And I bow as I step onto the dance floor, and the strings strain, and the bodies around us move. Bodies of abusers and saviors. Rose dances with Olsen, Destiny with Tiger. The music plays, we all twirl, and I take each of the next stories out onto the floor. The waltz is the most proper. The waltz has the arms wide, the circle, the spinning. The waltz doesn’t pull in close and breathe in the ear like I do with my wife. The waltz doesn’t get “tangled up and tango on.” The waltz holds back. It looks into the eye, holds at a distance, and the waltz appraises. The waltz appreciates.
There’s a scream across the battlefield as a hundred thousand warriors of bullies and abusers roar hatred in my direction. The Round Table lines up behind me. They bang sword on shield. You are about to read about the women standing along my side. They form the front ranks now. And when the horns blow and I collide with my abusers, it will be The Shieldmaidens waltzing with my enemies and dancing beside me as the blood and the hate flies.
I introduce you now to the women of my life and my past. I introduce you now to The Shieldmaidens.
This is the story of two girls. Two little girls whose love for me was pure. Two little girls who hurt me to my core. One with tragedy, one with memory.
Less and Rose fought a war when Char turned Less against my mother at the age of six. Char told Less to make life as miserable as possible for my mother because if she did, then my mother would come back to him. We could be a family again. He promised an end to the basement that we lived in and the hate my mother felt for him. Char painted a picture of family bliss and Less was ready to fight for it. She was prepared to die on that hill.
Well the marriage was destroyed by Char’s wandering eye and grasping hands, by hungers he could not control, and he took a woman and was caught with her. No matter the beatings he gave me, no matter the hell he poured out on me, my mother had been ready to stand by him. But infidelity to her was inexcusable, so she left him.
War was fought between Less and Rose, and Rose’s heart was broken. Hate grew for her only daughter and it never faded. No matter what Less tried to do, my mother’s wrath was played out against her, and Rose does not fight fair.
She began her attack with a smear campaign against Less that extended to every member of our family. Soon all the love that our family felt for Less was replaced with distrust and disdain. She became the butt of every joke. She was the one left out of the warmth and embrace of smiles and affection, and it worked. Less was defeated, never to be redeemed in the eyes of Rose’s brothers and sister. My grandma and grandpa had little nice to say to her, and Guardian was Less’s entire world.
So when the idea hit Uncle Wrath to bring Grandma’s grandchildren to her for a long summer vacation, he left Less out completely. Tigress, Lioness, and I would make the nine-hour trip from Milwaukee to Waynesville and we would stay for a month.
I remember bologna sandwiches with mayonnaise and lettuce. I remember being woken up early by my Uncle Ball and played with and talked to. I remember that no one oversaw the little details, and Tigress and I did not shower for two weeks.
Ball woke us up three nights. First it was to watch Beastmaster. We were pulled out of bed at two in the morning and set in front of Dar and his ferrets, his black tiger and that redhead who I was far too young to be looking at naked. Her name was Tanya Roberts. It’s something in the eyes I think, the way she looked at that black tiger. Well Assassin was a thing by now, and he had seen people, Char, Less, even Rose, who looked in his eyes with the same fear and panic. Tanya Roberts became the most beautiful woman in the world to Assassin, and he got caught up in the red hair.
And to branch off of a tangent on a tangent, Bekah dyed her hair red when we were living in South Towers. She went to get an astrological reading, and the woman, as soon as Bekah walked in the door, said that after reading her stars she had decided if Bekah showed up and hadn’t dyed her hair red, she was going to send Bekah away. See that stargazer knew that if Bekah’s hair was not red, then me and Bekah could not reach Assassin’s pain. She said if Bekah hadn’t dyed her hair red, she was not yet ready to embrace her power.
Tanya Roberts is an odd thing to focus on when you’re thinking about your wife. It was the fear of the black tiger that Tanya had, the look in her eyes, the red hair, it all tied together to make Assassin a black tiger, and a red-haired woman who could look at him and feel no fear.
Next was Conan the Barbarian. Arnold, God love him, tried so hard to capture that character but the subtleties of the greatest fantasy warrior ever written should never be cast because of build, and the man could barely speak the language. Next was Conan’s sequel, and by the third night my love of late nights and staying up past everyone’s bedtime was cemented in my mind.
We had a blast on that vacation, and here is where we see two of the loveliest little girls the world has ever known.
Wrath began his empire with three small trailer homes sitting on a flood plain, and across the street sat the house of a family of mischief. They were good kids but my grandma would not allow us in their home. Misty was the only girl, and with her large eyes and captivating smile, I was hooked. We played and talked but her older brother was protective and would not let us be alone. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen and I would dream of her at night when I went to bed.
Guardian played scenarios in his head of him saving her from the monsters on the screen, and I would stare at her while I tried to play with her brother. She would watch me too, and I developed a deep crush on her that would not shake.
But Wrath was on a bowling league, and every Friday night we would make our way to the lanes. Tigress, Lioness, and I were given a bit of money for arcades and pool tables and we would wild out for a while. That is when I met Shooting Star.
She was younger than me. Maybe by a year. I was at the time ten and she might have been as young as eight, I am not sure. She was blonde with a smile that lit me on fire and eyes I would get trapped in. She had a laugh and a bit of sass. She was playful, and I instantly had a crush on her. I would find her every time we went to the bowling lanes and we were together the entire night.
Shooting Star had two bigger brothers. They were riotous and didn’t like me flirting with their sister. They as well were protective, and they made fun of me when I was around her.
They did not deserve what happened to them.
When we were at the trailers, my focus was on Misty. When at the bowling alley, I would stare at Shooting Star. The two girls began to fuse together. They became an obsession for me and my crush for one grew as the other blossomed. I spent all of my time thinking about them, and when I left, my ten-year-old heart had been stolen by these two girls from two separate families and two separate parts of my life.
When I said goodbye to Misty, I stood staring at her with her brother talking to me trying to steal my attention. I knew this would be the last time I ever saw her, and I reached out and brushed her hand with the tips of my fingers.
That was all I took from her. That would be the end for us.
Shooting Star kissed my cheek the last Friday I was at that bowling alley. She promised she would write me but we didn’t even exchange addresses. We knew this was the end, but that statement was enough for me. Just the idea that she would think about me when I left was enough to carry me away.
One year later my grandma came to visit us in Milwaukee and told me that Shooting Star had been shot in the head when a gun went off at her house while her parents were away. My grandma was talking about it with my mother, telling her of the tragedy of the town and breaking Rose’s heart. I was walking by the conversation and I froze as my body burst into flames.
I broke down sobbing uncontrollably. The strength ran out of my legs and I remember dropping to the carpet and looking up at the ceiling. Rose immediately yelled at me, telling me I was being over dramatic and told me to shut up.
Grandma looked at me and rolled her eyes. I tried to explain to them that I knew Shooting Star, and that she had been my girlfriend, that I knew her from that bowling alley and that part of me loved her.
I was told that I only saw her four times for about three hours and I was being an idiot. I was sent to my room, where I buried myself in pillows and blankets and broke. Something in me cracked, and though my pain silenced and I shoved it away, I would feel it again.
When I was thirteen we moved to Waynesville and my family started going to church. There were many families. All of them made an impact on me, but that first Sunday I was introduced to so many people that my head began to buzz. Not good in crowds, Servant slunk away to hide against the wall, and soon I looked up to see Misty.
The big eyes, the smile, the face, every bit of that summer came back to me when I looked at her, and with it came the ruthless pain of the loss of Shooting Star. When I saw Misty I could hear the firing of the gun I had never heard. I could see the carnage of a family I had never known. When I looked at Misty, I wondered what Shooting Star’s last name had been. Should I collapse on Misty crying? Would she ever understand? When I looked into her smiling face, I saw a picture of Shooting Star on the ground on a cheap carpet in some house I never saw wearing an outfit I did not know.
Misty reintroduced herself, but she didn’t need to. She was unforgettable, the eyes so wide, the expression—her face was so filled with expression—the most expressive face I had ever known, have ever known. There was no denying, as Servant looked at this girl, there was no denying that this was Misty, the girl he had fallen in love with for a month one summer. I hugged her, told her it was nice to see her, and she talked excitably. Her voice had changed but not her personality. She was still larger than life. Still filled with love and wonder. I could see within her the spirit of the girl I had once known.
But the pain of Shooting Star burst in my chest and I had to get away.
What started as a childish romance between two kids who would never see each other again warped into the pain of losing one girl by the reminder of the other. Misty’s love for me did not fade. She waited for it to come back, for another brush of the hand, for the entire time I lived in Waynesville. She waited for that summer so long ago to warm me again.
As the memory of Shooting Star began to fade, the pain I had felt the instant I saw Misty changed and took another form. Every time I was around Misty I felt a throb of heartache. I felt as if I would break. So as much of a friend as she was, the thought of rekindling affections for her broke my heart for a reason I could never name until tonight, when I came down here to my office to find it waiting on my desk.
I hurt when I thought of her in any way other than a friend for reasons I could never name.
And Misty just waited for summer to come again.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep.