Shadowed Femininity

A dream within a dream. If I were her…

In my dream, I wake to a day of expanse. Perhaps expanse is insufficient a word? Spaciousness? That might be more suitable. Because as I wake, my chest feels light and airy.

The sky is fully visible, not obscured by latticed bars. I am alone to wander the carpeted salon, lounge in the marbled bath, sip endless glasses of tea. No one is waiting for me to officially begin my tasks. No important business awaits my attention. The missing burden leaves room to breathe, as if I’m sailing, inhaling salty sea air.

I am alone. Have I said that? It is very clear in the dream.

Ah, yes. In my hazy dream state, I’ve left everyone at the summer home on the other side of the water. I’ve returned alone. A day of expanse, spaciousness, and silence. 

It is a good dream. 

Instead, I wake to people. So many people. The room where we sleep is pitch-dark, so it is unclear whether today will be sunny or cloudy. I am rushed. They want me dressed and settled in the salon before visitors arrive. Some may know a woman sits on the divan, but for those who don’t, it’s best to not be seen, best to not assault their fragile egos. After all, a woman will decide their fate.

Another day with a routine that has worn a rocky path on my soul. 

My seven-year-old grandson now sits on the throne, and it’s my third time playing this role—the one who rules without recognition. A regent for rulers.

First, it was my beloved son, who came to power as a minor and afforded me influence I had never known. When he died, I thought I might join him, crushed as I was under the weight of grief, but as the Sultan’s mother, there was decorum. Things were expected, and things were afforded to me. 

Like money. I had lots of money, and it was expected I would commission projects around the city. How could I have known this would be the gateway to newfound independence, as I traveled to supervise the progress? I would see things I couldn’t unsee, yet rectify injustices with the flourish of a pen. I rather liked the power I received as his mother. 

And so, when I had the chance to install my younger son to the throne, I took it, not considering how he would lead. Not expecting he would banish me from his ear and then, from the palace. My divan remained cold; political scandal grew wearisome; and I grew older.

Now, in my role as his grandmother, I find myself weary of making decisions for the empire, fully aware of how callously they might disregard me. Hopeful of neither praise nor gratitude, I serve at the pleasure of the young Sultan and his mother. For a while. History will show that they kill me for my opinions, for they resent my power.

You do not know me, although I was not alone on female-held thrones across continents that century. We held power and wielded influence, yet we were cloaked in darkness, concealed in shadowed corners of harems, and hidden behind the curtained divans from which we governed. They didn’t want to need us, but they did. And they hated us for it.

We were threatening, and therefore, threatened; eventually, we were silenced and killed.

I am Kösem Sultan, one of the most influential women in Ottoman history, and I am deeply alarmed that you, my dear sisters, know of what I speak. That the black night of feminine influence did not end in the seventeenth century. That my story is not unique. 

Yet I am also relieved. May I say that? I am relieved that in your century you might draw back the curtain, shed light upon shadows, and fill the blank pages of history with the truth that must be mined. We were there. Will you find us? Will you find me?

Because I have to wonder, if in finding us you’ll find more of your own story. For if you follow a thread, do you not eventually discover a tapestry?

Beth Bruno lives in Colorado where she and her husband lead a team of ReStory™ experts at Restoration Counseling Center. Additionally, as a podcaster, author, and content strategist, Beth guides women to raise fierce and lovely teen girls. When she’s not creating something new, she and her family enjoy the mountains, traveling, and good food.