by Jenna Danler '19
Monsieur Jean Bossuet
5 Rue de l’Homme Armé 24601
My dearest Jean,
How have you been? I must tell you about a night I had this past week which I feel I will remember for many years. It was something of a personal revelation. You’re the one person I have allowed myself to tell, so please indulge me.
The night was dim and silent. The only sound was the dying cinders of the wood stove and a gentle wind pushing against the windows of my apartment. The time was a quarter to eleven, and though usually my family would be home, having heated arguments or doing procrastinated schoolwork, that night I could revel in my own peace. I sat restfully in my pile of cushions, watching the snow fall in the darkness. All day I had been washing the laundry and cleaning, so even though I was exhausted, I cherished a little free time.
On a passive impulse, I rose and meandered towards the window, looking down on the world wrapped in fresh snow like a surreal blanket, cloaking all the complications of society in logic and simplicity. It was as if Earth and the atmosphere aimed to remind people that nature was still there and would always triumph over the world’s trivial concerns. It was then that I realized what I needed to do.
I pulled on some thick stockings and threw a sweater over my nightgown, along with a coat, hat, scarf, and mittens. I laced up my hardy winter boots, made sure all the lamps were off, and left the apartment with adrenaline surging throughout my body. I would never be allowed outside so late at night if my father had anything to say about it, especially in heavy snow.
Outside, the air was numbing and crisp. I sat in one of the porch chairs and gazed out at the gentle but plentiful snow, gleaming in the street lights. It was strangely quiescent, with no passing automobiles, no barking dogs, and no birds chirping in the bushes. As I sat there, my mind drifted to the various affairs of my life. I daydreamed about who I’d meet in university if I could go, and which university I would go to. I wondered whether my sapling friends cared about me, and whether any of my sapling friendships would grow into authentic ones. It was a lonely life, to be sure, and I wished more than anything that I could go to university, because besides the obvious benefits, university would bring me a whole forest of friends rather than the current desert I reside in. Besides you, of course; you are someone whom I hold dear. I pondered over how my family had fallen to pieces after my mother’s death, and what she’d think if she could see the way our lives were now. I especially wanted to know whether she’d be proud of who I’m becoming. More important, I wanted to know who I was. How do I fit into the world, and do I even make it better? Too much thinking. My eyes wandered over the icicles and studied the way water droplets ran down the structure and froze before they could drip down onto the porch. I needed a break. My gaze shifted to the road and the streets that forked off of it, desolate and dark from lack of street lamps.
Before I could understand why, another shot of adrenaline seared through me and with a burst of energy I stood up and started walking. I walked down the porch steps and into the snowy night, treading through the deep fresh snow, leaving the very first footprints in that perfect crystal-like layer. I had always hated snow, as you know, but this substance was remarkably soft and clean; I enjoyed the feeling of my boots treading through it. As I turned onto the sidewalk and observed the snow lining the branches of trees, bending them low under the weight, I marveled at how enchanting the world was in this serene white landscape. The snow sparkled in the dim starlight, an ethereal wonder which would inevitably go unnoticed after the morning plow went its round. Don’t you think most beautiful things happen to be ethereal?
For a long time I sauntered through the snow, without thinking further about my own life concerns, simply living in the moment. The majesty of the world continued to grow, it seemed to me, and I could feel some divine new emotion pulsating within my heart like a phoenix. I knew I was on the brink of “coming alive,” for lack of better words. My feet and fingers began to feel numb but I trudged on.
At one point, I encountered a little tabby. She was curled up under a postbox but approached me when I came near, apparently used to trustworthy people. I stooped to pet her as she brushed against my legs, and considered how different ours lives were. I would never know what it’s like to be a cat, and she’d never know my friends or my hopes and dreams. How could she know anyone’s dreams? This made me consider how impactful and important my life could really be, if I was the only one to be totally invested in myself. She looked up at me with two big emerald eyes, glowing in the lamp light.
“Good kitty,” I murmured, and stood up to continue walking, wiping my gloves on my coat. The tabby followed me for a few minutes, then turned around, bound for her postbox.
Eventually, I arrived at the cemetery of Montfermeil, which was black as pitch and eerily silent. I found my way to my mother’s grave, Euphrasie Dumas, by the dim starlight, and stood to absorb my emotions. I brushed off the snow from her tombstone. That, Jean, is when my epiphany came. Standing in the freezing night, I felt my whole body become light, as if someone had brushed several pounds of snow off of me too. Then, after walking a mile in one of nature’s wondrous miracles, nothing else seemed to matter. You see, I was no longer worried about my identity or my friends or university; of course, those things are all important but they don’t have to cause me ceaseless turmoil. I felt like I was looking at myself and the world from high above, like a bird or God. I think this is what my mother used to call “mindfulness.” I always thought she was silly and full of rubbish, but now I think there is more to it.
Life is insignificant, isn’t it? At the same time, it’s not. There are billions of people on this Earth and each one of them is so complex and fascinating. I hardly care about my own life anymore when I’m just so fascinated by... everything. How do I even start? I want to stop worrying and just live. I want to do what makes me happy, even if women can’t go to university or vote. I’ll do what I want in secret. Do you think it’s possible? I’ll teach myself with my father’s books, do research, and write books under a different name. I don’t want to suppress who I am anymore, Jean. I know who I am. Mademoiselle Amélie Dumas, philosopher.
By the time I got back to the apartment, the clock had just struck three. It was far too late, but I didn’t regret my excursion. That night was the impetus for my evolution, I’m sure. I’ll scrub dishes by day and read Plato by candlelight after dusk. It’s what my mother would have wanted. The next time we meet, you’ll hardly recognize me.
Jean, you’ve always been so supportive. I hope you’ll be happy for me, rather than appalled, like most men would be. Whenever I think of you—as I did at length on my midnight escapade—I smile uncontrollably and blood runs to my cheeks; you can see I’m very fond of you. Will I see you soon? As I feel that I have more courage and boldness now, I have something important to ask of you; something unconventional. I think it will make you happy—at least, I hope—so don’t worry in that regard. In any case, please call on me shortly.