Once upon a time...or maybe it wasn't just once. Maybe this story has happened over and over again since the dawn of time...because this story is about loosing oneself and then finding oneself again...
There once was a girl-child who was born to a very poor couple. The father was a farmer and a hard worker but often nature wasn't friendly to his crop and so the family struggled to afford the necessities of life. The mother was a gentle soul with a friendly smile and a warm laugh. She cared for the home and took in laundry from the local village for a little added income. Well, this girl was the most beautiful child ever born, so beautiful that despite her poor circumstances, her shabby clothes and thin body, others couldn't help but stop and pour praises over her. Unfortunately the King's daughter, a rather dull looking girl, didn't take well to the thought of someone else receiving the praise she thought she deserved. After all, she was the princess. She should be the most beautiful girl in the land. Out of jealousy the princess paid an evil witch to cast a spell over the beautiful girl. One day when the girl was playing outside alone the witch, disguised as a fair maiden, bent down to offer her compliments to the girl but instead poured a magic potion over her head. When the potion ran down her strawberry blond locks and onto her face, hideous scars appeared. She was no longer the beautiful girl with rosy cheeks and a fair complexion. Her face was now twisted and deformed. The princess was very pleased with herself and went about making certain everyone now bestowed their attention upon her.
Now although the girl was badly scarred her heart was still full and wise. The witch may have deformed her face but the potion didn't rob the goodness from her heart. At first she didn't realize her looks had changed, she was so young and innocent. But with time she began to notice others withdrawing from her. Her family, in an attempt to spare her from the ridicule of others, kept her locked in their cottage, only allowing her to breathe the fresh air and run freely through the woods when the night was dark and the moon was out. The girl became tired of only seeing the world in the light of the stars and she missed the companionship of other children so she devised a plan, a plan that would allow her contact with others but would protect her from stares and jeers. One evening while all the other children were at home in bed, their blankets pulled to their chins and dreams filling their heads, the girl went about gathering soft green leaves and fragrant flowers and made herself a mask. The next day she tied her mask tightly around her face and dared to step from the house.
With the mask over her face the girl was like a forest nymph, charming, mysterious, delightful. Her scars were hidden, covered by glorious, colorful blooms. All the children of the village were enamored by her and all the adults were relieved to be spared the uncomfortableness of having to divert their stares. The girl was once again the most popular and well loved child of the village. And the princess was once again furious. She tried desperately to get others to see that this was only a mask, that below the greenery there were still hideous scars. But the villagers were too charmed by the beauty and fragrance of the mask to pay much attention to the princess's exclamations.
Now even though the mask offered the girl more freedom she never forgot who she was underneath, she never forgot the scars. And because she was afraid of loosing the friendships she had gained since creating the mask, she swore to never remove it in the presence of others. Only once a day would she allow herself to remove the mask long enough for her face to receive fresh air and sunlight. Every evening around 5:00, while the other children were at home eating their suppers, the girl would sneak away to the river hidden deep in the woods. Once there she would squat on a rock by the water and slowly, gently, remove the mask. It was only here, in the woods sitting next to the music of the river tumbling over the rocks, that she felt safe enough to reveal her true face. It was only here that she didn't worry about what others would think. She knew she would never risk allowing others to see the real her ever again. What might happen if she removed the mask? Perhaps others would withdraw again. Perhaps they would laugh. Or perhaps they would look at her and believe she wasn't special.
One evening while sitting beside the water, lost in thought and allowing the sun's heat to kiss her skin, she noticed something unusual in the waters. There, down in the silver dark, mingling with the rocks and the fish, was another girl. She couldn't be certain because the girl was so far away, but she could almost swear she saw a face looking back at her. The image was gone so quickly that she knew it might be possible that her eyes were only tricking her. The next day, when she returned to the river she searched in the depths for the girl, hoping to catch one more glimpse of her. Sure enough, after wandering alongside the riverbank for some time, she finally spotted her. The river girl was so very tiny but there was no denying her silver radiance. Yes she was there in the water, shimmering and glowing. The girl was mesmerized. Now every evening she could hardly wait to return to the river and find the river girl again. She spent her day behind her mask, playing with the other children, but she spent her evening with her new friend, her masked removed to reveal her true self. And it seemed that with every visit the river girl became larger and appeared to move closer to the surface. Finally there was a day when the river girl was so close the girl knew if she reached her hand out she would be able to touch her. But as soon as the river girl saw the girl's hand coming towards her she darted away.
The next day the river girl was once again very close to the surface. This time the girl didn't try to reach for her instead she tried to talk to her. "River girl, please don't be afraid. I won't hurt you. Every day I come here just to see you. You're my best friend. You're the only one I'll allow to see my real face. You're the only one I'll allow to see my scars. Please don't be frightened." The river girl appeared to smile at her but then quickly disappeared. The next day the girl tried to talk to her again. "River girl, please don't be afraid. You're my best friend. You're the only one I'll allow to see me without my mask. You're the only one who knows what I really look like." Again the river girl smiled and this time she didn't disappear. She stayed there at the surface staring at the girl. The girl was excited but tried her hardest to contain her joy. She didn't want to scare the river girl away. The two of them remained locked in each other's gazes for what seemed like forever. Pretty soon the girl noticed something about the river girl. Whenever she would smile, the river girl would smile too. Whenever she would lift a hand to her cheek the river girl would do the same. Whenever she would brush a curl from her brow the river girl did so as well. Whatever action or movement the girl did the river girl did the same. The girl was so intrigued by this that she almost didn't notice when the river girl reached a hand out of the water and tried to grab her. The river girl grabbed her by the arm and begin to pull her into the water. The girl was terrified and began to fight. She tried to pull away. She tried to push the river girl back into the water. Finally the river girl noticed the girl's fear and released her arm. The girl jumped up, threw her mask back on and ran home, her heart pounding wildly the entire way.
The next day the girl almost decided not to venture to the river. But she truly loved the river girl and her heart depended on this one time a day when she would allow herself the luxury of removing the mask. And so, despite her fear, she went to the river. Again the river girl appeared. Again she smiled and again she moved in the same manner as the girl. This time when the river girl reached for the girl's arm the girl was ready. She braced herself and instead of fighting asked the river girl, "What are you doing? What do you want? Why are you trying to pull me into the water?" For the first time the river girl spoke. Her voice was soft and melodic, so gentle and kind that the girl felt no fear. The river girl responded, "Beautiful one, I'm not trying to pull you into the water. I'm trying to pull you into me. Don't you recognized me? Haven't you noticed that when you move, I move. Bend down, look closer into my face. Years ago we were separated by the cursed potion the witch poured on you. I am you. If you will trust me, if you will plunge into the water and grab a hold of me we will be reunited and you'll never have to wear your mask again. You'll never have to wear it because although I can't heal all your scars once we are reunited you won't be afraid to let others see what is under your mask. You won't be afraid because your scars will not be near as obvious as my silver shimmer and glow. Just trust me." Well part of the girl wanted to, but another part was scared. The river girl did shimmer and glow, she did seem loving and gentle, but the water was dark and murky, cold and deep. The girl wasn't a very good swimmer. What if she drowned? The thought of inhaling so much cold water frightened her so she pulled herself loose from the river girl's grasp and ran home.
That night the girl had a dream. She was standing at the riverbank, her mask resting on the rock beside her, when the jealous princess came up behind her and pushed her into the water. The current was swift and she didn't have the strength to fight it. She tried to swim towards the bank but her muscles grew tired. She tried to reach out for a fallen tree branch to float on but everything was too far away. Her body was exhausted and she began to slip under the current, the water covering her, filling her nose and lungs. She couldn't breathe. She was drowning. She looked up into the sky and noticed her own self kneeling beside the water. Her scarred face was gazing down at her with a smile. The girl found just enough strength to reach up and grab on to herself. Just as she was about to be pulled to the surface she woke up.
The next evening she returned to the river and as usual, when she knelt by the riverside, the river girl was waiting for her. She had carried her dream in her heart all day and although she was afraid she knew what her had to do. She knew that the only way she'd ever stop hiding behind her mask was to join her scars with the river girls silver shimmer and glow. She knew the only way she'd ever allow others to see her true self was to rejoin herself with the part of herself she'd been separated from by the princess's jealousy. The girl looked deep into the water, into the river girl's eyes. She felt herself being wrapped in the river girl's silver shimmer and glow and knew she had found herself. The river girl was telling the truth. They were one and the same. She carried the scars; the river girl carried the radiance. They had only to be reunited to both be complete. She tossed her mask to the rocks, took one deep breath, and plunged into the dark cold water.