I like to cry when I read, and I like to read during long plane rides. Consequently, I cry every time I’m on a plane.
This is distressing for many: the people in my row, the flight attendant around the corner, and, to some extent, myself.
My favorite cry-read will always be Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince.” It is only about 60 pages — even shorter if you ignore the pictures. (But why would you?) Its audience spans from bright-eyed kindergarteners to apathetic businessmen to 18year-olds sobbing into their airline seats.
From what I remember, the story goes like this: One day, a little prince leaves his little rose behind. He tames a fox who then cries when it is time for them to part. But this goodbye does the fox good “because of the color of the wheat fields” — their quiet brilliance — and suddenly I am reminded of how much I like to cry-read. Maybe because of the color of the wheat fields, or maybe because some part of me has been loved and tamed and brought home again. By the story’s end, the little prince is a laughing star or an uncountable grain of sand or just a boy who wants to go home to see a rose, his rose.
It is brutal and tender and deceptively true. It is also contradictory: “The Little Prince” makes me homesick for all the places I’ve been and all the places I have yet to see. It makes me think about my hometown as I left it, all its swirling hills, the soft wind, a sky like a warm soup.
All throughout high school, I wrote stories to combat this feeling — this perpetual act of orbit, a foreign prince crash-landing on an empty desert. My princes were daughters, my roses mothers and fathers. It was fiction, but I felt it ache and pulse. I felt it live.
I have not written a story since arriving at college.
This feels disorienting to me: all the newness of now and its corresponding absence in memory.
I have started to call my dorm home, and yet I find myself pausing at the unfamiliarity of the lamplight. The pieces are the same — here is the dresser and here is my body and here is the door — but I still find myself groping for golden poppies, long limbs of grass, another bowl of soup.
I have crash-landed on miles of sand and have nothing to show for it but a missing rose. I have ached and pulsed and lived. Maybe I am a writer as much as I am the stories I tell.
I admire fiction because of the way words precipitate into characters, the way that characters sharpen into rough estimations of people. I admire fiction because it is an approximation of truth — because maybe truth is something you can never reach, instead something that infinitely tends toward meaning, never inhabiting it fully. Because truth as I see it is an open window, or the loneliest child, or just an attempt at saying, “Here is my life. Please make yourself at home.” Maybe this — my attempt at making a home in foreign sands — is my rose. My failure, too.
Maybe I am still looking for my rose. Maybe it is hidden in a garden somewhere, many kilometers from home. Or it is a child as much as it is a flower. Maybe the point of being lost is not always to be found.
The night before I moved into college, on my red-eye flight, I read and reread “The Little Prince.” I have not read it since.
The details are a little fuzzy — I do not remember all the planets he visits or the adults he meets or the animals he tames. But I remember the way the early light bloomed against the windowpane, blue and raw. I remember thinking about the distance between here and home. Realizing I was and am only me: 18; a dense collection of limbs, teeth, molecules busy with their own half-lives.
I remember holding my Appa’s hand for a while. I remember having to let go.