How about we talk about what might have happened if Narnia hadn’t deserted Susan?
What if, instead of sending a stag to lead them astray, the Pevensies had been given time to end their first rule– to have finished their reports, their negotiations and treaties, that letter in the bureau Lucy was half-done penning to Mrs. Beaver to thank her for the fruitcake and to ask about her grandchildren.
They had lived there more than a decade then, grown from children to kings and queens, to brave young adults with responsibility heavy on their shoulders. They had lived through storms and wars, peace and joy, lost friends to battle and old age and distance. They had made a home. What if they had been given time to say good-bye?
What if we didn’t tell Susan she had to go grow up in her own world and then shame and punish her for doing just that? She was told to walk away and she went. She did not try to stay a child all her life, wishing for something she had been told she couldn’t have again.
There is nothing wrong with Lucy loving Narnia all her life, refusing an adulthood she didn’t want for a braver, brighter one she built herself. But there is also nothing wrong with Susan trying to find something new to fall in love with, something that might love her back.
You can build things in lipsticks and nylons, if you don’t mind getting a few runs in them. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be pretty, especially when pretty is the only power left to you.
Let’s talk about being the last one left. No, really, think about it. You get a call in the middle of the night, in the little flat you can just barely afford, and you are told there has been an accident.
Think about it, that moment– you scramble over everyone you know, everyone you love, and try to figure out where they all are that night. There are things rushing in your gut, your fingertips, your lungs, your ears– there are words in your ears as the tinny, sympathetic voice starts to tell you: it is everyone.
They were on a train. Something went wrong. They probably died instantly. A rushing sound. A bright light. (You try to imagine it, for years. You try not to think about it. You imagine it, for years–a rushing sound, a bright light.)
Your little sister, who you always felt the most responsible for, who you never understood, really– Your big brother, who disapproved of your choices but loved you with a steadiness you could never regret leaning into– Your little brother, a smug and arrogant ass except for the days when he drowned in self doubt– Ed was going to go far and you knew it, were waiting for it, were shoring up your defenses and your eye rolls for the days when he’d think he ruled the world–
Your mother is gone. Your father, with his stuffy cigar smell and big hands and the way he got distracted telling stories– he is gone. Your cousin Eustace, who suddenly lost that stick in his ass one summer. That friend of his, Jill, who you’d never actually quite met. Gone. A rushing sound. A bright light.
Go on. Walk through this with me. You can’t sleep all night long, because you still can’t understand it, still can’t quite breathe in a world where you are the last Pevensie. You finally fade sometime between midnight and dawn and when you wake up you don’t remember for half a second. You think ugh and you think sunshine why and then you remember that you are an orphan, an only child. You remember there probably isn’t anyone else to handle the funeral arrangements.
Get up. Make tea. Forget to eat breakfast and feel nauseous and empty all day. Call the people who need to be called. Your work, to ask for the time off. The mortuary, to ask about closed caskets. Distant relations. Friends. Edmund’s girlfriend and Peter’s boss. You listen to Lucy’s friends weep hysterics into the phone while you stare out the kitchen window and drink your fourth cup of tea. You call Professor Diggory, out at the old house with the wardrobe that started it all, and it rings and rings. You don’t find out for three days that he died in the train crash too. When you do, you stare at the newspaper article. You think of course.
You are twenty one years old. You have ruled a kingdom, fought and won and prevented wars, survived exile and school and your first day as a working woman. Nothing has ever felt worse than this. You have a necklace in your dresser you meant to give your mother, because she loves rubies and this glass is painted a nice ruby red and it is all you can afford on your tiny wages.
Excuse me, a correction: she loved rubies. She is dead. You never wear the necklace. You cry yourself to sleep for weeks. The first night you don’t cry, the first morning you wake up rested, you feel guilty. You wonder if that will live in the pit of your stomach all your life and you don’t know. The years reach out in front of you, miles and eons of loss. You are on the very shore of this grief and you do not know how you will survive feeling like this for the rest of your life. But you will survive it.
Get up. Make tea. Make yourself eat breakfast. Make plans with a school friend to do lunch. Go to work and try to bury yourself in the busyness of it. Remember that you’d promised to lend Peter a hand with some task or other, but you don’t even remember what it was– Collapse. Hide in the bathroom until you’re breathing again. Redo your makeup and leave work the moment your shift is over. Drop your nylons and your sweater and your heels in the apartment hallway. Fall into bed and pull the covers over your head.
Get up. Make tea. Eat. Don’t think about them for weeks. Don’t feel guilty when you remember. Feel proud. Spend an indulgent weekend in your pajamas, reading Lucy’s favorite novel and making Ed’s favorite cookies and remembering the way your mother smelled and how it always made you feel safe. Love them and miss them and mourn them. Keep breathing. Cry, but wash your face after in cool water. Wake in the morning to birdsong and spend three hours making breakfast just the way you like it.
Imagine the next birthday, the next Christmas, the next time you hit one of those days that herald the passage of time, that tell you how much you’ve grown and how much they haven’t.
Lucy, Peter, and Edmund will be at the same height for the rest of your life. Lucy will always be seventeen for the second time. You see, you think you know, when you lose them, what the dagger in you feels like. But it grows with you, that ache. You grow with it, too, learn how to live with that at your side but it grows, that ache, finds new ways to twist–
At the first friend’s wedding you go to, you cry because it’s lovely, those two smiling and promising and holding hands– but you also cry because you wonder what Lucy would have looked like in white, joyous and smiling and promising the rest of her life to a boy who deserved her.
Go on. You tell me if Susan deserted a world or if a whole life deserted her. You tell me who was left behind.
So yes, let’s talk about it– what if Narnia hadn’t deserted Susan? What if lipstick and nylons were things worn and not markers of worth?
What if we had a story that told little girls they could grow up to be anything they wanted– all of Lucy’s glory and light, Susan’s pretty face and parties, the way Jill could move so quiet and quick through the trees?
Because you know, some of those little girls? They were the little mothers, too old for their age, who worried and wondered, who couldn’t believe like Lucy or charge like Jill. Susan was reasonable, was hesitant and beautiful and gentle, was pretty and silly and growing up, and for it she was lost. She was left. And when Susan was left, so were they.
The little girls who worried louder than they loved, who were nervous about climbing trees and who would never run after the mirage of a lion, who looked at the pretty women in the grocery store and wondered if they would grow up pretty too– some of them looked at their little clever doubting hands, after they read Peter and Eustace and Jill scoffing at Susan’s vanities, and they wondered what they were worth.
Imagine a Narnia that believed in all of them. Imagine a Narnia that believed in adult women, lipsticked or not. Imagine Susan teaching Jill how to string a bow, arms straining. Imagine her brushing blush on Lucy’s cheeks, the first time Lu went out walking with a boy she was considering falling in love with. Imagine that when the last door to Narnia was shut, there was not a sister left behind.