Let’s talk about what Susan Pevensie forgets: her older brother’s face, the sound of dryads gossiping in the leaves, and occasionally her house keys.
Susan forgets the tune of her favorite Narnian lullaby, the one Mrs. Beaver had sung to Lucy when they were still small, the one Susan had planned to sing to her own children, back when she had thought they would be there forever.
They say Susan forgets Narnia, but she doesn’t forget all of it. She puts it aside. She forgets faces and names, tax rates and the color of her favorite court shoes. Susan never forgets the weight on her shoulders that came from that responsibility, that power, that loss. She sometimes forgets she is strong enough to carry it.
Sometimes she remembers.
Let's talk about how Susan does not fit into her own skin.
And not just for those first years, when she is a grown woman stuffed into a child's body, when she gets growing pains all over again, puberty all over again, when she lays in her bed late at night and stretches her limbs out to all four corners of the mattress and can't reach the sides. Things taunt her from high shelves and she is cramped, small, bursting.
Her body grows to its old heights, but the skin inside her left forearm stays unblemished, never knocked up against a scalding copper tea kettle at eighteen. Her thigh bone does not ache before rainstorms, because she had never broken it in a bad fall from a horse.
She gets paper cuts in the same places, because ink and paper are the backbone of her power in both lives. She gets paper cuts in the same places and she is thankful, grateful, runs her fingers along the healing ridges and tries to believe the lie.
This is not her body.
She breaks her wrist when a bicycle knocks her over on the way to a university class. The boy takes her to the hospital and then buys her dinner. When her wrist twinges, in the years after, she gets dizzy. She presses her palms into her thighs, feels pressure, weight, friction, and tries to remind herself that this is hers, she is here, she is.
When the skies get grey, Susan grips her thigh so tight it aches. She is breathless until rain finally starts to fall.
She forgets the way her body had felt that last day, hunting the white stag, her muscles tensing, her aches settling down and exhilaration rising in her throat.
She never forgets that this body, the one she will grow old in, the one she will live in, does not feel quite right.
Susan had been a traveling queen, living half her life in horseback, in the archery range, and chasing the Beavers' children through ice melt streams. Now she is a schoolgirl, then a student of literature, then a grieving young woman making her way in an urbanizing world. Her body is soft.
So Susan runs. She takes up tennis, using broken old rackets at the community center and making friends with the regulars. Horses are not for would-be young journalists in mildewed city apartments, but she dreams of them. She sweats through her mornings, doing push-ups and lunges, and then showers it off after.
This soft body is a back-handed gift for stumbling through a wardrobe for a second time. Susan cannot bring back the exact shape of muscle and sinew she had lived the first two decades of her life in, but she will take this one and she will breathe deep with these new lungs. She will remake it in her own image.
Let's talk about how she traces her wrinkles--first at her wrists, and between her eyes, the corner of her mouth. They spread, soft folds, lines of weathered skin, skin that has seen weathering, and Susan traces them with the pads of her fingers. She remembers feeling so old, tumbling back through that wardrobe. They had been kings and queens and they had felt old, all of them, felt grown.
Susan traces her wrinkles, each and every one of them earned, smile lines and worry wrinkles between her brows. There is a ridge on the side of the third finger on her right hand where she has held her pen pressed up for years.
She keeps a picture of her siblings on her mantle, a candid from their last dinner at home. The picture is a lie in so many ways.
Peter looks like a schoolboy and not a king. Ed is laughing, like he hasn't a care in the world. Lucy is looking at the camera seriously, and she was never-- no, no, no that's wrong.
Susan has to remind herself every year, every time she meets a young girl with Lucy's bright eyes, the light in them that looks effortless. Lucy worked as hard as any them. She ached as deeply. What she made was sunshine, light, and burning, burning faith, but she made it. She fought for it, bled and wept and shone. She earned it.
Susan meets girls like Lucy all her life, surprising her each time. In the midst of long stretches with no magic in them, Susan will stumble across a little girl, a young woman who sets the world on fire by believing in it. Susan remembers, each time, that the magic was never in the wardrobe. It was the little girl who opened to door and looked inside.
All of those are true: Peter was a schoolboy and he was also a king. Ed knew how to laugh, even with cares weighing him down. Lucy was a light she had kindled herself.
But the picture on the mantlepiece is a lie: Susan looks at it and it looks like she can reach out and touch them. It looks like they could be just around the corner, Lucy's low laugh singing up the walk. It is a lie, and Susan grew tired of lying to herself a long time ago.
But she keeps it on the mantlepiece, because she has grown old enough to also grow tired of forgetting.
This is a story about grief but also about growing. Susan did not forget her family, her kingdom, her little sister's smile. She did not plaster them over, put wallpaper up over the holes in her heart. But she did put them aside. They were sitting on her chest, all those lives, all those holes in her, and she had to breathe.
Susan never forgets disbelieving Lucy, so, years later, when young girls come to her, with bright eyes, with dreams, beliefs, hopes, and ambitions, she listens.
She does not forget standing, holding Peter's hand, and listening to Aslan tell them they can never come back. She does not forget that the lion told her to look for magic in her own world. She is never sure if she found what he thought she should look for. She is not sure if her life is a culmination of a queendom or a defiance. She is not sure she cares.
Let's talk about how sometimes when Susan puts on her lipstick it is battle armor. Sometimes it is a mask. She smiles with painted lips and they believe her. She pulls on her nylons and they think ah, what a lovely young woman and don't realize she's a snow storm tucked in a skirt.
Sometimes it is not about protection, defense, or presentation.
Sometimes it is a Saturday morning and Susan doesn't plan on facing a single person all day but she leans on the counter in front of her mirror and carefully applies color.
She transforms. It is a magic trick.
This is about control. This about writing over the skin you are given just to remind yourself that you can.
When the skies turn grey, Susan grips her thigh until the bone aches, until rain falls. When she feels misplaced, ill-fitting, lost, she settles in front of the mirror and gets out her lipstick-- bright colors, brash ones, blush pinks and deep hues.
This is no closer to the half-lost snatches of the queen she used to be. This gets her no closer to Narnia, but she stopped running for Narnia years ago. The world is full of wardrobes to stumble through, broken wrists, and train crashes, but this is something she and no one else gets to decide.
She cannot have her old life. (This is something she never forgets, except for a few fuzzy moments some mornings, waking up from the kind of dream where everything was alright, where when she called Lucy for her birthday, Lucy picked up and they teased each other about how old they were getting). Susan cannot have her old life, cannot reclaim, repair, or win it back.
She cannot have it back, but she can build something new. She will make this life her own. And she does.