Friendship, Guest Posts, Young Voices

Let the Dead Things Go

June 21, 2017
prince

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Allison Nowak

In the children’s book Le Petit Prince by Antoine Exupéry, The Little Prince is journeying far from his home asteroid, hoping to find understanding. He makes his way to earth and meets someone who shares a life-changing lesson.

The Little Prince has realized at this point in the tale that his asteroid rose, with whom he is in love, is just like the other roses he has discovered on earth. She had told him she was special, unique; but it is not true. The Prince feels distraught and confused. Just then, The Fox appears.

Hoping for relief from the pain, The Little Prince asks The Fox to come play with him, to which, The Fox replies: “No, I cannot; you have not yet tamed me.”

Curious and confused, The Prince probes at the meaning of to tame: apprivoiser.

“‘It is an act too often neglected’, said The Fox, ‘It means to establish ties.’”[1]

*

Christine was a very bubbly person. She had a sparkly, charming smile and that platinum hair, blue-eyed combo our culture so very much adores. On her best days, she would slip into clean-dyed American Eagle jeans, tucked into chestnut-colored riding boots, and a long, knit cardigan. I used to tell her she looked like a Christian Country singer. It made her laugh.

Our connection began in the frantic Facebook roommate search many high school seniors today are forced to make. Though it was only two years ago, I marvel at the weight we placed on creating the perfect college experience.

We eventually decided to meet face-to-face in the city; and, in that warm, bustling Starbucks, she seemed right. She was talkative, eager to befriend me, and held similar dreams. We were both in marching band and had had French teachers who exposed us to Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince. After about an hour of talking, I asked her if she wanted to room together. We squealed our acceptance.

*

“‘To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world.’

The Fox begged for The Little Prince to tame him.”

*

From the first floor meeting we missed together by oversleeping, to the first nervous night walk around our campus, the bonding began. It led to evenings spent holed up in our dingy dorm room, ignoring the pre-party sounds next door and cackling at episodes of New Girl. We shared popcorn tossed with marshmallows in a square Tupperware container. It was simple.

People on our floor thought we were lifelong friends living together in college. I felt proud when their faces would open in surprise to the truth, at which point I would say, no, we just met in August.

In the following semester, she was there for me throughout the onset, heat, and ending of my first college relationship, the first time she would see me cry. I was there for her when she missed her family—the only time I have ever seen her cry. At the end of March, Christine and I were treating ourselves to window shopping uptown. We discussed what we would do when we would graduate and move to different states. As we reveled in the beauty of us, we stumbled into a store that had stuffed characters of The Fox and The Little Prince. It was too coincidental, so we took a photo together, which she posted on Facebook. I commented: Tu m’avais apprivoisé. You have tamed me.

It was simple.

*

“‘My life is very monotonous… But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow.

‘And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? Is do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat . . .’

The Fox gazed at The Little Prince for a long time.”

*

But throughout that April, I had changed my major to a more time-consuming one and she had fallen fast in love with a Christian sorority that fulfilled her in new ways. Soon, movie dates were pushed off and our regular dinners were cancelled. One week at the very end of the month, she called off and ignored our plans for four days in a row, with no apology. But friends forgive, and a day later, everything was back to normal.

*

While less poignant than The Fox interaction, The Little Prince orates a wise tale about Les Baobabs. Being the farmer and sole keeper of his home asteroid, The Little Prince explains the danger of Les Baobabs, an invasive tree species that, if left to grow, will take over his entire planet. All asteroids have these bad seeds that begin in the “deep heart of the earth’s darkness.” With the right temperature and the right timing, these saplings become awakened to the outside world and begin to push their yellow-green selves to the surface. We must destroy these bad plants within the first instant we recognize them if we want our world to survive.

You could say I did not want to deal with my baobab.

*

The summer between our freshman and sophomore year was busy. Christine even drove the hour down from her house to visit me before I left for nine weeks of summer camp. She had been the first person I told the good news when I got the job, so I also wanted her to see me off; I knew I would miss her.

When I returned from camp, I had discovered a lovely surprise for our joint future; Sending her a text with pictures of pots, pans, and a tea kettle, I said, “My mom brought us a bunch of kitchen gadgets from my grandpa’s old house!! A year from now and we’ll be using them in our own place! Can’t wait to see you soon!!!” She replied with an equally ecstatic text.

The first couple of weeks of sophomore year were a blur. Running from meetings, starting my new teaching placement as well as a tutoring job, beginning new classes and trying to laughably rush a sorority became time consuming. On top of this, we were looking for housing, which notoriously rents quickly within the first weeks of the semester for the following year.

I guess I was too non-committal, worn thin by so many new beginnings in such a short amount of time.

It was autumn, and I needed an ending.

Did you know the trees drop their leaves for a reason? How wise they are! As the weather gets colder, the leaves must allow different pigments to shine forth—the flame-like ones we see with the start of school. The change is one of the most beautiful displays around the world, fire-y and alive in the death.

*

“We really need to start making a move on our apartment,” she had said halfway through the first week.

“Yes, you’re so right. Thanks for reminding me!” I was already struggling to finish all my school and work-related issues, letting this inevitability take a lower priority.

Eating chocolate ice cream out of the same container, we scrolled through apartment listings that evening. So many had already rented, so we quickly emailed a couple of realtors. But after two days with no response, we became antsy.

“Hey, what do you think about possibly living with McKenna and Megan? They are looking for two more roommates and are scoping out a house tomorrow,” she texted me that Thursday. I thought it may be fun to introduce some variety into our lives via these girls, even though the three of them were already close sorority sisters.

Christine had class during the appointment, so I went along with the two girls alone. “Take lots of pictures of our new possible home! I really just hope this works out so we can be done worrying about it,” Christine had said that morning.

*

The house they fell in love with was not terrible. I could see myself in the upstairs addition—a bedroom with windows all around that trees nuzzled in the breeze. But it was also large enough for eight people to live in…twice our number. The girls excitedly explored every nook and cranny, already making plans to come up in the summer and do yard work. My stomach churned at the pace this was moving. When I asked probing questions to the realtor about the snow removal for the parking lot that only fit two cars, the girls failed at hiding their wrinkled eyebrows from my view.

Returning to Christine, I found out her sisters had already told her all about it. “Yeah, I guess it’s a good option,” I said, while my hands were busy typing a paper for the following morning.

By sunset, though, our numbers had increased to five sorority sisters plus me, the tag-along, as well as a dog. I had never lived with more than three other people, let alone a pet. My stomach churned. I told her we should sleep on it.

We didn’t get a chance to talk that evening—or the next morning. I had class; she had sorority obligations. Our lives had become separated.

I tried to reach out via text: “Can’t we just wait on this and look at a couple other places? I really don’t want to live with all of them and a dog.”

Try to deracinate while you can.

“But they want to get to know you,” she supplied, a pseudo-solution.

“I mean I want to get to know them too, but six people in a house with two tiny bathrooms and one kitchen? That’s a lot! And you guys are all so close; I will feel left out no matter what, I know it. I don’t want to do it. My home needs to be a sanctuary.”

“You won’t be left out, we will include you,” she kept going.

“Why won’t you try to compromise with me?” I asked, hoping she would take a step back.

“Well why won’t you compromise with me?!”

“I am totally happy to compromise with you,” I said. “How about four people max, and no dog. That was the original plan.”

“Well she may not get a dog.”

Thirty minutes later, I was at a library computer, starting from scratch. I could do this. She was going to sign a lease even though I had asked her to wait. I could do this. We had not even had the chance to talk anything over in person. The tears brimming at the corners of my eyes laughed mockingly.

So away from the library I walked. Away from campus. From the pain. And out to where the collegiate roads meet the highway. I was headed to the river, the place where all broken hearts go to weep.

*

Our culture does not have a word for the end of a friendship. There’s break up, which makes it feel junior high. There’s separation, but that sounds like a euphemistic explanation to my children, said with a sad smile. And then there’s divorce, obviously too much. But if we don’t give it a name, do we give it a face?

No, our friendship did not immediately end with the realization she had broken a major promise. A promise that was reaffirmed over more than five months of excitement and pots and pan collecting. At the time of the river, I had no intention of us falling out because I believed in our bond. But it was the show-stopper beginning, like the brilliant explosion of fall colors we love.

Once I had made it to the river, I found myself a mother willow. She let me sit on her fallen branches and shriveled leaves, thinking and writing. The lined pages could see me as I tried to get the feelings out. They knew of my girlish hurt and judged me. When the ink ran onto my legs, I called my mom.

As little girls, my mom would have my sister and I spend a whole afternoon sitting patiently on a faded quilt in the backyard with quiet offerings of birdseed in hopes the finches would visit us. They never did, but I always loved the prospect that patience and gentleness could bring us new visitors.

I was patient.

The Canada geese waddled in herds past me and my mother willow towards tastier grasses, seemingly comfortable with my presence. They had probably never seen water leak from human eyes. But I’d like to think that the geese, too, cry; it made their presence comforting.

My time at the river was waning–there is only so much wallowing one can do, and then one must act. I needed to let Christine see me like this. I owed it to myself and to her. She probably thought I was being difficult, that I would come around. No, she needed to see how she had failed to water me, and left me yellow like a willow too far from a river.

*

I made it to my room, slung off my backpack, and crumbled in my chair. Minutes later, a key was heard in the door.

“Hey,” she said, strolling in.

“Hey. So…did you end up signing the lease?” I had not been given a clear answer. Maybe she had had second thoughts.

“Well, yeah,” she shot, as if her confidence would justify her actions and remove any of her responsibility for causation, would scare me into silence, “they let us have just two signers for now, so you have some time to think. If you want to live with us, you are still completely welcome to and can sign on Monday.”

When did it turn into live with us? “No, I told you I am out.” I waited. Her eyebrows were furrowed, cheeks heightened, eyes beginning to squint.

“Christine, do you realize how hurt I feel because of your actions? I just don’t understand. Last week you turned some other girls down so we could live together, like we planned. Like we planned! I trusted you,” I enunciated. The tears began to fall.

“Well…What do you want me to do about it now?” she snapped. Not sorry.

I was sitting in my unforgiving dorm room chair/ You were standing with your arms crossed by your bed/ a good distance away, gaping/ At me/ at my audacity to be honest/to call you out.

*

“‘The key with taming,’ The Fox explained, ‘is that it takes time. But no one wants to spend the time to understand, anymore. However, it is worth it, for one only understands what one tames.’”

*

My questions you did not answer/My feelings you did not validate/you did not recognize/ You gaped/You went through with what benefitted you, /only you/And made me alone/You did not understand.

Her sisters whom she loved texted me the following day with lengthy reassurances that they “really” wanted me to live with them, as if they could convince me for her. That in itself was a betrayal.

From a simple, innocent seed, the baobab had grown in my autumnal sleep.

I was patient, though. I waited. Trusted in the bonds of friendship. Eight weeks, to be precise, I waited. Eight silent weeks. When the silence became ridiculous, I returned to her. She again, gaped:

“We aren’t married, so I don’t know why you’d assume we would live together.”

Maybe because we promised, and because I trusted. I believed my rose was special.

But she didn’t see. She felt she had done her part. And I knew the stranger promises we made after eight weeks of silence to start saying hello again as we walked through our shared door, to start making eye contact again, were flimsy—failing after two days.

But patience! Remember the wisdom of the trees. If the trees did not let their changes happen in autumn, if they did not eventually let go of their crimson and tangerine and saffron foliage, they would spend all winter trying to protect their core as well as their extremities, and the entire tree would wither and die. We must make choices of what we allow to flourish in our lives. What baobabs we allow to grow.

Somewhere in the muck of friendship ending and stranger-ship beginning, in the 10-week process of detachment, anger, and sorrow, I found myself on a grassy hill facing the sun. The dried husks of thistle and cotton meditated with me, whispering the advice of the wind. I had gotten myself this far up the hill; now I could rest and enjoy the beauty of the world around me and of the life I had created for myself. And accept the end of a season.

*

“‘You must be very patient,’ replied The Fox. ‘First you will sit down at a little distance from me—like that—in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day . . .’

So The Little Prince tamed The Fox.”

*

Words are the source of misunderstandings. But I thought if I could be patient enough, the right words would come from she who had tamed me. And they would save us. They never did come. And it was not enough anymore.

Meditating far from the world on the hilltop made me grow weary. Too long, I had been the patient one, the forgiving one. The only one to be trying to mend things—even if mending meant deracination. Her broken promises and refusal of responsibility had burned away my trust, forcing my foliage to fall in a protective defeat. The trees teach us how beautiful it is to let dead things go.

Part of friendship is the recognition that we have responsibility for our friends, for their well-being and emotions. It is sad when an “I’m sorry” comes out in shards of frozen water with arms crossed as “well, what do you want me to do about it.” When it’s framed as an annoyed statement rather than a concerned question.

Last night, I was in our only remaining shared space after an inevitable room swap—the bathroom—flossing my teeth. It was she who ingrained the habit in me. Halfway through my top row, I heard the connecting door click, felt her overpowering height stride through the threshold with heavy, determined footsteps. She ripped a piece of floss from her own separate box, re-crossed the threshold to her separate room, and shut the door.

It’s ok. I have learned how empowering it is to let go.

*

“‘I shall cry,’ The Fox said as the Little Prince prepared to leave Earth for his home asteroid.

‘It is your own fault,’ said The Little Prince. ‘I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you.’

“Yes, that is so,’ said The Fox…

‘Then it has done you no good at all!’

‘It has done me good,’ replied The Fox, ‘because of the color of the wheat fields.’

*

Our bond allowed me to grow in some ways—I will never deny that she was a blessing my freshman year of college. We shared great laughter, beautiful life experiences, and bushels of love. For these reasons, it was no waste.

Throughout our fall, I learned the delicate balance of friendship and love—the patience, compassion, and mutual trust these require. And that sometimes, we must to leave our old friends in the sunset and head off to other beautiful horizons.

Healing comes in many forms. We try to forget. We try to grow empathy in our windowsill gardens. We do the workouts, the meditation. We cry. We go on silent hikes. We even (shhh) sometimes write. We look to our world for meaning, and gather data in hopes of illuminating a solution, then hope for a resolution, any resolution. Maybe just some understanding.

Perhaps we should allow ourselves to see that the loss of a friend is just as dramatic as separation, as divorce, as break-up. A loss of friendship is a loss of love.

Today, I find remnants of her like the bare hooks and nails we carefully put in our walls for now-absent artwork and the voice of hers that I used to like, which now grinds, clashing with my Zen as it booms through the shared wall.

Sometimes we accidentally meet eyes in the stairwell, and I manage to whisper a “hi” with a forced smile. I always get a silent glare of blue in response.

But these changes due to the ending of a friendship are as inevitable as the changing colors due to the ending of summer. We give them a nod, and embrace the new season.

That day I took myself down to the river, I ran into an old friend along the way. I love telling the story of how, if this all had not happened with the one who I thought had tamed me, I would not have changed my normal course and would not have run into this dear, long-lost friend, with whom I’ve entered a new season of love.

That day I took myself down to the river began a semester-long journey of pain, hurt, heartbreak, and anger, but also of change and learning. I have come out anew.

Perhaps my mom was right all along, that patience and gentleness will get us far. That integrity to ourselves and to others, manifested in these traits and along with the willingness to evolve, will bring us new visitors to our quilts, new life experiences and new joys.

It is simply a beautiful choice to let dead things go.

[1] Translation taken from Angelfire.comfriendship

Allison is an undergraduate at Ohio University studying to be an English teacher. Currently, she is trying to learn Spanish and teach English in Mexico City. In her free time, she amuses herself by identifying trees and trying new teas.

 

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1 Comment

  • Reply Sara C. June 23, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    Beautiful! I read this with tears running down my face. What a stark analogy. I really needed to read this today. Thank you for sharing this poignant piece of art.

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