Long Live King Edward VI

Grace Campbell

Ill-fated, ill often, teen king. Son of that bloated tyrant who hacked up a few wives, you’re pretty much all I’ve got right now. Fifty eight minute BBC documentaries that number in the dozens. I watch your brief life story play out again and again. I get to the fiftieth minute and push the button backward on the youtube frame so I can start watching the brandy voiced orations of the narrators wander again through Hampton Court and Windsor Castle. The camera pans outward to sixteenth century sylvan Britain. Wild stag. Centennial oaks bleeding their branches out into skyscraperless vistas. And some modern version of a lute melody I have heard four or five times in the past 24 hours soaking the scenery in the sound of history.

The end credits roll upward and I start to feel the fray of anxiety tightening my throat so I scan the sidebar with its endless row of thumbnail suggestions for the next. Will it be Medieval Foods, Part One? Or The Unknown Prince John, The Royals Best Kept Secret? Or will it be Isabella and Margaret: Forgotten Queens of the Middle Ages? Maybe this time I’ll branch out to Last Days of The Romanov Dynasty or Jenny Jerome: Mistress, Heiress, Mother of Winston Churchill.

If there were a niche Jeopardy game show for legacy families, monarchs and anglophiles I’d be a straight ringer. It turns out when you no longer feel capable of doing anything other than lying in bed, you can become a wizard at almost any collection of knowledge in a very short amount of time. Especially if youtube spoons this into your depression-heavy noggin one hour at a time.

When he started to stalk me, two months ago, I stopped tossing a novel into my purse before leaving to take the kids to school. The first few days into the harassment, I thought there was no way it would last longer than a week. My body sank fast into the somatic recognition that my brain was tap dancing real hard over a pile of bullshit. I’d take the book out, open it up and stare at it. Then I’d think about what he had sent me most recently, and maybe why. Then I’d wonder how, how, how while I stared off at my kids on the school playground and told myself it was going to all work out fine through the knot of nausea. Of course it was going to be fine because he was my friend and he loved me. Everything was alright and alright meant normal and normal meant that I read a decent amount every day. I refocused on the book and stared at the same sentence like a plate of something you know is going in the garbage. Then I stopped bringing the books. Because I was ready to get back into bed the moment I got home where my body could act out how not-normal things were in the privacy of my own space. I would wake up in the clothes I had worn the previous day and I would not care.

He would have sent me another message. Maybe two. Sometimes three or four. He would condemn me for abandoning him. He would praise me and express his gratitude at having ever known me. He would remind me that he would never harm me. He would tell me he was crazy and that he needed help. He would tell me this was the final time I would ever hear from him again. He would tell me he was going to kill himself.

I blocked him from accessing me in every way I knew of and researched how to block him in order to find other ways that might be more effective. He would find me on these accounts using dozens of fake identities. He would tell me that this would all go away if I would only start talking to him again.

King Edward, to tell you the truth I kind of hate you. Your fifty eight minutes of reenacted life are that new piece I was going to write but I’m too exhausted and I no longer remember being the person that cared about writing. Your half sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, are that writing conference I was going to attend in Portland last month only I was still shaking from my preliminary hearing and the hours spent working up a dossier of documents evidencing the thirty or forty messages he’d sent me in less than as many days. They’re the costume I was going to start sewing for my kid’s halloween getup. They’re the pile of dishes I haven’t walled up my stomach to stand and attack. Your velvet, gold embellished garments are the book I can’t read and the laundry that sits in a damp pile at the bottom of my basement stairs.
But you have one thing on me, Edward. Your story is already done. Your story has been written and it doesn’t matter if you had your dissenters hung and disemboweled or that your half sister was a zealous Catholic who flung her rosaries in the face of your father’s newly formed Church Of England. Because at the end of fifty eight minutes the credits roll up and there’s no risk to anyone anymore, there’s no nugget of inconvenient truth left to ponder, there’s no call to action. There’s nothing but another fifty eight minutes where another family of power gets ground down by the mortars of God and politics.

I’m not jealous of your power and privilege. I’m not jealous of the fact that you could write in Latin by the time you were seven or eight. I’m not jealous of the seven course meals or all the chivalrous genuflecting. I’m jealous that my friends are still writing, signing books, going to conferences, plugging my other friend’s books, crafting schedules where they do things that spiral around their vocations and passions and livelihoods while I’m here feeling sick wondering if he’s sent me another message and if he will show up at my house and if he will kill himself and leave some note with my name written in pitiful venom.

But you know what, Edward, it’s not you, it’s me. Maybe I need some space. Maybe start seeing other people, I don’t know. You know, we’re just in different places in our lives, Edward. No disrespect. I mean, you’re a great person. Smart, charming, financially stable. It will all work out for you. Apart from the dying as a teenager thing.

My stalker reminds me again that he would never harm me. Again he tells me this is the final message. The subject of the newest message is actually titled “Final Message”. Until tomorrow. My stalker believes, even after I have told him repeatedly to stop, even after I have told him I’m scared, even after I have sent him numerous messages detailing how he is harming me, even after I have stopped communicating, that we are, in fact, communicating.

My stalker sends me messages relaying the events of his day. He tells me about mutual friends he has run into while at work. He reminds me that he would never harm me. My stalker tells mutual friends he’s not harming me because it’s only via the goddamn internet. I haven’t seen her in weeks’. My stalker imagines this will all work out in his favor provided he keeps reactivating accounts under false identities and messaging me and then immediately deleting these accounts in order to make it impossible for me to block him. He tells me he knows he should stop doing this to me, he knows it’s wrong. He tells me he will stop. Then he tells me he can’t stop. He tells me he’s deleted my email address. Then he starts to send me emails. Many emails. My stalker believes in communication and wonders why I won’t succumb. My stalker has chosen his regnal shield and it’s painted the color of communication. That is the word by which my abuse will be known. If communication is sanctified by self help and self help is akin to Godliness, then my stalker has manifest destiny at his behest. My stalker believes in divine right.

During the dissolution of the monasteries, Edward, your father rendered every Catholic-appearing relic idolatry. He enforced white-washing the walls of all the churches that were painted with frescoes that depicted saints. He blocked Catholicism on all his accounts, by all its identities, in every way that he knew and could execute. If God did not fit man, man refitted God. I wonder then, if people in hamlets and villages secreted away so they could practice their faith beyond Henry’s reach. I wonder, were they dulled into depression by the overreach of this new rule? Did they stare off into the gleaming, imageless sanctuaries and impress the memory of the vanished frescoes like bard song, back into life? Was this some measure of comfort? Did they press the back button and watch the whole scene again and again so that they could go home and execute their daily domestic rituals? So they could memorize the truth of their own faith despite the white nothingness by which it would be erased? Did they wonder if they would live to see the erasure end? Did they believe that God could not be remade by man?

They were wrong. Anything can be remade by the force of repetition. Ask any man.

Again and I again I go over the history of our friendship and I re-read the messages so I can remember how hard I tried. I scroll through the conversations where I laid out how and where and why I was troubled by him and how and where and why I begged him to stop. To back away. To show me the respect and care I thought were a given between us. Then I stopped. I held the truth of my experience white knuckled in my fist and I ran like a motherfucker and I hid. I could not make it stop. It would not stop. I wake up to more messages, sparkling in white walled perfection, devoid of any recognition that I had carefully drawn out detailed images of my needs and my fears and my vulnerabilities and my love for him and none if it is there.

He tells me that he is the victim. He asks me why I am punishing him. He promises to not send another letter in the mail. He says this is the last time I will ever hear from him. He says that I have abandoned him. He reminds me he is not harming me. He says that he has booked a one-way ticket to Japan. He says that I have forced him to do this to me. He tells me I have broken his brain. He apologizes for troubling me. He sends me another message. And another. And another.

I wake up in the clothes I have slept in. My floor is littered in dirty clothing. My house is littered in dirty clothing. The children have found a breakfast which seems to have included some kind of jam that is smeared along the countertop and the kitchen drawers and now my bathrobe as well. I tell myself to make coffee. I convince myself that I am not to blame for any of this. I commit to going to file a restraining order. I look at the clock and realize, from my other failed attempts, that it’s past the morning hour where the court stops accepting new paperwork. There is no one to watch the children anyway. There is no eighty five dollars in the bank account to pay for the filing fee. There is no one-hundred dollars to pay the sheriff to deliver the order of protection, provided the judge grants it. There is a quarter tank of gasoline in the twenty two year old minivan sitting in my driveway and four slices of bread in which to make my children peanut butter sandwiches for lunch that will not include jam since the remainder of it is on me.

Edward, I know you drank a lot of beer. It’s been said many times that ale was considered a necessary consumption because water was so unsafe. I feel like I might be at a point where I’m drinking close to the same amount you were. I also consider this a necessary consumption. I show up at the corner store every night and march to the back where the glassy wall of six packs wait like fifty eight minutes to deliver some numbed out glory that will end in a state I already have written. Where there are no risks, no pestering questions begging intellectual acrobatics, nothing but a clumsy lift into standing and a secreted little stumble into the bed where I will dream that he has come in the night and put a knife to my throat while he whispers the words I Love You and where he reminds me that he’s just communicating, like a good and loyal friend.

I will wake up to a message where he tells me he was an idiot for thinking he ever knew me. He will wonder why our mutual acquaintances don’t talk to him anymore and what on earth did I tell them? He will send these mutual friends messages where he says I have trigger issues and I’m deeply troubled. He will tell them he believes in communication. Problem solving. He will tell them there’s ‘more to the story’ than what they know. He will talk about himself in the past tense but reassure them he doesn’t mean to kill himself. He will end by saying he supposes he was a decent and good person and urge our mutual friends to take care of me. He will delete this account and he will take up another in yet another name.

He will not tell the mutual friends that he has sent another acquaintance eighty six messages of harassment from many different aliases and false accounts over the past six months. He will not tell the mutual friends that he has paid a spam service to send this other friend messages where he instructs the friend to just kill himself. He will not tell the mutual friends that this other victim of harassment was someone he saw as a threat to his capacity to be the closest person to me. He will not tell the mutual friends that he sent an ex girlfriend eight months of unsolicited and unreturned messages. He will not tell the mutual friends that he told her she was mentally unstable. That he apologized in each of his messages to her. That there was another woman before her. And another woman before that one. He will tell the mutual friends that he’s not good for America and that he’s booked a one-way ticket to Japan. He will be seen a month later at the corner of a downtown bar having a whiskey and a cigarette, a place which is decidedly not anywhere near Japan.

His narrative is a solid color. Shining, fresh, consistently monochrome. Nothing but white.

In a few days’ time he will be served with papers. His fifty eight minutes will be reaching the point where the credits roll. I will press the back button, rewind, watch to convince myself that I needed to do this. I will go through, minute by minute, in order to accept the reality that I was being abused. I will see the familiar gestures, the angle of the profile, the motion of the wild game moving across the landscape and I will try to remember what is familiar, and what is mine. I will secret myself away to repeat the incantations that repaint the narrative with the memory of how hard I tried. I will wake with the loss of him imprinted on my face like an expression I went to sleep wearing and I will not know how to right myself. I will arrive at the sanctum where I will have to reconcile the loss of a good friend with the stranger he always was. The person who enacted a well choreographed, perfectly concealed history of abuse. I will stand alone in front of that gleaming wall with the benefit of no images by which to help me understand how the two figures were one and the same.

I will awake in the clothing I have slept in and I will make myself a cup of coffee. I will force myself to strip down and take a shower and start sewing Halloween costumes. I will stand in front of the sink with the computer propped up on top of the microwave and watch the historian talk about the son of King Henry the Eighth but I will not be able to hear it over the sound of the running water. I will know that it does not matter. I have it memorized.

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