Today is my sister Sarah's birthday. She is 30 years old! A lot has changed in her world and so far she has blossomed into a very capable and independent young woman. I wrote this piece after reflecting on Sarah's life and how she copes with change.
When Sarah feels sad, she thinks about “Xena: Warrior Princess”. Thinking about Xena makes Sarah feel warm and safe and well...happier. There was a time when “Xena: Warrior Princess” was just a passing interest. Something to watch and enjoy but nothing more. Then Sarah’s life began to change and she sank deeper into the ridiculously camp mythical Grecian world of an outdated television show. Xena was there, just when Sarah needed her. Slowly, as the need grew deeper, Sarah was plunging headlong into that world, creating never ending ripples of ideas and interests and dreams. Because Sarah’s own world was coming to an end.
It had happened before; the end of her world. When Sarah was 21 years old her father left her mother. In fact, it was right amid her birthday celebrations that her family unit split apart, just as everyone had come together to toast her adulthood. Her large family of half sisters and a half brother, aunts, uncles and cousins, all present and completely ignorant that it was to be their last family celebration. Mind you, there were those strange hints in her father’s speech and the strained mood from what was unsaid. More of a wake than a birthday party in the end. It was as if her Dad could only hold on until that day she was 21. Which was typical really. So old fashioned of him. He had always told Sarah how special she was. His “special princess”. His “special blue-eyed girl”. His “special blue-eyed-down-syndrome-princess-girl”. Sarah rolled her eyes even at the memory of it. She would tell him she didn’t want to be special. She didn’t want to be Down Syndrome. But she was. Is. And then he left. She still shook her head if she ever thought about it. Which wasn’t often anymore.
When her father left the biggest change was in her mother. Her mother cried and cried. Her mother opened the floodgates to all the grief from her past and like a weeping goddess statue, she sat and quietly cried for a very long time. Her mother told everyone that she had been traded in for a younger model. Replaced. But Sarah wondered what she had been traded in for?
If she were a part of “Xena: Warrior Princess”, (which of course, in her head, she was) she would fit right in. It’s world of magic, freaks, super heroes, gods and goddesses. Down Syndrome wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow. In “Xena: Warrior Princess” friends are unflinchingly loyal, women can protect themselves in any situation and adventure is ever present. Like Xena, Sarah could fight. She has karate classes every Friday. Like Xena, Sarah could be loyal and true. And Sarah could laugh and clown around and dance. She has drama class every Saturday. In Xena world, Sarah would be special for who she was and for what she could do - not because of her disability.
When her father left, a part of Sarah shut down. Her mouth. Talking and eating. She reduced her food intake to only chips. Salt and vinegar chips. Only a few salt and vinegar chips, everyday. A whole packet would last her a week. She got thinner and thinner and sicker. Her tummy got swollen like a malnourished starving child. Protein deficiency and then pneumonia. The doctor told her she would have to change her diet. Sarah thought about that and agreed. She promised that she would change her diet. From now on she would eat bbq chips.
But that was years ago. She had come through all that and even got fat again. Big, giggly, happy Sarah. And then it was her mother shrinking and growing thinner.
Some facts about “Xena: Warrior Princess”. The main character, Xena, is played by the actress Lucy Lawless, a tall statuesque brunette. Xena’s best friend and side kick, Gabrielle, is played by Renee O’Conner. It is a spin off show from the television series “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys”. The television series was filmed in New Zealand from 1995 -2001. There is a mishmash of supernatural, mythical, historical and sometimes religious themes and an underlining lesbian subtext. It is corny and camp and badly acted. At first, Sarah only watched re-runs of “Xena: Warrior Princess” on the television in the afternoon. She couldn’t believe what a great world she had stumbled into.
When they told her that her Mum was dead, Sarah punched the wall. She had seen that in TV shows and it seemed right. That very morning, her Mum had helped her to get dressed and ready for the day. Her Mum had struggled from her sick bed, laid out her clothes and seen her off to her drama group. By the time Sarah got home, her Mum was dead in the bed. Sarah went outside and rang her Dad. Then she went to the shops and bought some vodka cruisers. She had seen that on TV too. Her world had ended. And another was to begin. In this new world, Sarah was to be grown up. Independent. Blossoming. Her Mum’s voice would remain in her head, telling her what to do. But mostly it was just Sarah alone with her thoughts.
There are six seasons of “Xena: Warrior Princess”. Sarah bought them all on DVD. Her Mum would not have approved of that. Then Sarah went to the hairdresser and got her hair dyed from blonde to black and cut to be just like Xena. Sarah’s Mother would not have approved of that either. For her birthday she had a Xena party where she dressed up in costume and danced and played Xena themed games. When her sister took her to their Mother’s grave she stood there and told her Mum all about the party. All about how much she had laughed and danced. For a day, she had been Xena, and life was great.
On Wednesdays, a carer comes to help Sarah to do some house work and to do some shopping. Sarah buys “V” drinks. They are made in New Zealand. And grapes. They are Lucy Lawless’ favourite fruit. On Thursdays and Fridays, Sarah goes to work at her administration job. Her boss had to talk to her about her eating habits. She was eating with her hands, like Xena. Even yoghurt. She is not supposed to think about Xena at work. Saturday she has her drama group all morning. They are rehearsing a play where Sarah plays herself in a scene where she has been riding a horse with Lucy Lawless and has injured herself. In the evenings Sarah is alone.
Sarah has twenty exercise books to write in and seven folders full of paper. She also has smaller booklets labelled for each main character in “Xena: Warrior Princess”. She writes about every facet of the show: the characters, the Greek myths, the actors who play the characters, the actor’s family histories, New Zealand, where it is filmed and Ancient Greece, where it is set. She has maps, lists, even quiz questions. “Xena” is not a narrow world confined to six seasons on DVD. Sarah has created a forest of ideas where every tree is of the “Xena” species, with branches and offshoots that create an overall canopy of safety.
One folder holds the story where Sarah is Lucy Lawless’ twin sister. (Identical). It is an elaborate world where she has even thought up the articles New Idea would write about her: ‘With a new baby on the way, Xena star Sarah Lawless has vowed her son Draco will not be forgotten. Sarah Lawless plans to proceed carefully through the potential difficult times ahead, when she brings home a new baby, because she doesn’t want to trigger any turmoil for her son. The Xena Warrior Princess star has admitted frankly to friends that since becoming pregnant she has thought long and hard about the psychology of her ten year old. “Draco has been through a lot more than other kids his age. He’s had a mother pursued by fans all the time and that alone can be threatening.” Sarah told friends.’
Sarah’s father visits on Friday afternoons. He sometimes brings her flowers. He still calls her his special princess and sits at the table while she makes him a coffee. Then he goes. After that, Sarah goes to karate.
When Sarah writes about Xena, she feels all the emotions; she is completely there. Suspending disbelief isn’t even an option because there is no disbelief to suspend. There is no line between the real world and the Xena world. There is just Sarah’s world. Her belief is always suspended. She can’t believe her Dad left. She can’t believe her Mother died. She can’t believe she isn’t Lucy Lawless’ twin sister.
Sarah’s favourite project is the feature film she is writing called, “Mother Love”. In this story, Sarah is Lucy Lawless’ daughter. Her father is Kevin Sorbo (from the original television show “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys”), who dies in a car crash, which she witnesses. He then appears throughout the story as a ghost. They move to Texas where Sarah is bullied at school. Her mother’s best friend is Renee O’Connor (the actress who plays Xena’s best friend offsider, Gabrielle, of course) is her babysitter and number one source of support.
Men come and go from this world making women pregnant then conveniently disappearing. The men prove themselves to be unworthy of the women’s love through drug addiction, alcoholism, unfaithfulness or death. The women then turn to each other,f all in love, have relationships and bring up their children. In the climax of the script, which has 78 scenes, Sarah almost dies. But in a dramatic and passionate scene, it is her Mother’s love for her, Xena/Lucy Lawless’ love for her, which has the power to bring her back from the brink of death.
Sarah’s heart is ensconced in an infinite expanding universe of fractal-like intricacies based around an absurd television show from nineties. All reality lines are beyond blurred - they are completely smudged – and her world will never end again. The laws of her Xenaverse are that men provide children (sometimes twins!) but nothing more. They are either drunk, disappointing, drug addicted or dead and then conveniently disappear. Women comfort, love and support each other and a Mother’s love can defy death.
When Sarah feels sad, she thinks about “Xena: Warrior Princess”. Sarah thinks about “Xena: Warrior Princess”, in one way or another, all the time.