Because she was raised in a place and time that provided limited options for women, by a father too terrified himself to defend her, and a mother who taught her that love is weakness, that power is everything, that feelings get in the way of the true purpose of life, that she would never be good enough. A mother who physically and emotionally abused her.
Because even so, she grew up believing in love and happiness, not caring for the status and power so dear to her mother. Because she fell in love with the stable boy and dreamed of running away with him, and her greatest goals in life were love and freedom, the opposite of the poison her mother fed her from birth.
Because she saved a little girl without a second thought, and her mother knew she would.
Because she watched her mother brutally murder her lover, and lost all hope of loving or being loved for the rest of her life, and was forced to marry a man more than twice her age who literally could have been her father, who spied on her and manipulated her and treated her like an embroidered doormat, just pretty enough to walk on as he ruled the kingdom, who gave her no purpose and isolated her from the rest of the world. Because still she tried to hide her rage and pain from Snow White.
Because her anger kept her sane through all of the abuse, and even though she opened the tavern door with so much hope to meet her soul mate, she slammed it closed and ran with even more terror because who could ever love her, and how would she live without the only feelings that had given her life purpose since Daniel’s death?
Because it took years of careful manipulation by Rumpelstiltskin, and Jefferson, and Dr. Frankenstein, and Cora, and Leopold, and so many others to turn her evil.
Because she cast a curse out of vengeance in which other people couldn’t control her mind and body the way they had, and realized her victory was empty.
Because she chose to adopt a child and loved him enough days after meeting him to risk everything she’d gained to keep him safe. Because she was a thousand times better at being a mother than Cora ever was, and still she recognized she had been wrong, and let him go for his own good.
Because she had nightmares about everyone exacting their rightful revenge, and was held and tortured to the brink of death, and sacrificed herself and her happiness again and again for Henry’s safety, and everyone else’s, all without expecting anything in return.
Because she is often suicidal, but always somehow manages to find the desire to hold on.
Because her sister tried to steal her heart, and so she gave it to her soul mate for safe keeping, literally at first, and figuratively a few days later.
Because she decided maybe she and Snow White could have a heart to heart.
Because she got her son back with true love’s kiss, and waited for one terrifying moment for him to reject her, as if he’d do anything but cry Mom and give her a hug.
Because she may have separated Snow White and her first child, but she saved the life of her second.
Because she spared Zelena’s life.
Because despite her mother’s poison and all of her loss, she has still found a way to be open and vulnerable and trusting with the people she loves most.
Because she never thought she’d find love again, and even though she did, she had to be told that it was real to him before she’d believe it for certain, and even though it broke her heart, she helped save Marian because she wanted to be able to be proud of herself, and she wanted to be someone Henry and Robin could love and respect.
Because, despite what she might say, she still has hope after everything that’s happened to her.
Because, even though Emma inadvertently caused her more pain, Regina found a way for them to be allies, and friends.
Because her genuine smile is breathtaking.
Because she was so surprised that Robin could choose her, and so unsurprised that everything fell apart moments later.
Because she has experienced nothing but pain for much of her life, and despite her anger and her cruelty, the first thing her pain did was make her kinder, encourage her heart and soul to love more fiercely, as it has begun to do again. And even though she does not love herself as she should, even though she fears she cannot ever be happy, she still manages to hope that she might be wrong.