing to fill it. Let me fill it and you need never search again.”
The Imp’s promises were so appealing, Patch Girl didn’t even cry. She knew at once that he wasn’t The Mage, but she no longer cared.
Mother will never love me now. Father will never protect me. Sister will never play with me again. And Brother will never come out from behind his books. This is what I deserve.
The Black Imp dragged Patch Girl to his hut where he cast a powerful spell upon her and threw her into a cage. He filled her hole with all manner of vile things, but none of them was her patch. The Imp shared her with his minions, who promised to protect her and help her find her patch, but they never did.
One night, as Patch Girl cried herself to sleep in her cage, Grandmother appeared to her in a dream.
“Where is My Little Petunia?” Grandmother wondered. “Where is my clever, clever girl?”
“Here I am,” Patch Girl cried. “Right in front of you!”
“So you are,” Grandmother said. “Leave this horrible place at once!”
“How, Grandmother? I’m locked in.”
“You’re a clever girl,” Grandmother winked. “You’ll find a way.”
Patch Girl woke with a start. She could hear the Black Imp and his minions snoring nearby. Creeping to the door of her cage, she felt for the lock. Then, she took her last safety pin, straightened it out, fit it to the lock, and pushed the door open. As she ran from the hut, the covering Grandmother had placed over her hole so long ago fluttered into the mud—lost forever.
Patch Girl ran as far and as fast as her weak legs could go. The hole from her missing patch gaped wide. The surrounding patches, once so strong and beautiful, sagged pale and limp. Those who met her on the road cried out in terror and in pity.
“Try this elixir, “ they said.
“Take this potion.”
“Stand out in the rain and let the lightening strike.”
Patch Girl tried everything every Wise Woman and Fool suggested, but nothing patched her correctly. She stood under the night sky and wept. She no longer wanted to search for her missing patch. She no longer wanted to live at all. It was too hard, too painful, and much much too heavy. So Patch Girl left the road and laid in the soft grass to wait for Death.
While she waited, and it did seem to be taking Death a long time to find her, Patch Girl gazed up at the stars. She heard their quiet song as they trembled like jewels in their velvet setting. She smiled, remembering Grandmother’s instructions, and rested in the stars’ serenade. She reached into her now-silver curls and found a pencil with a sturdy eraser. She smelled petunias nearby. In her pocket, she fingered the brass Chinese dog and many cookie crumbs.
Near the road, something rustled in the tall grass, but Patch Girl wasn’t afraid. As she watched, Mother Cat stepped into the starlight with her three kittens trailing behind her.
“Hello, Patch Girl,” Mother Cat said. “Did you ever find your missing patch?”
“There never was a patch,” Patch Girl answered. “I was born as the night sky was born—full of wondrous lights that can only be seen because of the dark that surrounds them.”
“And what of your happy ever after?” Mother Cat asked, climbing up on the jeweled light that radiated from Patch Girl’s wondrous patches.
“Oh, Mother Cat,” Patch Girl chuckled. “That’s just a fairy tale.”
“Ah,” Mother Cat purred, arranging her kittens. “You finally did find The Mage.”
“Yes.” Patch Girl smiled up at the singing stars, her fingers tickling the kittens. “Yes, I surely did.”