I’m worried about being exposed. About being asked, “why can’t you be normal?”. About being made fun of for having what is perceived as a peculiar interest or hobby. Like reading. Or studying.
If those examples are confusing, let me explain.
I’m seven years old, living in a house where violence is the norm and where things are just plain bad in about a hundred different ways. I spend a lot of time next door with my best friend, Kevin. His family eats together at night. He doesn’t even carry a key to his own house because he is never in it alone.
Kevin has all the Star Wars toys. And over 100 Hot Wheels. But what I envy most is his pint-size replica of an NFL football uniform. The uniform that makes him the de facto quarterback of all the games that take place in the middle of our cul-de-sac.
Kevin’s older sister, a step-sister with a different last name from his, reads to us often. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. James and the Giant Peach. She creates scavenger hunts, one riddle leading to the next clue until finally, we reach some small treat, based on the book she is reading to us. A peach. A piece of chocolate. Those afternoons with Kevin and Amy were like being in an oasis. Amy created a space of magic, of nourishment. During those times, I got to be six or seven or eight years old.
Then the time came when Amy was leaving. In my mind, she went off to college but only because that fits the narrative I’ve created of her. I have no memory of why she was leaving. Only that my oasis was about to disappear. And then, Amy changed the course of my life forever.
She gave me her entire set of collected children’s stories. Book after book, white covers, lined up on the shelf, under my father’s collection of Great Books. Alice in Wonderland, Brothers Grimm, Arabian Nights, Hans Christian Andersen, Robinson Crusoe. An entire world right there in my living room.
Saint Amy had given me a way out. A path that led to that oasis whenever I needed it. What I couldn’t have known was how much those paths would make me more of a target in the step-family that I’d find myself a part of a couple of years later. Where my step-mother and her kids would mock me for always reading and for wanting to do my homework. My deepest passion, my curiosity, became a source of shame, something I had to hide if I wanted acceptance. If I wanted to be loved. And of course, I wanted both.
These things happened long ago and seem minor in comparison to other injuries. But even the lightest wound at the deepest core of who we are can leave a tremendous scar. And then the scar itself becomes problematic, tightening from time to time. Causing a constriction whenever that core is touched.
My therapist suggested that I find a way to start talking about the books I’m reading. Funny, isn’t it, how this one thing still scares me? You want to talk about my being queer and non-binary or about the far worse traumas of my childhood, I’m good with that. But ask me what my favorite book or even what I’m reading right now and my chest tightens as the beating within it quickens.
So here we begin. My name is Rooze and I love to read and ask questions that seek not to find answers but rather to deepen the curiosity, and awe, inherent in the act of wondering itself. I’m currently reading Zadie Smith’s Intimations, Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, and Morning Altars by Day Schildkret.
Answering the question about my favorite book would be as impossible as picking a favorite meal; it depends on what needs nourishing at the given moment and which questions we are considering. To both, my favorite book and my favorite meal, I’d go with the old adage: my favorite is whatever comes next.[Image by Nino Carè from Pixabay]