Around a year ago, I was listening to a woman who has been in an abusive relationship for twenty years. In those twenty years, she has hung on bravely. She has done everything she can to love the man she is with. Yet, the up and down never stops. The abuse stops for small stretches of time and her hopes rise. But here she is once again, the cheating, emotional, narcissistic abuse once again in full swing. I’ve watched him control this ride for all these years, fueled by his own self-hatred and bitterness. And as I listened to her, these words and vision flashed through my mind, although I didn’t speak them out just then.
“Only you can get off the carousel.” Those words sent an electric shock through me. And I knew they were for more women than just her.
The following is my attempt to capture the vision and words that flashed through my mind.
There’s a picture in my mind. In this picture there’s a carousel in the distance. It stands in a field of tall grasses, dusky and shrouded in fog. The light from the carousel is faint but inviting.
Now the carousel is closer. How the lights and mirrors and gold pillars gleam! The music spills out so merrily. The colors whirl and swirl. The fantastic beasts slide up and down the poles in rhythmic cadence. A man and a princess run onto the carousel. You can hear the laughter as they go round and round. The lights twinkle and the music plays and they dance among the whirling animals. It’s a beautiful fairytale!
The man lifts the princess onto one of the beasts. Laughing, she holds out her hand, inviting him to ride with her. But, oddly enough the man shakes his head and steps back. She is puzzled, but shrugs. As long as he is with her, all is well.
Or is it? After a long ride, the carousel hasn’t stopped. Feeling a bit dizzy and sick from the motion, she calls out, asking him why it won’t stop. He comes close to her and she wonders why he is so unaffected by the motion and why he seems unconcerned that they aren’t stopping. He laughs at her and she feels silly for feeling sick. She smiles back bravely and assures him that she will be ok if it only stops soon.
He moves away. She calls for him. He moves further away.
“I must have made him angry by asking why it isn’t stopping. He probably feels bad that it isn’t working right. After all, it was his idea and he’s doing it all for me. Why was I so insensitive?”
She calls out that she is sorry. Several times she calls how sorry she is. The carousel slows. It doesn’t stop, but it isn’t whirling as fast. He comes back to her. He forgives her. Graciously and beautifully. He loves her. Life is good again. She asks him to help her down.
“WHY WOULD YOU WANT DOWN? I PLANNED ALL OF THIS MAGICAL EXPERIENCE JUST FOR YOU. WHY DON’T YOU APPRECIATE ANYTHING I DO FOR YOU?! WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?
He storms away and the carousel spins crazily. Stunned, she hangs on desperately. The lights and mirrors whirl and the sobs choke in her throat along with the bile in her stomach. She has never felt so sick. What is happening? She begs and pleads for it to stop.
It stops with a jerk and she falls onto the carousel floor, too sick and dizzy to stand. She sits up and looks around. Everything tilts crazily, she can’t see straight. But she sees him. He is sitting, off of the carousel, in the center, by the controls.
“Thank you for stopping the carousel!” She cries, “Come help me get up and lets get away from here! Something is really wrong!
WHAT DO YOU MEAN, SOMETHING IS WRONG!? YOU ARE WHAT’S WRONG! YOU ARE SO WEAK! YOU CAN’T HANDLE ANYTHING. LOOK AT THIS BEAUTIFUL RIDE I MADE JUST FOR YOU. I DO IT ALL FOR YOU AND YOU ARE NEVER SATISFIED!
He OWNS the carousel! She staggers to her feet and starts to run.
“Princess! Darling! Where are you going?” He runs to her and grabs her.
“I don’t want a carousel,” she begs. “please, I have to go!”
“But I can’t live without you! I need you, your love heals me. Stay with me. You are my beautiful queen! Stay here on the carousel with me. I won’t start it again unless you want me to. I promise!”
She sighs with relief and surrenders. She must have only imagined it that he was so angry with her. They dance together to the softer music. Then she feels it. The carousel is moving beneath her feet! She pulls back and cries at him to stop! “You promised!”
“But what about what -I- want, princess? It is not all about you! I love this ride! Don’t I matter?? I don’t matter to you, do I? Who OWNS this carousel, you or me? That’s right! I do! I’m going to help you not forget that!”
He jerks her onto an animal and the ride whirls to life. Up and down! Crazy speeds. She can’t catch her breath. She hangs on for her life, convinced that if she lets go, she will fall to her death. She hadn’t noticed before how high the carousel was above the rocky ground.
“Help me. Somebody help me!”
“You are such a joke! Nobody can hear you. The music is too loud. Besides nobody would believe you. After all, look at this beautiful ride that I made just for you. They will know that only an ungrateful servant would run away from this. You are no princess! You are a servant. A mere peasant! You are so delusional.”
She must have done something to deserve this, she thinks to herself and holds on dazedly. Sometimes the ride stops when she begs with the exact right words and she tells him what he wants to hear. He makes promises. He convinces her he’s doing what is best for her. He convinces her she’s not strong enough on her own. She thinks if she could just love him in the ways he needs, he would love her enough to stop. For that is what he tells her. But her love is never enough.
She sees that the lights and the mirrors have created illusions of splendor. She hears the music and it sounds ominous and threatening. The colors bleed. The carousel never stops long enough for her to get off. The days and years run together as she simply tries to survive. She whispers, “Help me.”
Then in the darkness outside the carousel, she sees a figure. She peers into the fog and mist, trying to see it every time she whirls past. The figure comes closer. It is a woman on a horse. Another whirl around. This time she sees that it is a queen. Fierce, proud, regal. She carries a sword.
“I heard your whisper for help, princess.”
“Yes, please! Help me! Stop the carousel so that I can get off!”
“No, I can’t stop the carousel. Only HE can do that.”
“But he won’t!”
“Then do something! Make him stop! You have a sword. MAKE HIM.”
“That is not what the sword is for.”
“Then how will you help me!?”
“I can only help you if you let go and jump.”
“JUMP!? Are you crazy?? That will kill me!”
“You won’t die.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I jumped too.”
For the first time the princess notices the scars the beautiful queen carries. She stares at the queen every time the carousel comes back around to her. She studies her. The queen’s eyes are kind. But they burn with a fierce strength that seems to flow into the princess despite the space between.
“Only you can get off the carousel.”
The princess looks down. The ground is far away. It rushes and swirls beneath her. She glances at the man in the center. His eyes glow at her in triumph. Just to show her his power, he flicks the controls to set a faster pace to the carousel. The princess looks at the queen again and at the ground. “I can’t do it.”
“Ah, but you can princess.”
“But he won’t let me go! He will come after me!”
The queen smiles and for the first time, she draws her sword. “I know darling. But that is what the sword is for.
The sword gleams and in it is engraved one word: “TRUTH”
The princess looks back at the man. “Please stop! I love you!” She begs and pleads.
He laughs at her and the ride hurtles on faster than before.
It is then that the princess realizes: He will never stop and she will die here, no matter how much she loves him.
She looks back at the queen, sitting quietly on her horse, waiting.
She closes her eyes. The ride whirls. The music threatens. The colors bleed.
She opens her eyes, locates the queen.
“Only you can get off the carousel.”
She takes a deep breath. And jumps into the darkness.
She lands hard. It hurts so bad she thinks she’s dying. She is dazed, bruised, and bleeding. She hears the man yell in the distance and the sound of pounding feet.
“This is it.” She thinks. “This is how I die.” With no more fight left in her, she closes her eyes and waits.
But nothing happens. There’s an odd peace all around her. Slowly she opens her eyes and sits up. There is soft light. And surrounding her on all sides are queens. Swords drawn, ready to fight for her.
Hands reach to help her. Hands reach with love and tenderness. Hands with hope and healing in them. Strong hands. Scarred hands. Gentle hands.
“Only you can get off the carousel.”
Friend. If you recognize this scene a little too well, this one is for you. No matter what your story, get off of the crazy ride. No matter what you’ve been told, dying on the carousel does NOT have to be your destiny! Jump darling! You are so much braver than you think.
There are people who will fight for you. But you have to get off in order for them to do so. It is gonna hurt like hell breaking loose, but if you have survived countless years on the carousel, you are going to survive the jump. Healing won’t be found on the ride that is making you sick.
And to the ones who have jumped off the carousel…. you are brave, beautiful, and fierce. You who champion others into freedom with you… how I love and admire you. I see you. I’m there with you. Carry on my queens. You have most certainly earned your crowns and your swords.