As I mentioned last week, I’m reading a new-to-me series by Jessie Donovan about the Stonefire British Dragons. Interestingly, I found this series through Facebook ads, so in case anyone was wondering, they work. I’m always willing to give a new author a whirl around the dance floor, especially when they write about dragons. The original premise of this series, and the title of the first book, is that human women are Sacrificed to the Dragon. In a clever twist on the trope of virgins being slaughtered for the sake of appeasing horrific monsters (and gods), in this version, willing human women (not virgins) who have been found to be compatible with dragonmen for the purpose of procreation, trade their bodies as baby-making entities in exchange for dragon blood, which has miraculous healing properties. Now, one cannot look too closely at this premise, as it has holes bigger than a Mac truck, or maybe a dragon, but if we gloss over that caveat, then it works. In the second book, Seducing the Dragon, the female protagonist seeks protection against dragon hunters who want to kill her in exchange for becoming a dragon-shifter’s mate. Again, the construct is rickety, but if we go with it, the book is fun and sexy.
These plots inspired me to think about what we humans are willing to do when we’re desperate. I know I’m not giving anything away when I tell you that both of these women, one a sacrifice and one a seductress, end up getting their HEAs with their hunky dragonmen. But what got them there in the first place was the gift of desperation, one desperate to save her dying brother and the other desperate to save herself.
In the 12-step Rooms (as the meeting places for Alcoholics Anonymous and all of its spin-offs are called), they talk about the “gift of desperation.” This refers to the (usually horrible) circumstances that lead an addict to contemplate the need for recovery. In many (although not all) cases, folks who stumble or crawl into the Rooms have hit “rock bottom,” and are aware—somewhere in their addled brains—that if they don’t change their ways, the only outcome is insanity or death. J.R. Ward describes this phenomenon through the character of Phury, who is a drug addict. Phury spirals downward, slowly and then faster and faster as he circles the hole in the toilet, contemplating the event horizon from which he will not return. Spoiler alert—Phury gets help and gets his shit together but only thanks to utter desperation.
It seems paradoxical to call desperation a gift. Desperate people aren’t stable. Nor are they rational. Desperate people get that way because they have lost something, like a lover, a job, their homes, their families, their wealth and/or their health. Desperate people understand what it is to look in a mirror and feel such self loathing that it makes the hatred between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump seem blasé. Desperate people don’t believe there is a way out of the mess they are in, whether it’s one of their own making or a situation that fate has foisted upon them. And desperate people, as a result of their desperation, do desperate things.
Desperate deeds can be described as something we would never contemplate doing if we were in our right minds. Like signing up to be sacrificed to a dragon we’ve never met and having his dragon baby. Or not drinking when we can’t really imagine life without alcohol. Or maybe telling someone how we really feel, because we figure we have nothing left to lose. Or, in the best cases, surrendering the fight because we just can’t fight anymore, and accepting the reality in which we are living, which is the first step toward meaningful change.
That last desperate act—accepting a reality that does not conform to our fantasies—is probably the hardest, most desperate thing we can do. It’s the moment we accept that our mate isn’t as smart, or capable, or attractive or interesting as we thought—or at least hoped. We’ve all been there when the honeymoon is over, and we are left with the realization that our better half is actually no better than we are, but equally imperfect and damaged by living our lives. And then there is the equally horrifying moment when we realize that they feel exactly the same way. But from there, lasting relationships can be by built on a solid foundation.
Even more desperate is the act of accepting ourselves. For those of us of a certain age, there comes a time when we realize that we haven’t yet changed the world, and given the lateness of the hour, it may never happen. We must accept the reality that our bodies are bigger, slower and less energetic than they used to be. And when we butt up against that reality, some of us do desperate things to negate a reality we don’t want. Like buying a muscle car and having an affair with a younger woman, which really reeks of desperation like nothing else.
But the gift of desperation can also lead us toward the light—not the one we will supposedly see when we finally depart this mortal plain, but the one at the end of a long, dark and lonely tunnel that isn’t a freight train. When we are willing to contemplate actions that seemed anathema before we were desperate, we just might find absolution, or relief, or freedom from the bondage of self. The man who changed his terrible eating habits because of a heart attack might discover that clean eating feels amazing. The woman who takes up exercise to lose dangerous belly fat might learn that a runner’s high is better than that second glass of wine at dinner. We might find out we are stronger and more courageous than we knew, more creative than we hoped, and more attractive when we live authentically instead of projecting a persona we believed others would want.
Desperation is indeed a gift, although we may only be able to acknowledge that in hindsight. While we’re feeling it, desperation can be desperately uncomfortable. And it would certainly be nice if we didn’t have to go to such lengths to do things that turn out to be the best things we could do, but often, that’s what it takes. So like Jessie Donovan’s sacrifice and seductress, I will be grateful for the gift of desperation. And for authors who write about dragons. Because dragons are always a gift.