for My Dragon upon the occasion of his birthday, August 5, and for our wedding anniversary. i will only be able to relate our beginning this once because, for now, the ending is what haunts me most of all.
He was as beautiful as he was fierce. The Dragon’s soft hair had gone completely white, a bit prematurely as far as he was concerned, and all the accumulated years of distant battles were reflected in his brown eyes. His body was still powerful with muscles acquired from the gear he had carried over thousands of miles of jungles, deserts, and mountains, in crushing heat and burning cold. But his body also ached, so much at times that an audible groan would escape from between his lips. His eyes would go blank and his lids close against the torment. He never revealed to anyone how often his body reminded him of the abuse it had taken during those years spent as a warrior because he never let anyone close enough. He had become a dragon; presenting a tough exterior to the world he faced each day. He smiled benignly, but his smile had teeth.
People depended on the Dragon, asked him to do things, but no one wanted to get close, not for long. There was something about him. Women sensed the wildness that had been a part of his life and that now surrounded him with an indefinable aura. Men could feel his underlying authority and confidence. Many would make his acquaintance, for knowing him was a good thing, they did not become his friend. They would always end up being in the unenviable position of realizing they did not know all that the Dragon knew. Car engines, construction, plumbing, rock climbing, scuba diving, parachuting, mountain climbing, eating off the trail, rifles, guns, knives, the Dragon was handy to have around but he was not good for their egos. And eventually they all wondered how the Dragon had acquired so much knowledge about so many things, and what he had done with that knowledge that had left so many scars on his hands and body.
It was in the Dragon’s nature to be honest, efficient, and direct. His expectations of others were no less than what he expected of himself, and he was oft times disappointed by the greed he saw, the self-entitlement others exhibited, and a deplorable lack of honor that bothered him. This disappointment encouraged his reclusive nature. He felt he had no right to truly judge since during his career as a warrior he had done many terrible things sanctioned though they were. So like most dragons who had spent their lives protecting the treasures of the kingdom, he retired and accepted a life that might surely be spent alone.
The Dragon was forty-nine winters old now. During this last lonely year, he had grown to accept the solitary existence he had carved out for himself. He had tried once, much early on, to have a family, but the dream had become tarnished when his wife realized that when he said he wasn’t ready to give up being a warrior, he had meant it. He explained that his country still needed him but she called him a “monster” and threw him out. She had divorced him and left him with a soul in agony over the medals that now meant nothing to him but a body count.
Watching the years pass, his eyes missed nothing. He became quieter and more introspective believing that there would be no one for him to call his own. There would be no woman who would see beyond the scars to the true heart that beat inside. There would be no gentleness in his life, no small treasure of a woman to protect and love and cherish as a man was meant to do. He bowed his head and accepted that he was the monster so many had called him, and he turned away from the thought of love. But he never forgot it.
She had been born for the light. Her mind held dreams that she had once believed would be realized. She imagined designs and colors complex and rich. She envisioned using textures in fabrics, stained glass, and oils to create her visions. Her mind held words to express her philosophies and thoughts. And her eyes missed nothing. She would find the amber veins in a single petal that had fallen to the ground to die alone, separated from its stem. She might be the only one to watch a small cloud break apart from the larger collective only to fade into oblivion. And as for people, she would notice the flash of intense pain in the eyes of someone whose mask of bravado had slipped for the briefest of moments. She saw it all and felt empathy. Images, possibilities, the complex nuances in people fascinated her. She had been born an optimist, believing the whole world was waiting for her to discover it. Unfortunately for her, though, she believed in magic. She also believed in love.
Reality was a rude awakening. She was not the daughter her mother had hoped for. She was too studious. She was not the son her father had wanted. His sadness was etched on his face when he would look at his daughter and wish for a son. She was a disappointment to her parents and there was nowhere for her to go except wait to grow up and carry the knowledge of this failure in her heart.
She continued dreaming but now, she knew, that not all dreams came true. She stayed close to the shadows because she felt safer there as an observer. Her world was books, writing, painting, and stained glass, all of them silent, solitary pursuits. She stopped pointing out the things she observed. She stopped being surprised by anything anyone said or did. She stopped believing in magic.
But she continued to hold onto the idea of love.
At twenty, she had thought she was away. College. A job. But life was put on hold to return to the mother who did not approve of her. The young woman quit life to stay with her mother, waiting through six months of living in a hospital to be with her as she died. Through the long days and longer nights, she watched the light dime, hope fade, and sorrow shroud the tiny room. One day, it was over suddenly, quietly. One breath, then a long pause. One more shuddering breath, but the next one never came. Her mother never awakened to take it all back. Her mother never uttered four small words that would have healed the young woman. “I’m proud of you.”
Resigned, accepting that she would always have this unresolved, the young woman got caught up in the words of a man with dark eyes who said he loved her. He told her she was exactly what he was looking for. He offered her marriage. But after a very short time, she found that the only thing that lived behind his dark eyes was an abyss. In her innocence she had failed to see the avarice and ego that lurked there. She bore him two children and kept them safe from him while he kept his money safe, cutting her off from any escape. By the time her children were old enough to see with their own eyes, and understand from growing into young adulthood, they pushed for their mother to leave their father. The Three Musketeers tried to make it on their own, leaving behind a kingdom ruled by a man who believed that love was made of green paper.
By now she had lived her whole life as a disappointment to those who should have loved her. She knew the image in the mirror. She knew the one reflected on her soul. Knowing no average man would take on a woman with her baggage, she kept her eyes on her children, making sure they walked ahead of her. She protected their backs and gave men with dark eyes a wide berth.
A mutual friend introduced the Dragon to the womanNshadows. For him it was like having caught lightning in a bottle. He was attracted by the quiet sadness he saw in her green eyes. The honor that was part of his nature wanted to see her happy, to protect her so she could breathe. He liked the way the sun touched her white blonde hair and he knew her dimples could be deeper if she smiled more, laughed harder. The man in him wanted to be the one who gave her back the gift of joy. He could see it was deep inside her, lightness and whimsy. He knew people. He had not lived as long as he had by being obtuse about human behavior and character. He could tell she was a free spirit that had suffered something harsh enough to make her cling to the shadows she seemed to feel so safe living in.
He felt a stirring in his heart for the first time in a long while. He knew he would have to proceed cautiously. The warrior in him reminded himself that a woman from the shadows might not want a man who was capable of and responsible for so much violence in his past. But the dragon in him had clung to the idea of love and wanted to try for it, just once more. Maybe the free spirit inside her, the Dragon told himself, could be awakened so that she would see, not his scars, but his heart.
The honorable man that he was politely asked to take her to dinner one evening.
The woman unused to courting smiled as she quietly declined.
The warrior that he was, the one with the aura of worldliness and excitement that had always been attractive to women, was a little surprised.
The observer that she was saw the flicker of surprise that the warrior had thought was hidden. She quickly explained. “I don’t mean to hurt your feelings. It’s just that if I ever thought about going out with someone again, I want a certain kind of someone.”
He looked into sad green eyes. “What are you looking for in a man?”
She looked into questioning brown eyes and said softly. “I want him to be a dragon.”
He smiled, all the way down to his soul.
A dance began, a waltz between two people, one, a man who had turned his back on everyone and everything, and the other, a woman who had clung to the shadows in hopes that she wouldn’t be seen. But the man understood the stirrings of something permanent and earthy and the feelings of something profoundly eternal, and he turned to face the woman. She saw something in his eyes and it wasn’t darkness. It was strength and freedom, and something else. She thought she heard the rustle of wings. So the woman came to the edge of the shadows and allowed herself to be seen.
The Dragon enticed womanNshadows to come out from her self-imposed exile from life to see the world through his eyes. He showed her that she had worth and a love of living that needed to be released. He saw her, as she was, including her scars and he taught her to accept that he thought she was beautiful. He coaxed her to come close enough for him to envelop her in his great wings so that he could protect her and she could hear his mesmerizing words of love. He gave her back magic. He gave her his heart.
In turn, womanNshadows soothed the Dragon’s spirit and encouraged him to reveal his secrets. She listened lovingly to each one while holding his hands and after each of his stories; she would lift his hands to her lips and kiss each scar that marred his flesh. She eased his mind and calmed his spirit. She accepted his heart into her safe keeping and gave him hers. She scoffed at the stupid word “monster” which released him from ownership of it. She brought him laughter and gifted him with the name he had always known was his, but no one had ever seen in him much less accepted him for.
She called him, “My Dragon.”
She called him, “My Dragon.”
It will soon be the wedding anniversary for the Dragon and the womanNshadows, an anniversary that will be remembered by one alone. womanNshadows will pass the day looking up at a sky where dragons no longer fly and she will close herself off that night and hold the darkness at bay with the memories of a love that will never die.