I was told that my mother was a lovely woman; Callista was her name, meaning most beautiful. And she was the most beautiful. Her hair was a deep, dark brown, and she wore it flowing over her shoulders, claiming pins and clips made her scalp hurt. Her eyes were a pale blue, with little flecks of green, like fish in a pond. She was a baroness, a widow, her first husband had died a month after marrying her. They said my mother could’ve gotten any man she wanted; she was that gorgeous. She could have married a prince, for goodness sake! Which is why it still baffles me that she chose my father. He had no noble blood in him; he was simply a peasant who had been sent to work in the castle. She had been roaming the castle aimlessly, when a door burst open suddenly, whacking her in the face and causing her to tumble to the ground, passing out.
When she woke up, a young, foolish, apologetic face was peering down at her. Though she had no idea at the time, that boy was my future father. His name was Egeus. When I was little, I would sit and listen to the servants tell me the tale of the time my parents first met, and how it was love at first sight, how everyone in the court thought it was scandalous, but how my parents didn’t care, and blah blah blah blah. I never understood how my mother, if she really was beautiful, smart and clever, could’ve fallen for my father. Maybe my father was different when he met her. Maybe he was wonderful; maybe he was handsome and smart and caring. But for some reason, I have a hard time believing that.
My father has despised me from the moment I was born. My mother died giving birth to me; they told her she would, but she didn’t care. She loved me enough to sacrifice her own life. You would think that my father would think of me as a part of my mother that was left here on earth, something worth dying for, you would think he would love me, just like my mother did. But no. My father chose to look at me as the thing that killed my mother.
I was told that for months, he didn’t even come into the nursery to see me, didn’t inquire about how I was doing; it was like I didn’t exist to him. After my mother died, my father moved us into a new home, a large house just inside the borders of Athens. Without my mother, he didn’t feel he belonged in her home anymore. When I had grown old enough to talk, I remember asking my nanny, a large, blond, rosy–cheeked woman, where my father was. I learned at an early age that my mother was dead; it caused me no tears, because it is impossible to miss someone you have never known. But I would spend hours crying, throwing temper tantrums because I never saw my father. At the time, I believed that someone was restricting my father from seeing me, because why else would he not be here? I loved my father, though I did not know him, so I simply assumed he loved me too, and that he would not be staying away from me willingly. I was a foolish child, and as I grew, I soon gave up that idea.
I started my schooling at age seven, as most children did. My father had gotten me a private tutor, one that came to my house. But I was not stupid; I had seen other children walking to the schoolhouse down the road. I refused to listen to my tutor, I screamed and punched and bit him until he quit. At first, my father was furious with me. But I finally got my way, and got to go to school with all the other children. That was where I met Helena.
The very first day I went to the school, we were all standing in line. I was standing behind Helena, though I didn’t know her name at the time. There was a little boy standing in front of her, who kept turning around and calling her names. Now, Helena has always been pretty, but her self-esteem is lacking, so her beauty was always hidden behind her self–doubt. Her nose always had a downwards tilt to it, her eyes a bit red, and a bitter expression always rested upon her face. So this boy was taunting her, again and again, saying stupid things. Now if it were me, I would have given him a good punch to the face, and told him to shut his mouth, but Helena wasn’t like me.
After about the third insult, I saw her lower lip quiver and her eyes began to tear up. So I pushed Helena aside, and told that boy that he better shut his mouth, or else. He smirked a little and asked me, “Or else what? You’re going to hit me?” So I did. Right in the eye, too. I was so proud of myself, that I wasn’t really paying attention when he hit me back.
A few hours later, I was sitting on a bench behind the schoolhouse, holding some ice to my swollen lip, when I heard footsteps behind me. Turning around, I found it to be Helena. She was standing awkwardly behind me, her wispy ash brown hair falling in her face and her lips pursed tightly. When she said nothing, I turned around again. A few seconds later, she sat down next to me. We sat in silence for a few moments, until she spoke.
“You’re quite the little vixen, aren’t you?” She said wistfully. I looked over at her, to see if she was joking, but the expression on her face was solemn.
“I suppose,” I replied back with a giggle, “though no one’s ever said that to me and meant it as a compliment.”
“Yes, well….” Helena said, her voice trailing off as she looked at the ground.
“I’m Hermia,” I said, standing up and attempting at a curtsy, but since I was still holding the ice on my lip, it was a very awkward curtsy. Helena giggled, then stood up and did a graceful curtsy of her own.
“Helena,” she said back. We stood there for a minute, her in a curtsy position, me holding ice to my lip. She straightened up, and smoothed her tunic out. “I suppose I should thank you for what you did.”
“It’s no problem,” I smiled at her, “He deserved it.”
And ever since then, Helena and I have been best friends. Our friendship was not a typical one, nor a very loyal one. But ever since that day, we developed a bond that is deeper than any normal friendship. I soon learned that Helena’s home life was very similar to my own. She lived with her mother, who disliked Helena immensely. Helena was never good enough for her mother, just as I was never good enough for my father. But where lack of love made me defiant and strong, it made her bitter and self-doubtful. If my father were to slap me across the face, I would scream and bite his hand. If Helena’s mother were to slap her across the face, she would shrink back and bit her lip to try to keep the tears from falling.
Of course, as we grew older, most of our childish qualities faded away, and we helped each other strengthen our weaknesses. I no longer got into unnecessary fights all the time, and Helena grew stronger, and cried less. Our appearances changed also; Helena shot up like a beanpole, whereas it seemed like I had stopped growing completely. Her skin was always the most pale white, and mine had a slightly darker tint to it from being outside all the time. But even then, I was always considered the prettier one. One evening, when we were about sixteen years of age, we were taking a stroll in the garden, Helena quizzing me on the history of Athens. She was always the most intelligent, whereas my mind tended to wander a bit.
“Hermia!” she scolded, after I had taken off my hat for the fifth time and thrown it into the air. “Are you paying attention at all?”
“Of course!” I said, fishing my hat out of the pond.
“And you should keep your hat on!” She reprimanded me, bending down and plucking it out of the water.
“I don’t like the way it ties! I feel like it’s choking me,” I whine, taking it from her. “Besides, now it’s all wet. I’ll go back to my house and get a new one.”
“Fine, but hurry. I’ll wait here.” She sat herself primly on the bench under a tree, her head downwards as she studied her books. I raced off to my house, running through the streets. I passed a lady who was taking a walk with her friend, and ran around them, narrowly avoiding them.
“Running is not for young ladies!” She called after me in a screechy, annoying voice. I looked behind me while running, to make a face at her, and crashed into someone, causing me to fall over.
“Are you alright?” A voice said, and I looked up to find that the person I had crashed into was a boy my age. He had dark brown hair, and his eyes were a rich, chocolaty color. He held out a hand, which I took, and allowed him to help me up.
“I beg your pardon,” I said, brushing myself off, then doing a quick curtsy, “but I’m in a bit of a hurry. Thank you!” I called over my shoulder as I ran. I still remember the expression on his face as he watched me run away. His brow was slightly furrowed, with a hint of a smile on his lips. Some may have called it an amused expression; but I like to think it also had a tad bit of admiration in it. I didn’t know it then, but that was the boy that I would fall madly in love with.
After I had retrieved a new hat, I made my way back to the garden.
“Sorry it took me so long,” I called as I turned the corner, “I just -” I stopped speaking abruptly. Helena was gone; the bench she had been occupying was empty.
“Helena!’ I called out, feeling slightly worried. I hadn’t taken that long, had I? Besides, even if I had, Helena wouldn’t have left. She would have waited for me, then scolded me when I returned. I searched the garden for any trace of Helena, calling her name, but I found no trace of her. When I finally realized Helena was nowhere to be found, the sky was dark, and I had to race home; even so, I still got in big trouble for being out so late. I couldn’t sleep that night. I tossed and turned, worried about Helena. But I found out the next morning I had no reason to worry.
“I know and I’m sorry,” Helena told me with a smile on her face, “but I met the most wonderful boy. He saw me sitting in the garden and walked up to me and asked me how come a fair maiden like myself was sitting all alone, and I told him I was waiting on a friend. And then he said ‘Oh what a shame,’ because he was wondering if I wanted to go on a walk with him and I said that it sounded lovely, but I don’t go on walks with strangers, so he said, ‘Tell me your name and then I’ll tell you mine, and then we won’t be strangers anymore.’ So I told him my name and he told me his. Guess what it is?”
I opened my mouth to guess, but Helena cut me off with a wave of her hand.
“No, don’t, you’ll never guess,” she continued in a dreamy, lovesick voice. “It’s Demetrius. Oh, just saying it out loud gives me the shivers. He’s absolutely wonderful; don’t you think he sounds amazing?”
Actually, I thought he sounded a bit big-headed, but I didn’t dare tell Helena that. I just let her keep talking.
“I’m telling you Hermia, he’s so handsome. And charming, too. Oh! And did I tell you? He’s thinks I’m beautiful! Me! Can you believe that? It’s almost too good to be true!”
And that was when it started. Helena and Demetrius. For weeks, he was all she could talk about. Every chance she got, she would sneak away to be with him. It was such a sudden change in her personality, I couldn’t tell if I liked the new, love-struck Helena, or the old, uptight, weepy Helena better. Both had her pros and cons. The new Helena was definitely lighter and happier. But she never would shut up about Demetrius. The funny thing was that you would think, after hearing about him nonstop for weeks, that I would feel like I knew Demetrius. But every time I asked Helena what he was like, she used words like wonderful, amazing, charming, handsome and exciting. So it was hard for me to create a good mental picture of him.
More weeks passed, and I still hadn’t met Demetrius. Every time I asked Helena if I could meet him, she changed the subject. I had the feeling she didn’t want me to meet him, though I had no idea why. But Helena was my best friend, so I felt obligated to meet Demetrius. What if he was a creep? Helena was fragile person, and I didn’t want her to get hurt. So I made a plan.
The next night, I stayed up. I sat on my bed in my nightgown, willing myself to stay awake. I listened carefully until I could hear my father’s snores from the next room. I slid off my bed, my bare feet walking silently along the floor. I reached for my door and slowly turned the doorknob. It stopped; the door was locked. I cursed to myself silently; then smiled. My father really was an idiot if he thought that locking me in my bedchamber was going to stop me from going outside.
I tiptoed over to my window and undid the latch. It was dark outside, the moon peeking out from behind some gray clouds. I swung my right leg over the windowsill; then my left. I looked down at the ground; then instantly jerked my head back, taking a deep breath. I had never really realized how far up my room was. I took another deep breath, and then before I could chicken out, I pushed off the windowsill, and fell to the ground.
It all happened in a split second; one moment I was flying through the air; the next I was laying flat on the ground, dirt in my face. I laid there for a second, I guess in shock; then I slowly pushed myself up into a sitting position. I spat out the dirt in my mouth, and then brushed off my face and my nightgown the best I could. I stood up and started walking in the direction of the garden. You see, Helena had told me earlier that Demetrius had plans to meet her in the garden tonight. So I was going to sneak out of my house, go to the garden and spy on them.
I had just entered the garden, when I heard footsteps. Alarmed, I quickly hid behind a bush. Too late, I realized it was a thorn bush. I attempted to extricate myself out of the bush, but the thorns had snagged my nightgown and arms. I wrenched my arm away from the thorns, and then jerked back, freeing myself, and tumbled out of the bush, landing on my back. A startled yell echoed along the walls of the garden, causing me to whip my head around. To my surprise, I found a boy standing there, but not just any boy, the boy. The one I had run into, with the dark brown hair. He stood there for a minute, his mouth open and eyes wide. Then recognition slowly began to sink into his face; he closed his mouth and a slight smile crept onto his face.
“Oh, it’s you,” he said, walking towards me, and offering me a hand. “You scared me.” I grabbed his hand and let him pull me up, my face burning.
“Now why does this seem so familiar?” He asked me with a grin. “Do you make a habit of falling over?”
“No,” I answered with as much dignity I could muster, “you’ve just caught me at bad times, that’s all.”
“Speaking of time,” he replied, “don’t you think it’s a bit late for a beautiful lady like you to be wandering around?”
“I could say the same for a gentleman like you,” I snapped back, my face still a bit hot from the embarrassment and that he had just called me beautiful.
“Now,” he said, smiling, “let’s not get upset, I was merely wondering if you were out here for the same reason I am. My name’s Lysander, by the way. And yours?”
“Hermia,” I said, sinking into a curtsy, “and, why, may I ask, are you out here?” I sat down on a bench, and he sat next to me.
“Well -” he said after a pause, “it’s a bit embarrassing, actually.”
“Embarrassing? I’m the one who just fell out of a thorn bush in my nightgown,” I joked, blushing.
“Yes, that’s true,” he agreed, “although I must say, I had no idea it was possible to fall to the ground and still make it look so attractive.”
My cheeks got hotter and hotter and I bit my lip to keep a smile from taking over onto my face.
“So the reason I was out here,” he continued, oblivious to my flaming face, “is – well -,” he paused, “have you ever heard the tales of how there’s fairies living in the woods, and at night, they come out to play?”
“Yes,” I nodded. Telling tales about fairies was a favorite pastime of Helena’s and mine’s; or rather it used to be, when we were children.
“Well, my mother has always believed in fairies. She told me all about them all the time when I was younger. I must have heard each of her stories a thousand times. But only recently, she’s fallen ill. She’s so sick, she can’t even leave the house.” His eyes clouded over when he said this, and I could feel his sadness emanating off of him. I reached out and placed my hand on his shoulder, which seemed to jolt him back to what he was saying.
“So every night, when I come in to say good night, she pulls me towards her and asks me to go out at midnight and catch her a fairy. And I know, it’s just the sickness talking, but I still come out here and walk around. I don’t expect to actually catch one, but I just -” He broke off, and smiled crookedly at me. It was a smile of many emotions, of slight embarrassment, of hope, but mostly of sadness.
“I think that’s wonderful,” I said softly. He smiled at me, the sadness lifted off of his face.
“Yes, well, I’ve only been doing it about a month. Hopefully, she’ll get better soon. So, why are you here at this late hour?”
Lysander’s question brought me back to the reason I was in the garden. Helena and Demetrius would probably be here any minute.
“Um,” I stuttered, “Well, to be honest, I just needed to get outside. I was having a hard time sleeping, and I figured fresh air would be good. But I might have went a little overboard with the dirt,” I said, gesturing to my dirty nightgown.
“Maybe,” Lysander agreed, a twinkle in his eye. “You’ve got a little dirt right here,” he said, his fingers brushing off my cheek. His touch sent a million shivers down my spine, and I feared he could hear my heart beating; it was that loud.
“Thank you,” I said softly, sounding out of breath.
“Hermia?” Lysander asked suddenly sounding serious.
“Yes?” I replied, trying to match his tone.
“Where do you live? Perhaps I could come over sometime and we could go on a walk or something, if you would like?”
“Oh, yes, that sounds wonderful!” I quickly gave him my address, and then we bid each other good night. I listened to his footsteps fade away into the distance. I focused on breathing and trying to slow my racing heart. I had only been sitting on the bench for a few seconds with my eyes closed, when I heard my name.
Startled, I opened my eyes to find Helena standing in front of me, an expression of surprise and annoyance on her face. Next to her stood a muscular boy, with dirty blond hair and striking dark blue eyes. I jumped off the bench and tried to look surprised myself.
“Oh! Helena! Hi! What are you doing here?” I asked with feigned surprise. Helena crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes at me.
“I told you I was meeting Demetrius here,” she said slowly.
“Oh, right. I completely forgot,” I lied, slightly uncomfortable by the way Demetrius was staring at me, “Well, I guess I should go, I’m getting tired. Good night.” I turned to go away, when Helena spoke.
“No, it’s ok, Hermia. You can stay for a little while. This is Demetrius. Demetrius, this is Hermia.”
“Helena’s best friend,” I added while curtsying, which made a little smile appear on Helena’s face.
“Hermia,” Demetrius repeated. I hated the way he said it, like he was testing it out to see if he liked it. I also hated the way his eyes seemed to wander from my face. “A pleasure to meet you,” he said, smiling, I guess, politely, but his smile creeped me out.
“Yes. Well, I really should go.” I said uneasily. “Good night, Helena.”
“Good night,” she said back, stepping forward to give me a hug. I hugged her, then quickly began to walk home. The clouds were swirling in the sky, and the wind danced around me, blowing my hair into my face. I walked faster and faster, then broke into a run. I could feel in the air something bad was going to happen.
The next day, my suspicions proved to be true. After sharing a wonderful walk with Lysander, I returned home to find Helena sitting by my front door, sobbing her eyes out.
“Helena,” I ran towards her, alarmed, “What on earth is the matter?”
She heaved a couple times, her breaths shaky, and when she tried to speak, all that came out was a wail. She buried her face in her hands, and her whole body quaked. I gently led her inside, then wiped her tears and got her to calm down a little.
“Helena, it’s alright. Would you please tell me what’s the matter?” I asked her, putting my arm around her and looking at her with concern.
“De – Demetrius,” she choked out after a few tries, “He – he, said he hates me and – and -” Helena was cut off by a fresh, new wave of sobs.
“Shhh,” I told her, wanting to hear what she was going to say, “keep going.”
“And he says he never wants to see – to see me again and, and that I’m too clingy for him. Why would he say that?” Helena asked me, staring at me with pleading, watery, eyes.
“He’s a bastard,” I spat out, my jaw rigid.
“No, don’t say that!” she protested. “I love him!” But this only caused her to cry harder. I spent the rest of the day comforting Helena. By the end of the week, you would’ve thought she had run out of tears. But, no, she cried for two weeks straight. I think this was the point in my life where I really grew up. Between taking care of Helena and seeing Lysander, I had no time to get into fights, yell at my father, or sneak out in the middle of the night. I felt I needed to be more responsible for Helena, because she needed me. And I will admit, I started acting more proper, as so to impress Lysander. Before, I was more like a child, here was where I grew into a lady.
However, some parts of my life just got worse. Only three weeks after Demetrius had dumped Helena; he came to my house and, since I wasn’t home, ended up talking to my father. He told my father he was interested in courting, or dating, me. And lucky for me, my father practically fell in love with Demetrius. He decided Demetrius was just what I needed.
“But I’m in love with Lysander,” I told my father calmly, trying to keep my voice level.
“I don’t give a damn who you’re in love with!” My father roared, losing it. “You’ll marry who I tell you to, young lady, because you’re my daughter and you need to start acting like it!”
“Marriage?” I cried, shocked. “Who said anything about marriage?”
“You’re eighteen years of age, it’s about time you get married. Most girls are married around the age of fifteen!” My father glared at me.
“I think we can agree I’m not like most girls.” I glared straight back at him, not bothering to keep the hatred out of my voice. For a moment, he just stood in the doorway and stared at me, fury in his eyes, his chest heaving up and down
“I blame myself for raising a devil-child,” he said, letting his words echo in my mind as he left the room and slammed the door behind him. I bit my lip, then threw myself down onto the bed, where I broke into sobs. But I had no good reason to cry just yet. I still got to see Lysander for the next two years. And even though Helena still obsessed over Demetrius and Demetrius wouldn’t leave me alone, I had my Lysander and that was all that mattered. It was only three years later when my father decided to do something about this “devil-child” of his.
But that’s another story.