For this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt, I wrote a spin off the classic fairytale “Little Red Riding Hood.” Within hours, the compliments from my wonderful readers (some of whom are happy to let me know when I miss the mark) began pouring in, both on my blog directly and in other places where I have shared links to the story.
I love fairytales and mythology, so readers will find several of these “twice told” tales on my blog. This particular story, however, is being received better than any other, which caused me to ask myself, “Why? What is different about Little Red?” The question seemed especially urgent since, while I was composing it, it seemed to be a far-too-familiar, almost cliché response to this week’s photo prompt. Then the answer presented itself in the story’s familiarity. I am Little Red. I am Ruby from my story. This story was easy for me to write because it is my own, and it rings true to my readers who may not be familiar with the layers of history behind the “Little Red Riding Hood” myth because they are not Ruby.
Let’s Start at the Very Beginning
“Little Red Riding Hood” has frightened me and intrigued me from my earliest memories. When I was still preschool aged, my Grandma Stratford gave me a “Little Red Riding Hood” doll made of soft cloth and accessorized with a scarlet hood and a basket of baked goods to carry to Grandmother’s house. When Grandma held the doll upside down, it became the grandmother, complete with a calico nightgown and nightcap. But horror of horrors, when that nightcap was flipped up, the grandmother was transformed into the big bad wolf. Ingenious and terrifying—especially to little Marie.
A Much Worse Place to Start
As it happened, my doll and Grandma’s colorful telling of “Little Red Riding Hood” are not the reasons I was plagued with nightmares of wolves and other snarling beasts into my 30s. Before Grandma gave me that doll and before I ever heard the original fairytale, I was treated for club feet by an abusive orthopedic surgeon who just happened to be a man with a beard. (At this point, I feel compelled to tell my readers that not all men with beards and not all orthopedic surgeons are abusive, just as not all wolves are big and bad.)
When I was born, the toes on each of my feet were turned in to touch my calves. At six weeks old, my doctors began the treatment, which involves repeated breaking and resetting of the bones in the legs and ankles. Rather than give me proper sedatives or even providing safe pain medications commonly used at the time for babies and young children, the orthopedic surgeon conducted these procedures over the course of several months without the use of any medication or calming implements. Instead, he insisted that my father, a young man in his mid-20s, hold his screaming little baby girl down while my mother, a frightened first-time mother, was asked to force-feed me a bottle as the doctor carried out the procedure.
As if this were not bad enough, while removing the casts each week, the doctor or his staff, regularly managed to cut my legs with the plaster saw. When I learned that by flexing my leg muscles during the procedure I could easily kick the casts off my legs, the doctor decided to glue the plaster directly to my sensitive skin.
When I was two years old, months after the experiences related here, another event shed clear light on the malicious nature of that particular orthopedic surgeon, and my regular pediatrician was able to help my parents find good, nurturing medical treatment for me. My body healed, and my legs became more useful than anyone ever expected. In my 20s, I even began performing as an interpretive dancer, and I later became a dance instructor. The emotional scars, however, remained.
When Memories Begin
Naturally, I don’t remember everything as I have related it here. For me, the images of scary predatory animals and nightmares that almost always ended in my waking with cramps in my legs and fear in my heart were the only traces of these early traumas that remained in my conscious mind. The psychological scarring went deeper. By age 10, the emotional scars from that trauma began causing what we now understand to have been pseudo seizures. Although this type of issue is common in trauma survivors, it would be more than 20 years before a medical professional would finally recognize these “spells” for what they were.
As with many survivors of childhood trauma, my PTSD symptoms seldom emerged before I turned 30. Occasionally, I would experience a panic attack or an extended crying jag. The nightmares happened fairly often, but all of this was manageable. Until upheaval in my adult life accompanied by the death of my paternal grandfather dealt a blow that sent me spinning into darkness.
Ray, a Drop of Golden Hope
Someday I hope to share more about my healing process—how I emerged from a quivering pile of pain and tears into the hopeful, happy and somewhat successful writer and business owner I am today. This particular sunny February Wednesday is not that day. Just writing this portion of my story has left me feeling vulnerable and a bit weepy. But there is hope.
To all those Little Red Riding Hoods and Snow Whites and Cinderellas, to all the Beauties tormented by Beasts—I promise you there is hope beyond your nightmares (and far beyond Stockholm Syndrome—don’t make Belle your role model). Someday, you too will be able to close your eyes without fearing the nightmares. It won’t happen without professional help, and it won’t happen without faith in a Power much greater than yourself. But most important, it won’t happen without faith in yourself—the true you, the you that is still inside and untainted by anything any abuser has tried to put on you, the you that the Divine Being dreamed before time began.
Your happily ever after awaits. It won’t be free of trouble or of the cares of this life, but it is waiting there for you, there on the other side of your nightmares. And you can find it. If today that happy ending seems too far away for comfort, take a deep breath and say a prayer of thanksgiving—thanksgiving for your inner strength and thanks for the strength of others who will be there to support you when your own strength gives out.