I have fallen from happily ever after before. Junebug fell into the world after a long birth when her mom had a pulmonary embolism, and they both came close to not making it. She was seven pounds and beet red from all of the blood she swallowed. She came home to her four older siblings, who were 8, 10, 11 and 13 years older. Her 10-year-old sister wrote her birth announcement with many words misspelled.
She fell backward down the stairs when her sister decided to carry her piggyback up them to her room as a baby. Eight years later she pedaled behind her to feed the neighbor’s turtles and dogs and fell face down into the pavement off her bike and walked out of the dentist office a few hours later with a silver capped front tooth she had for a year.
Junebug fell out of her bed when she heard the loud noise coming from the room next to hers and got up as fast as she could wiping the tears from her eyes. The happily ever after of being daddy's little girl disappeared into the dark night but she was determined to not fall down the hole of grief. She sometimes could hear it calling her.
"You must have taken your cute pills today. ” her dad would say or “Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey.”
When Junebug became too old for cute and nursery rhymes, she fell from the coveted spot of being the youngest in the family when two years later her mom remarried, and her step-sister was eleven days younger, and the spotlight was not hers alone anymore. She soon after fell in love with the 80's heartthrob in her eyes, Ricky Schroder. She joined his fan club and sent him a gift for his birthday. In the package, she wrote him a letter asking him to her school dance.
While she knew he would most likely not respond, she was skilled at fishing in the sewer for hope so every morning she woke up with a little excitement that today might be the day she reeled in Ricky Schroder. Like the quote in Alice in Wonderland, Junebug and I are good at believing impossible things before breakfast but often by lunch or dinner, we look up from the rabbit hole feeling small in a world that does not live up to our happily ever afters.
I always wanted happily ever after. It’s why I wanted to be named Elizabeth from Boston, and I wanted a bouncy blond ponytail to wear when I ran track. Instead, I was Jessie from the then small, Nashville, and my hair was either too short or too thin for a perfect ponytail, and I had asthma often induced by exercise. I did not want to give away my perfectly adorable Airedale terrier puppy, Ralph, after he bit someone but we had to so instead of Ralph, I was stuck with our pet snake, Jungle Boogie.
It’s why I make slime with Simon and attempt to cook for the kids and between the two, I am better at making slime. Regardless of the number of failed dinner attempts, I still keep trying even though often it is close to inedible and I end up saying in my messy kitchen “Mom made another bad meal. How about cereal?” In my head, happily ever after families eat home cooked meals around the dinner table.
It's why I post happily ever after pictures on Facebook, although sometimes I have to stop myself from looking at others. It's why I read food labels and have professional family pictures taken. It's the reason I was a room mom at least once for both of my children and buy thick beach towels like Junebug remembers her best friend with a happily ever after family had at the pool.
It’s why when I said “I do” to Jay, I did over and over again until I was dizzy at the bottom of the rabbit hole but even then I did not stop. "I feel like I am going crazy," I said to Jay several years ago on the phone. "Let's meet in 30 minutes," he said and soon after we met, I fell onto my knees. I never prayed before but Jay needed help and I was desperate and alone. My friend encouraged me to try it, so I did even though it felt very unnatural.
It is not a Jewish tradition to get on your knees but to me, it felt symbolic for asking the universe to help. It was an attempt in surrender after feeling exhausted and left with few places to turn in our world where happily ever after is acceptable and anything less, leaves you vulnerable to rejection and judgment.
My mom is a Pathologist and science and the great outdoors are her religion of choice, and National Geographic is her bible. She freezes beautiful birds that have met their end flying into windows of her home and shows them to her grandkids. A career of autopsies and holding the fallen colorful wings of death in her hands while saying "look how beautiful" to her grandkids might explain why we never spoke of prayer in our home. She was followed home by mountain lions during the long walk home to her farm from school and was one of three women in her medical school class. She outran and outsmarted and befriended what drives many of us to look for something bigger than ourselves.
To this day, even uttering any form of the word “pray” still feels uncomfortable to me. But I was tired of happily ever afters falling away, and if I was going to fall again, my knees felt like the only choice. Sometimes Jay and I would fall to our knees together. We wanted happily ever after.
Jay and I did not find happily ever after but I know we found many moments of happy. Life is imperfect, and ever afters I am finding are impossible, and the rabbit hole is grief for all the ways life has not always been what I wish. As they say, the only way out is through so I know the more I am willing to go through the rabbit hole, I am coming to see I always find my way out where more happy is waiting.
Orange Sky, Alexi Murdoch - Me and my sisters and brothers