Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Princess, a Villain, and the Story a Suicide Stopped Too Soon

by Beth Saadati

“Every story has a villain because yours does. You were born into a world at war.”
–John Eldredge, Waking the Dead

Once again I googled Jenna’s name.

Stop torturing yourself, I thought. She’s been gone for a few years. You’ll never find anything new.

Sometimes it’s good to be wrong.

In wonder I stared at the screen then clicked on the link.

There it was. Brightshadow. An early forty-page version of Jenna’s book I hadn’t realized she’d published online. The precursor to the unfinished 58,000-word sci-fi/fantasy tale my fourteen-year-old girl would download from her laptop to mine the day before she died


Without hesitation or concern about cost, I grabbed my credit card and ordered printed copies my remaining family could keep. Then, sight fixed on the manuscript before my eyes, I skimmed pages to read the words Jenna had written in my real-life once upon a time.

                On any other day, Morgan would have fought back for all she was worth—but on this day she didn’t have any weapons besides her fists, and she wasn’t stupid enough to think she could overpower Keathan by sheer strength. Screaming for help was definitely an option, but something kept her silent. Unlike some people’s perception, Morgan wasn’t all sharp corners and harsh justice.
            “Go ahead,” she replied, her now-gentle eyes piercing through every layer of Keathan’s heart. “But if you really want to find true courage—and I believe you do—then I can swear to you on my life that hitting me until I’m half-dead isn’t it.” As she pulled herself to her feet, the last rays of sunlight glinted off her hair and face. Standing in front of her, Keathan halted his fist in midair. Light flickered over her slender form, and he wondered why he hadn’t seen just how beautiful she was before.

More than 2,000 viewers had met Keathan, Jenna's composite character of the boys who’d bullied at school. And the protagonist, Morgan, who was . . . her.

                “I bet you know how it feels when you want to cry yourself to sleep but you don’t because you think you have to be strong,” she replied. Keathan turned towards Morgan. “I’ll bet you know how it feels when you have so much pain that it settles down into a knot in the bottom of your gut and stays there for weeks at a time. I bet you know what it’s like when everything hurts so bad that you try to cry but you can’t.
            You know. The heart knows its own sorrow. And I’m sorry for calling you a coward that one time. You do have courage and you do have honor, but you don’t let anyone see it. It’s like you have a wall around your heart.”
            Morgan spoke quickly, for she feared her time to talk was short. “Something happened that hurt you, so you built a force-field around yourself so nothing could touch you anymore. But that’s not going to help in the long run. Because if you don’t take the risk of letting things hurt you, you’ll never be able to let anyone in to help.”

Through her writing, I could hear Jenna's voice. Her heart, so tender at its core, shone through the tale formed by the middle-school world where she’d longed to belong.

The page-scanning slowed as I soaked up each word.

                “I wasn’t going to kill her or anything,” said Jackson. “You’re just stupid and impulsive, Caleb Lenox. Besides, she was the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen. But she was just an orphan—wasn’t worth anything, didn’t belong to anyone in the village. Nobody would’ve cared.”
            “You lie,” said Caleb. “There are lots of people who would have cared if you did that to any girl. And you didn’t know who she was. All you knew was that she didn’t belong to this village.”

The story conveyed far more truth than Jenna might have known.

Far from being an orphan, she was a daughter of the King, a princess in disguise. 

But she had another enemy—one more hateful than a handful of immature peers—like all of us who’ve been born, often unaware, into a dangerous STORY, an invisible war.  

                Huddled into a ball, Morgan tried to scream as the shadow spotted her hunched in the corner. She had run away, for how long she didn’t know, but now she could run no longer. The shadow-man approached, its red eyes swallowed up in the crimson nothingness of her dreamworld. It came slowly enough so that Morgan could feel the incredible heat growing more intense with each step it took.
            “Go away from me,” she whispered, burying her face deep in her hands. But the Shadow only laughed and grew taller with her fear. Then it spoke.
            “Princess,” it rasped, “where are the other Norkkan?” Morgan did not answer. Fire coursed through her veins instead of blood. She had never known it was possible to feel so much heat and not be incinerated. Sweat poured off her, pooling and making little rivulets on the floor. Red haze exploded in her vision, clouding her mind, causing her head to throb in perfect time with her heart.
            “I don’t know!’ she yelled at last. “Leave me alone.”

The scene, reflected in other stories that draw us in--whether The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Wars, Cinderella, or Lord of the Rings--was terribly right.

There is a villain who comes to steal our identity, kill our heart, and destroy our life.  

               “We lost the battle.”
            A rat scurried into the darkness at the echo of Morgan’s voice. “I’m a prisoner in Vyrgran’s dungeon. If only that were the worst,” she murmured, the words turning into silent sobs. Morgan rested her head on her knees. Then the door opened with a low groan. Into her narrow world stormed Morgan’s greatest enemy—Vyrgran, the evil tyrant. Sinister glee danced across his face when he observed Morgan was, at long last, broken.
            “So, how goes it for you now, princess?” he asked, running his fingers through her hair. Morgan didn’t move.
            “Just leave me to die,” she whispered. “I’m your worst enemy, after all.” There was a tiny plink as a diamond-shaped tear fell to the floor. Vyrgran saw it and chuckled quiet.
            A strange, disconnected thought flitted through her head: How could things have gone so wrong?

How could things have gone so wrong?

That question may haunt me for the rest of my life. After all, Jenna loved and understood STORY—perhaps more than any student, minus one, that I’ve taught.

She knew about interweaving plotlines and obstacles to be faced.

She knew the best stories contain complexities that unfold over time. 

She knew the necessity of character growth and theme.

And, she knew the protagonist gets wounded in the battle but triumphs in the end—often through things foreshadowed yet unforeseen.
                Morgan caught herself with her burned hands and winced in pain. Then she felt hands under her shoulders, strong hands that lifted her up and set her gently back on her feet.
            “A princess should not go unattended,” the voice said. It was a boy-man’s voice. At first Morgan thought it must be one of the servants and turned to thank him. She found herself staring into his eyes—eyes that did not belong to any servant in Moriasta. There was no possible way she could ever mistake those green-gray, sea-colored eyes. She had seen them only once before, but she would never, could never forget.
            “You came,” she whispered. “It’s you. You’re here.”

If only she'd remembered her real-life story was still being written, with chapters yet to come, instead of stopping it too soon. 

And held onto the hope that the King does, in time, show that he's here and prove his promises true.


  1. Dear Beth,

    I sit here crying after reading this post. Happy tears that you have the words of your daughter to trace your fingers over; the words that Jenna's fingers keyed as she wrote her story. And I cry tears of sorrow for your loss. Once again, you see a reminder of a life ended too soon.

    I celebrate as well as mourn with you. Until you see Jenna's sweet face before you in Glory, know she loved you and Jesus so very much.

    1. I'll forever be thankful for the words and stories Jenna left behind, as bittersweet as they may now be. Thank you, Robin, for your heartfelt words and precious tears. I'm grateful for you.

  2. What an incredible writer and storyteller Jenna was! So thankful you found her work online and could hold her words close to your heart. Thank you for your transparency, even in the midst of your pain. I love you and pray for you.

    1. Writing--and telling--story was Jenna's gifting, passion, and joy. Thank you, Vonda, for reading her words. Much love to you, my friend.

  3. Beth, thank you for sharing Jenna's powerful words. She had a talent imbedded in her spirit far beyond her years. These words were meant to speak to someone. I'm so broken-hearted to think of your pain and hers.

    1. It's my hope that Jenna's story will speak to others. She would want it to. Thanks for reading what she wrote, Tina, and thanks for your kind words.

  4. Her writing is enthralling. Wow. Thank you for sharing it!

    A sweet friend recently told me she's started replacing "It's going to happen" with "It's happening.” Chapters are going to be written. Interweaving plotlines and obstacles are going to be faced. Complexities that unfold over time, character growth and theme are going to happen. The protagonist is going to get wounded in the battle but triumph in the end. It’s going to happen. And… it. is. happening. Love you, sweet lady!

    1. I love what you wrote. I've been pondering these deep, thought-provoking words for a few weeks. Thanks for this, Mary. You're a special kind of amazing. :)