I don't remember a time when I haven't loved reading. My parents tell me I learned to read at age three. All I know is that when I discovered the bookshelf in my Kindergarten room, I thought I'd found heaven. My teacher, for whatever reason, felt that it would be inappropriate to allow me to read the books (they were for "reading aloud"), and as a result, I spent much of the time looking at the spines,wondering what was inside, and getting an F in coloring, snacktime, and naptime. I did well at recess, though, securing at least a B.
My parents moved frequently during my elementary school years. Most of the time I didn't mind, but when we moved the final time I was entering fourth grade. We had been living in a tiny town in Idaho. I loved it there. I had many friends, I felt accepted, it was a good place to live. We relocated to Hicktown, Wyoming--and I hated it. Most of the children in my class had lived there all their lives and were not interested in newcomers. Making friends was difficult, and my teacher disliked me, for whatever reason. I remember sitting in front of a boy who was flexing a plastic ruler and releasing it into the back of my neck. I walked to my teacher, who was sitting at her desk, mentioned that it hurt and asked for her help. She told me, rather nastily, "No one likes a tattletale," and went back to grading papers. I walked to my seat and the ruler commenced it's meeting with my neck. The boy finally found another activity when the welts he was making came to the notice of the girl sitting next to him and she mentioned that she was going to beat him up at recess if he didn't stop. This was not a happy class. I felt displaced and lonely.
However, the new school had a very good library. I believe in the three years that I was there, I read every book in the juvenile fiction section, some of them more than once. I immersed myself in reading to escape the new situations in which I found it difficult to cope. By the time I was in sixth grade, I'd found a social circle and a niche, but reading was, and is still, my first love. Darrin understands that he ranks first in my life--right after my love of literature.
My parents had a box filled with paperback classics--Shakespeare, Poe, Dickens, Stevenson, Homer, Scott, Emerson, Thoreau, and others. It was in these that I learned the real beauty of language. I began reading them when I was eleven. They became my salvation when I was twelve. I'm certain that given my age, there was very little that I truly understood, but I was mesmerized by their narratives and read them repeatedly. A dictionary sat next to me as I read--these were not words introduced in fifth and sixth grade vocabulary. I fell in love with the authors. They were more real to me than the stories they had written. I would sometimes imagine that they were my friends, keeping me company when I was consumed by sadness after the episodes of abuse in my life. I remember telling Henry David Thoreau (as we walked in the mountains behind my home) about how much it hurt inside after my cousin abused me. He nodded and agreed that was a very difficult thing, then pointed out how lovely the wildflowers were that day, and together we caught and held a tiny frog. And one time, Shakespeare and I identified cloud shapes in the sky as I suggested to him that, while his tragedies were certainly worthwhile and interesting, I much preferred his comedies and sonnets. He agreed with me.
While I realized that none of the authors wrote their stories for me, imagining that they had done so helped me live through many days. I'm quite certain that when a story is being written, the last thing on the author's mind is whether or not an abused little girl will cling to those words as a lifeline, and thank a God in whom she no longer believes, for the man or woman who penned them. Regardless of their past cognizance, someday I hope they know. They touched my life and sustained me in a hopeless time. And while my life is only one of many, and I am no more remarkable than anyone else, I think it's rather amazing that they were able to reach into the future just for me. I know--they didn't, really--but I still intend to believe it.