By Anne Gagliano
Wait a minute, you might be saying, isn’t it supposed to be “Cinderella and the Prince”? Yes, yes—that’s how the fairytale traditionally goes. But please indulge me as I write my own version of the story. All political correctness and reality of age and time aside, I am still a “girl,” and we girls typically yearn for true love and romance and “happily ever after” with a prince who makes our dreams come true. For this reason, we tend to enjoy fairytales and relate to the heroines within them that strike a chord when their lives resemble our own.
I’ve always fancied myself a bit of a “Cinderella” and thus she is my personal favorite. I guess that’s because my life at times seemed very like hers. My parents divorced when I was young, and I lived with my mom who, for various reasons, was rather absent from my life. I was a “latchkey kid” long before the phrase was coined, only minus the key. Hence, I routinely found myself locked out of the house. Rather than complain I simply adapted. I found a secret entrance to our attic in the garage. I would stack boxes to reach the hatch, tiptoe precariously through the attic (often in the dark and always alone), then drop down into the house. That’s how I got in without a key. I don’t know how I managed to never break a bone—or the ceilings—but I did tromp all over our stored Christmas decorations and managed to break many of those. I’d secretly cringe every Christmas when my mom would discover one and say, “How’d that happen?” Somehow, she never learned of my attic entries, and for some reason I never mentioned them. Kids have a way of thinking they’ll be in trouble for everything. Instead of realizing all I needed to do to avoid all the hassle was ask for a key, I simply chose to keep climbing through the attic alone in the dark though it terrified me and filled me with dread.
Because of my parents’ divorce, we went from being rather wealthy to almost instant poverty. My dad very quickly remarried, and his new wife had two kids around my same age. They seemed to have plenty of money, but I was now poor. I was always eager to earn money, so I offered to clean my stepmother’s house and she paid me to do so. I cleaned and cleaned, on a regular basis, while my stepsiblings sat and watched. And, despite my best efforts, I never earned my stepmother’s love. A neglected girl with a cruel stepmother who’s forced into manual labor with indulged stepsiblings who sat idly by–Cinderella’s story was now very much like my own. And, like her, I too dreamed of a royal prince who would take me away from my unhappy circumstances to a place where I’d feel safe and cherished and loved.
But real-life royal marriage is overrated. The castle is not the dream. Often, royal marriages were arranged and deeply unhappy. Again, as is typical to most girls, I love to watch royal weddings and read of princesses and such. But over the years I have found most of these true-life stories to be not only not magical but rather sad, even tragic. From King Henry VIII (who married six times and beheaded two of his brides) to the Duchess of Devonshire and her descendant Princess Di (whose wedding I watched live with dreamlike awe as a teenager of 16), these “fairytales” turned out to be nightmares. Politics and demands for male heirs, mistresses and rampant infidelities, accusations and beheadings—not exactly what I had in mind when I imagined my prince. My prince would be courageous and noble, a protector of the realm who slayed dragons and ruled with fairness and wisdom and passion for his subjects. He would bestow upon me lavish, loving gifts and fill my days with romance and kindness and magic. And he would treat me as his one-and-only beloved princess and true soul mate—for life.
Flashforward 34 years from childhood angst and girlish dreams to a married, middle-aged grandmother celebrating her 34th Christmas with her husband, the firefighter. It’s been so long since I felt like that vulnerable little Cinderella; today I am beloved and happily ensconced in my own “castle” on a small peaceful lake. As I tear into my last two remaining Christmas gifts from my husband, I am about to be overwhelmed once again by his generosity and thoughtfulness. He never fails to surprise and delight. The one labeled “open last” is large; I rip into it and find a small box inside—the big box was a ruse. In the small box is a note that leads me on a treasure hunt. As I return to the living room, the real gift awaits. It is the painting I’ve dreamed of having since we bought this house 20 years ago—large enough for our two-story stairwell, which is still to this day unadorned. I can’t believe it. This painting has always been out of reach financially, but my devoted husband has found a way.
Already feeling overwhelmed, I open the other remaining present. This and the painting are just too much. It is the shiny gold and crystal Ferris wheel music box I had just admired on our last trip to Disneyland. Mike had somehow smuggled it out of the park and into one of our suitcases without my prying, nosy eyes spying it. I still don’t know how he managed, as I do all the packing and do so very rigidly. With the Ferris wheel came a complimentary Christmas tree ornament. Mike neither saw the ornament nor selected it. The sales clerk did. It was wrapped in tissue and he had no idea what it was. As I opened it, when I realized whose image was on it I gasped—it was none other than Cinderella, my special favorite. Of all the hundreds of Disney characters it could have been, it was her—I sat teary-eyed and speechless, moved beyond words.
Some fairytales do come true. My husband continues to bestow on me lavish gifts and romance and magic, even after all these years. He slays dragons—for real—protecting the citizens in his district with noble courage. He rules his firehouse as captain with fairness and wisdom and has a passion for the fire service like no other. I am his soul mate and true love and we are, indeed, living happily ever after. My hero, a true prince—the firefighter.
Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 32 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.