I hope this letter finds you well, though by now you’ve surely wasted away in a surly mix of sand and seawater — an indignant pile of bones at the bottom of an unmarked ocean. I write to you because I owe you an apology. I have come to know you well in my 22 years of existence, but not in a way that honors your memory. Society conditioned me to celebrate your mighty end, but it is with a heavy heart that I have come to unlearn this disposition. Instead of looking forward to your end, I consider what I can only imagine was your tragic beginning.
If I may, I’d like to draw attention to a few words you once sang: “I’ll admit that in the past I’ve been a nasty. They weren’t kidding when they called me, well, a witch.” I revisit these words to point a finger at who “they” were. To call into question what appears to be a chicken-or-the-egg kind of situation: What came first? Your wicked ways or your condemnation? It feels far more likely that folks condemned you before you became someone to truly be feared. A self-fulfilling prophecy you did not consent to.
I can speak from experience on your relegation to dark caves, to cauldrons and sinister solos in a shrine to your own ostracization. I can speak on the castles that difference begins to construct for people like us; how it is our responsibility to take up the work to build them or be crushed by insecure brick and mortar. Contrary to the way your story ends, of the many lessons you taught me, the most important was that of survival.
I lament how so much of my childhood was spent curling my lip at your bombastic, larger-than-life personality. I can’t even count the hours upon hours that I spent watching you torment my favorite princess, and how for all of them a large part of me cheered when the oh-so-handsome Prince Eric drove the bow of a ship through your heart. When I was young, I thought that’s what love was. My prince sure to come vanquish my demons, my foes.
But if I were to be a damsel, I could only wish for a foe as formidable as you.
Still, I revisit how you ever got there. Through years toiling in the shadows, surviving and thriving under the fear-soaked shroud of mysticism that covered you. How you found allies even in those dark spaces, how you identified fear as weakness and exploited it.
Whoever you were before, I believe you must have been as you were when you died. Unabashedly yourself. It is how you were created. They made you yourself, cut from different cloth than our heroes. Created to be unique, distinguished.
As formidable as you were, they made sure to make you an easy target.
I think of Ariel, who came to you, who entered your home to beg you to fulfill her dreams, only to flutter and flit about, repulsed and afraid of you.
I think of your appearance: A big woman, gaudy for your bright makeup, which sat as an alarm against your deep purple skin. Even how your name, Ursula, sounds like a rebellion — its cadence like a musical growl.
It wasn’t until I was older that I learned to question why society must expel those who growl the loudest. I feel my heart strain against my ribs as I remember how the only time they accepted you in their world was when you wore a different face, when you looked like them. When you made yourself pale, small and amenable.
And I think upon how I have a learned propensity to do the same.
With this letter, this lament, I scour the bottom of that forgotten sea and scoop up your bones, to carry them with me as I navigate this world. I hold them to fortify my resolve when I lean into my tendencies to make myself small. To instead wrap myself in their fear, infiltrate their spaces of complacency and damn their poor, unfortunate souls.
Let these words turn the sorry sand where they forgot you into an amaranthine altar. Let these words stand as the eulogy those bastards never gave you.
Areyon Jolivette writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on finding and celebrating identity through art. Contact her at [email protected].