Sometimes people say perfectly ordinary things in perfectly ordinary settings that get stuck in your head like a song, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t get them out.
This is the story of one of those things.
In my criticism class last term, we talked about many books, including The Snowman—this beautiful picture book that I remember from my childhood. For those of you who haven’t read it1, it’s a story about a boy who builds a snowman that comes to life, and they have all sorts of grand adventures during the night. But then the next morning, the boy wakes up ready to have more fun only to find that the snowman has melted. As snowmen are want to do.
So there we were, discussing The Snowman, when a girl sitting next to me spoke very vehemently about how much she had disliked this book as a child. Naturally, most of us were shocked, because it’s basically a perfect book, and so we asked her why. And what she said, which I will paraphrase here, still sometimes rings around in my head like a siren song.
“I hated the idea that beautiful things have to end.”
She actually teared up when she said it. I might have too. In the middle of criticism class, of all places2. But ever since then, this idea has been stuck in my head, and I keep thinking about it. Beautiful things have to end. It’s sort of haunting regardless, just the way she said it, but there’s been something bothering me lately that makes it more applicable to the immediate context of my life.
In the not so distant past, someone who was really important to me totally screwed me over. Which sounds a little coarse, but really, there’s no more tasteful or honest way to say that, because that’s what happened. It wasn’t something I could have prevented or changed or done anything to avoid—someone I loved made a decision to throw me under the bus, and I just had to lay there and get squished.
On the night that said screwing over occurred, I drove to meet up with this person. We talked for a bit, I may or may not have cussed him out3, and we parted knowing that we would probably never see or speak to each other again. And as I drove home, I remember thinking how strange and sucky it was to have someone who on one side of that car ride had for a long time been one of the most important people in my life. And then on the way home—barely two hours later—he was gone, just like that, so quickly that I almost couldn’t comprehend it. There, not there. It was reverse Casablanca—the end of a beautiful friendship. And something that for a long time had been a rare and beautiful thing in my life was gone.
And thus is the treachery of beautiful things.
In the great words of the Great Gatsby, “You can’t repeat the past.” You cannot return to Louisville and marry your teenage dream in your parent’s living room like the last five years never happened4. You cannot go back to visit the beautiful things of the past. Because the world moves on, and things get lost and left behind. And for a while, everybody walks around with empty pieces of themselves where their snowmen and their friendships used to be. Hopefully we find better things to fill the holes with.
- Even if you have read this book, you technically haven’t read it, because it has no words.
- It should be noted that this is not the only time that happened. A few weeks earlier I had teared up in that same criticism class over a discussion of the aforementioned Code Name Verity. Have you read it yet? You should read it. It will make you cry. And if it doesn’t, there’s something wrong with you. No pressure.
- I did.
- This is not from personal experience. This is a very specific Fitzgerald reference. If you worked that out on your own, I will give you a prize.