Dear Trope Fairy,
Part of me knows that I have missed my chance. I hadn’t gotten up the courage to tell my best friend that I’m in love with her when she volunteered to take her sister’s place in the annual battle to the death among the districts. I was afraid to tell her because she’s basically the only person I talk to at school, and I can’t even tell you how feeble that excuse sounds now. Or how silly I feel for fearing mere rejection or my parents’ disapproval. Or that she wasn’t into girls after all. I was even afraid of her best male friend who clearly loves her but she never seems into. He’s jealous and has anger issues, but I didn’t know what fear was. Not until she volunteered to die in her sister’s place.
When I went to say goodbye to her, on her way to the death match, I couldn’t bring myself to say it. I came in having steeled myself, looking her in the eyes, ready to tell her…but I couldn’t say the words. I told myself I didn’t want to burden her, and maybe that is true. I pinned my prized family heirloom to her chest, I kissed her — on the cheek like a coward — and I let her go off to her death, hoping that if she did love me too, then she saw the truth in my eyes that day.
Then she came back, and I felt like I really couldn’t tell her. One of the ways she survived to win the death match was with a ?fake? love story with the boy sent to the death match with her. But when the cameras aren’t around, she barely acknowledges him, and she all but told me the whole thing was for show. Meanwhile, if anything, we’ve grown closer, with her leaning on me for support, her spending every afternoon alone with me, asking me to play music for her. In my mind, I’m helping her find beauty again and knit her soul back together. In my mind, she is staring at me for hours on end just because she thinks I’m half as beautiful as I find her, but…I worry this is all in my mind.
But there are signs everywhere! When I brought herbs to help her best friend’s injuries, she seemed jealous of my attention to him. And that heirloom I pinned to her chest? She wore it throughout the televised death match. It’s become her symbol and sign of her power! How can that not be a sign that I mean something to her?
I had just about made up my mind that I could never say anything, since even if she doesn’t like that boy with the fake love story, even if she does return my feelings, how could she ever extricate herself from the story that saved her life in the arena? Surely it would be only cruel to both of us to bring up what can never be.
But now she has to go back. They’re going to put her through the death match all over again and…can I tell her before she goes? Can I bear to not tell her again? This time there is no way they will let her leave alive, and if she never knows how I feel…? How could it be anything but selfish to put this weight on her now? To give her another heart to break or another person to lose? But can I bear to watch her die, not knowing what could have been? Can I bear to watch her die, if it turns out she loved me too, all along?
Dear Too Late,
Oh, dear heart. Sweet, gentle heart you have protected in all the wrong ways. I am so sorry, my dear. Whatever else, you are poised to watch someone you love die, and that is a pain you will carry for always, whatever you decide. Whatever you choose, you will feel that pain, and you should know that it does not mean that you chose wrong. It simply means that your world has been cruel.
As to whether the romance is all in your own head, or more precisely, if love exists only in your heart and not also in hers, I cannot tell you. It is certainly asking too much to expect a girl saying goodbye to her family and friends on the way to almost certain death to read the flicker of love unspoken in your eyes. Or tell a friendship trinket from a symbol of your undying devotion. This doesn’t sound like a case of her knowing how you feel but not mentioning anything to avoid embarrassing you. I don’t think she knows you love her, though it is possible she has a similar internal monologue of evidence to yours.
You will have to clearly say the actual words if you need her to know. Given how fraught something like a goodbye on the way to almost certain death is, you will probably have to specify that you love her romantically, not simply as a friend and confidant. So no hedging!
But do you have to tell her? That’s harder. You mark the ways both telling and not telling would be hard on you, but you seem to have made your past decision based on what is best for her. I can’t tell you that you are wrong in thinking that it is better not to give her more to mourn losing in her traumatic life. More love she must leave behind. More might-have-beens gone forever. You know her better, so you will have to think hard about whether the knowledge would be comfort or torment to her.
I also think you deserve to make room for the ways that you have been traumatized. You wonder if it would be harder to watch a repeat of the death match knowing that you could have loved each other, if only, or holding your love as a mystery in your heart, or having been rejected when you told her your feelings…you can best answer that by thinking on the last experience with the annual death match. When you watched the woman you love in pain, when you watched her nearly die, when you watched her pantomime a heteronormative love story for the cameras, were you grieving that you would never have the chance to tell her…or just grieving for her?
I suspect the latter, since when she returned, you prioritized what she needed from you — easy, quiet companionship, the chance to look at you and find peace in your home and your music, no questions or demands or overt signals. This is not nothing. In fact, this is love itself, for all it is carried in silence. You let her draw strength from your precious gift without expectation of repayment or return of the token or even acknowledgment of its meaning. You have so far been selfless in your love of her. You don’t have to be selfless to the end, but the woman you love is going through so much, that I worry she would not have much left to offer you now even if, once upon a time, she might have wanted to.
If you are prepared for that outcome, for the change in your dynamic and the possibility that — love you or not — she does not have room for a real romance in what remains of her life, then yes, you can tell her. You may well feel better for having done so, even if she does not return your feelings. And if she does love you back, then you must be prepared to lose her and to watch her fake the feelings for another that she feels for you in truth. There is pain on all the paths before you, dear heart, so when it comes, do not think you must have done wrong.
But if you worry that it feels selfish to tell her, to give her one more thing to lose: it isn’t, but it is also not necessarily cowardice to hold back, in your case. I tend to counsel bravery, perhaps to a fault, and my advice would be very, very different if she were not headed to what is likely her death. My advice is very, very different if she comes back again, even if she comes back more profoundly broken then before.
But this is not a question of selfishness or bravery. This is a question of what burden you will carry for the woman you love — will you offer her honesty and love or will you offer her silence and peace?
What does she need and what can you give? Either way your heart will break, but it is a question of what you can (both) bear. You know best what she needs, and what you need, to survive.
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Transcribed and annotated by Katy Mulvaney with permission from the League of Fairy Surrogates and Interdimensional Meta — Fantasy Council. The Trope Fairy can be reached by watching your beloved through a window until the sun hits just right to form a small rainbow prism of light on the sill. Fold your note so that the entire thing is covered by the rainbow, then go outside and say hello to the person you’ve been staring at, which might solve your problem before the Trope Fairy even gets to your letter.