By: Lisa Lai
At her wedding, Cinderella was the happiest of all. After all, she got married to her Prince Charming. But now, a year later, she feels the kingdom holding its breath, hoping for the next invitation to the castle. She knows what she must do, and that is to bear an heir. There’s just one problem.
She doesn’t want to.
And nobody asks what she wants.
But it is her duty… right?
She doesn’t know who to talk to; her only real friends are still mice. And besides, Jaq and Gus wouldn’t understand. So Cinderella represses her inner turmoil.
Suck it up. It’s expected of you. You have to carry a child. And a son, at that.
But with every day, Cinderella becomes more and more agitated, unable to concentrate on her tasks of cleaning up after her husband. (Her husband signed the No Maids Bill, sympathetic to Cinderella and her past. But Cinderella finds herself doing the same things– sweeping, mopping, washing– anyway… like a maid. She does not enjoy being the angel of the house. Why can’t she be the one to rule the kingdom?) Cinderella wants to talk to someone about how she feels about carrying a child, but she does not want to cause complications, or worse, have the whole patriarchal kingdom criticize and publicly shame her.
So she sucks it up.
One night in bed, her husband decides it is time to conceive. And what can Cinderella do? Say no? She does not sleep that night. In fact, she has trouble sleeping for months.
Nine months later, she gives birth to a baby girl. The whole castle and kingdom rejoiced, but Cinderella can feel her husband’s disappointment in not having a son. She feels bad for not fulfilling his wishes; he had done so much for her, from a new home to the No Maids Bill. And she couldn’t return the favor, couldn’t return what was expected of her.
She hates her baby, but most of all, Cinderella hates herself. She keeps away from people and does not talk to anyone for months. Her husband, too busy with interviews and celebrations with their daughter– his daughter, does not seem to notice. However, her mood is apparent when she visits her father, who still lives in the same dilapidated house she grew up in. (Her father, who believes in feng shui, refuses to relocate because the house and its rooms are “facing the right direction.”)
Finally, she breaks down, admitting that she has not felt like herself in a long time.
“It’s just sadness,” her father replies, “which will soon pass. Focus on being a princess and a role model.”
But Cinderella has been feeling “just sadness” for so long, both before and after the birth of her husband’s daughter. In fact, if she could recall, she had been feeling this misery ever since her mother died and her father got remarried to another woman who made her do chores everyday until her back bent.
Cinderella cannot stand bottling up her feelings anymore. She decides she needs help, to talk through her problems instead of feeling helpless and useless and that the whole kingdom hates her and that she’s not good enough to be a princess, not good enough to be a mother, a wife, a daughter, a person…
Fairy Godmother says it’s called depression.
“Depression?” Cinderella turns over the foreign word in her mouth. “What is depression?”
It’s what she is feeling– sadness, loss of interest, guilt. Why hasn’t she heard of this?
“There’s no Chinese word for “depression,” Fairy Godmother explains. “Asians tend to suppress and not talk about their feelings, which is why your father dismissed yours.”
“Why am I depressed?”
“It can be a multitude of things– gender roles projected onto you, unrealistic expectations and standards you were required to meet, your low-income background, the stigma of talking about mental health… a lot of things, really.”
“Am I the only one who feels this way?”
“No, child. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, among elder women of all other racial or ethnic groups, Asians have the highest suicide rate.”
Cinderella cannot believe her ears. “Why aren’t they getting help?”
“Many people learn from their parents early on to suppress depressed feelings and thoughts, so they internalize and never talk about them. In fact, some cultures, like Chinese, do not have words like “depression.” Also, for those who do seek help, they are not getting the best care; the current healthcare system fundamentally lacks cultural competence and understanding.”
“That’s shocking. I didn’t know that.”
“A lot of people don’t.” Fairy Godmother says matter-of-factly. She continues, “Child, thank you for confiding in me. It helps to talk to someone. I’m glad you are getting help, especially because statistically, Asians are three times less likely to seek mental help than Caucasians.”
“That is really disheartening to hear. But I don’t know what to do about it. Or frankly, what I can do. The kingdom is celebrating my daughter’s birth tonight at the parade. I’ll be busy until then.”
Fairy Godmother does not look as dejected as Cinderella. Whipping out her wand, she stands up and declares, “You can do something, child. I have an idea!” She turns and waves her wand at a potted plant nearby– “bibbidi-bobbidi-boo!”– and an elephant donning parade caparison materializes.
Cinderella gapes as it walks out the door.
“Now, you know the drill, child.” Fairy Godmother’s smile is as bright as the tip of her wand. “At the stroke of twelve, the spell will be broken, and everything will be as it was before.”
“What am I supposed to do with an elephant?!”
“Everything will be clear soon. You go get ready now.”
“Wait! I need some courage. Wave your wand at me.”
Fairy Godmother looks perplexed. “Why, child, you don’t need any of my magic to be courageous. Besides, I’m afraid my spells won’t last forever. You’ll need bravery to fulfill the rest of your dreams.” And with that, she whisks Cinderella out the door.
Several hours and two diaper changes later, Cinderella sits patiently on her bed, her sleeping daughter in her arms. She had finally gotten the newborn to stop crying– apparently, even after giving birth, it is still her job to care for the child– and is waiting for her escorts to her parade carriage.
Suddenly, a scream pierces the air, followed by successively louder shrieks. Alarmed and annoyed, as the baby is now crying again, Cinderella goes out into the hallway into the kitchen from where the pandemonium seems to be coming. She can’t believe her eyes.
In the kitchen is Fairy Godmother’s elephant.
Cinderella sees her husband running into the kitchen on the other side of the hall, looking as bewildered as everyone else.
“What is going on?” he demands, gesturing wildly at the elephant. “Get it out of here now!”
“We tried, Your Majesty. It swung its trunk aggressively at us.”
“Try harder! We have to move in three minutes!” Eyeing the elephant in distaste, he stomps out, heels clacking against the floor.
The elephant stomps out after him.
Her husband turns around frightfully. “Get it away from me!”
That’s when it hits Cinderella.
She strides purposefully toward her husband.
“What are you doing?” he hisses at her. “Don’t come any closer. It’s dangerous!”
She ignores him. “I can get rid of it for you.”
Her husband releases a breath of relief. “Oh, thank you, my d–”
“But in return, I want to rule the kingdom alongside you.”
For a while, he stares at Cinderella, who can sense a divorce coming. Has she made her situation worse?
Then he says, “Of course. Yes! I thought you hadn’t wanted to. But can we talk about this more later? We’re on a time crunch for our daughter.” He winks at the crying child.
Cinderella barely remembers calling Jaq and Gus to scare Fairy Godmother’s elephant away; she is too busy imagining everything she will do once she is queen. For starters, she will advocate against the stigmatization of mental health. Fairy Godmother’s statistics must change. Then she plans on providing access to mental healthcare for everyone, especially women of Asian descent like herself. Nobody has to go through what emotional turmoil she endured. At the thought of her potential impact, Cinderella feels more hopeful; her future doesn’t seem as bleak anymore.
I did it!
Fairy Godmother was right. Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo couldn’t give her the courage she already had to self-advocate. Her godmother made her see that it had been in her all along.
The parade went on without a hitch, the entire kingdom in joyous celebration, and within the next week, Cinderella is coronated. Immediately, she goes to work, poring over paperwork in the throne room, which, much to her husband’s bewilderment, she had accessorized with potted plants. Well, buried under work, she can’t explain them anyway, even if she wanted to. And she doesn’t want to.
Much to her bewilderment, Cinderella gets distracted occasionally by her newborn, of whom her husband still does not attend. It seems she’s going to have to draw from her courage again to confront Prince Charming about her unfair assumed gender roles around the castle. But if her self-advocacy (and of course, talking to her Fairy Godmother), lifts some of her depression she still carries, Cinderella knows that she could have her happily ever after, physically and mentally. And for real this time.