by Ron Vitale
"She gazed at him and became lost in memories now long gone. The stubble on his chin, the freckles under his eyes and the few flecks of gray in his hair, but his crooked smile had captured her attention the most. She could not look away. She remembered the touch of his two day old beard, the roughness of it, and the way he had said her name. But that was all in the past now ... He walked past her without any recognition and the young woman on his arm smiled and the hurt began, small at first, deep in her chest but then it grew and enveloped her with a pain that engulfed her heart and drowned her in longing. Cinderella turned away and the music from the ball faded behind her."
Have you ever felt this way? A love that had kept you up at night and sustained you in the darkest of times now had become your worst pain? It's a dark topic that has been written about time and time again over hundreds of years. And if you think about it, an obsessive love has become popularized in our movies and songs. When I was but a young and naive teenager, I heard Melissa Etheridge's "Like the Way I Do" on the radio and it stuck with me. I had this warped sense of what loving someone truly meant. I believed that true love was all or nothing and that you'd sacrifice and risk anything for the person you loved and, darker still, that they would do the same for you.
Why did I think this was normal? Romeo and Juliet and so many other plays and movies built up the heroes as loving each other beyond reason and fate. As you can imagine, my early relationships were absolute failures. I didn't know what the hell I was doing. All I knew is that I didn't want the type of romantic relationships in my family or those that I saw around me because most people were either fighting all the time (my grandparents), separated or divorced. In growing up, I cannot say that I knew of one healthy and stable marriage that I could point to and say, "Yeah, that's good. I want that."
Instead I grew up watching popular movies only seeing how the boy gets the girl, but no one truly showed you how they actually lived together after the climactic battle was won. A couple would kiss on screen and they'd be together and, presto, they lived happily ever after. Or so we were told.
I look back now and laugh at how clueless I was back then. When I roll back the past and look at all the mistakes I made in dating, it makes me want to shake my head in shame. I truly was clueless. Back when I was 17, I started dating and went from being the book nerd (we didn't really use geek back then) to suddenly having a girlfriend. I stumbled upon all this by being set up on a blind date by my best friend. He and I went to see The Witches of Eastwick on a double date. There was a moment during the movie in which I had this thought cross my mind: I could sit and just watch the movie or I could reach out and gently touch the wrist of my date.
When I touched her wrist and she responded positively, my world was turned upside down. I had my first kiss that summer night, and although took place more than 25 years ago, it's still a night I remember fondly. Time passed and I went on the relationship without any guidance or understand. I fell hard into obsessive love, thinking that our lives were tied forever together--because we loved each other. Our love would hold us up, sustain us and that nothing else mattered. But it did and, boy, did I crash hard.
My first relationship lasted about 9 months until she lost interest in me and went on with some other guy. That time hurt because I had given everything of myself to her and was tossed aside for another. Whatever happened to love and happy ever after? I just didn't understand. None of it made sense. In the course of 9 months, I went from being clueless to having my heart broken. My best friend went from dating, to getting his girlfriend pregnant and me being the best man in his wedding all while we were 17 years of age. His marriage fell apart shortly after and all I saw around me was wreckage and ruin.
But my girlfriend and I had loved each other, right? I had written poems for her, had sacrificed much for her and, in the end, she had left me. I look back at that time and there were many things that I did wrong. I ignored the advice of my family who tried to warn me (what teenager actually listens to good advice? Surely, I didn't) and I forgot my friends, putting everything into my relationship with my girlfriend. I neglected time for myself and thought only of her.
I was obsessed with love and in being in love. I loved Love. I enjoyed the high and the feeling that it brought within me and I ignored all else. Did it last? No. Afterward, I crashed hard and it took me a long time to recover. Sadly, you would have thought that I would have learned my lesson, but I didn't. I kept screwing up in relationships again and again and again.
When I started writing the Cinderella's Secret Diaries series, I knew that I wanted the dark side of "love" to be a major portion of the story. Cinder falls hard for someone and it's not the person you think. I did that on purpose because I wanted to take her on a journey from a young 19 year old girl who is totally clueless about the world, having been rescued by the prince, to a woman who has had her heart crushed. Just like me, Cinder does some pretty stupid things along the way because she's trying to learn and grow and find love, but she just doesn't know how to do it right.
Some people have complained to me about Cinderella in the first book saying that she whines a bit and I just smile because I'm thinking back to myself when I was 17-19 years of age. I did the same thing. I worked so hard on trying to find love and did everything I could to make love stay, but all of it failed in the end. All of it. The world burned around me. Each day I would lick my wounds, heal and then try again. The next time was even worse because afterward I remember holding a returned engagement ring in my hand. But that's another story for another day.
Today, no matter that I'm older now and been married for 13 years, is no different than when I was 17 years old. I still make mistakes and do stupid things because I'm human. Love isn't losing myself in the moment and thinking that nothing else matters. No, love is seeing good in someone and wanting to see that good grow.
But on the flip side, I believe that loving oneself first is the essential key ingredient to a healthy relationship. And that is what I have Cinderella striving toward, she just doesn't know it at the start.