On a fall day in a park in Lyon, Joel, a mid-20s American exchange student with the sort of doe-eyed expression that connotes a lack of experience, witnessed an unprecedented manifestation of resistance. Never in all of his life had he seen an animal more averse to obeying a master’s command. The black flat-coated retriever pup, usually among the most obedient and trainable of breeds, could not be cajoled in any way, shape or form to move his body through the park.
At first, the master tried gentility as a means of coaxing his canine–named, as Joel soon found out through the series of shouts, Jean-Paul. But quickly thereafter, the master segued into violence, yanking and slapping Jean-Paul after attempting to carry him for some of the way.
“Come on you stupid brute–move!” he shouted while dragging Jean-Paul across the gravel. Nonetheless, Jean-Paul simply would not yield. In many ways, he was far too dignified for that. And Joel couldn’t help but think to himself that he and the dog were very similar in their approaches to life. No matter how much anyone implored them to do something–even by means of force–they couldn’t be brought to do it. They would each rather endure a slow, painful comeuppance than suffer the knowledge that they performed an act against their wills.
Yes, he and Jean-Paul were birds of a feather–and more than a part of Joel wanted to rescue him from the tyranny of his master. But alas, Joel was in the midst of spending the last few hours with his girlfriend, who would soon be traveling to London for the Erasmus program. Though she had tried to get Joel to apply, he knew he was too invested in his current collegiate life in Lyon to leave. Plus, his overprotective extended family in Toulouse already found it unbearable enough that he was roughly 538 kilometers away; Joel hardly thought they would be able to withstand 1,139 kilometers. And so, Joel’s answer to Irène was: “No. I must stay.”
They assured one another that they would stay together and communicate, at the very minimum, once a day. Joel, of course, already knew that it was going to fizzle out by the time her four months were up. Yet he admired her staunch naïveté in believing they could remain “as one.” Though he loved her, it had long been time for the two of them to cut each other loose. It seemed, however, that she wanted to make him feel as sentimentally melancholic as possible as she decided to play “Black Beauty” by Lana Del Rey on her phone as they sipped the cheap beer they had bought from the Carrefour. And, admittedly, her trick worked since, by the time Lana got to the verse, “Oh, what can I do?/Nothing, my sparrow blue/Oh, what can I do? Life is beautiful, but you don’t have a clue,” he was getting misty-eyed and had to insist, “Irène, please turn it off. I don’t want any auditory memories associated with our separation.”
Disappointed, she consented and Lana’s voice came to an abrupt halt. It was then that their attention turned back to Jean-Paul, more determined than ever to remain still in his position of choice.
In Joel’s eyes, the strength of his will was so laudable, so remarkable for its fortitude and impenetrability. It applied to much of what was happening in Joel’s life at the moment–his refusal to acquiesce to what Irène wanted from him (that anathema word to all men: commitment) and his stalwart devotion to pursuing his own academic career, even though he knew a degree in classic literature would capitulate zero financial results.
While trapped in this daze of contemplation, Jean-Paul persisted in lying there on the ground, immoveable. He would rather have his fur skinned off by the abrasiveness of the pavement. As Joel and Irène looked on in horror while the abuse grew progressively worse, Irène commented, “That reminds me of us. I’m trying so hard to pull the unpullable–”
“And I won’t budge.”