Not too long ago, a friend of mine shared a post on her blog in a discussion asking her followers to share their experiences about what it was that really made them become the readers they are today. Because as you know, many of us in this community are heavy readers—heavier than the ‘average’ reader one might meet on the streets that say they read “some” and she shared her own story as well. It was Lili from Lili’s Reflections and you can find the post, as well as the numerous comments and other stories in response to hers, at this link.
After a lot of thought, I wanted to share mine, too. And I thank her for the permission to use the topic to post here because my story runs fairly deep. It was hard thinking of sharing it in just a comment, and I didn’t want to informally tweet it out in a response to her share either. There weren’t enough characters for that, to be honest. Obviously I’ve already gone over my character limit trying to get started. You’ll have to excuse me. My anxiety does spike when I get to telling my story, so I’ll try not to sound like a jumbled mess as I go along.
Did I do this for any kind of attention or sympathy? Certainly not. And I’m not ashamed to share my experiences because I never know when it can become a helping hand to another. My whole point of this post is that I want to thank books. Books saved my life. Books, or rather a particular book, came to me at period of my life when I needed it most and I not only became the reader I am today, but that was the moment I decided I never wanted to do anything else other than write.
According to family, I’d always enjoyed books. I started reading when I was four. I went to private schools for a little while when I was starting out in school. I was “gifted.” I read highly advanced for my age. But when troubling times occur, I gave up a lot of the things I enjoyed. A divorce when I was six. My parents, both alcoholic. My father thrown in jail when I was eight for unpaid DUI’s and child support. Mother getting a new boyfriend and deciding on a whim to move us three hours from the home I’d grown up in. Then her and the boyfriend split. And it was just me and her for a bit again.
I was a miserable child. And I’d grown up way too fast. With mom’s drinking problem (she was either working or drinking), I was mostly alone.
Then mom met a new guy. From the first day, something seemed really off about him and I kept getting a weird vibe. She made us move in with him within a month of dating him. I was going on ten years old. I don’t want to go into details. I’m not going into details. So I’ll just say it: The guy turned out to be the worst of the worst. About two weeks after moving in, he took his opportunity and began molesting me. The more time passed, the worse it became. I was molested by this monster nearly every day for about two and a half years, when I finally got free.
Did I tell my mother? Of course I told her. A few times. She didn’t believe me because she was too drunk. Or she’d ask him and he’d lie (duh, he’s going to lie). I felt betrayed. I was angry and hurt. And scared to even tell anyone else because I thought they would just treat me the same way she had. (sidenote: Never be scared. If you’re being hurt in any way, and you tell one person and they won’t listen… tell someone else!).
It broke me. At the age of twelve, over two years after dealing with this, I became suicidal. I thought there’d be no other way out.
My mom, she was a nurse (retired now), and would keep a lot of pills around the house. And there came a day when I had everything worked completely out. I would grab this bottle of pills and go in this old building just outside our house where we kept stuff stored up. There were a few hours in the afternoon when it was just me. He was gone. She was gone. I could be alone. I could do it. So I made my way out there with the pills, and a bottle of water. To this day, I don’t know if I’d really have done it or if I’d ended up being scared out of it, but I was contemplating it either way. And it was scary.
I tripped over a stupid box when I made my way into the building and was trying to sit down. Turns out the box was labeled “books.” Curiosity got the best of me, causing me to forget my current dark thoughts and I began digging around. I was instantly drawn to the book on top of the pile though, and started reading, right there. Right there in the dimly lit, cramped little space. The Shining by Stephen King. I’ll never forget that first book I read, opening my eyes. Causing me to escape my reality. I teared up and realized what I’d been missing the past few years. An interest I once loved so much, that I’d just tossed away. I wanted to continue getting lost in worlds. I wanted to create my own worlds to get lost in. To read all the words. To share words. It all came crashing on me pretty hard in those moments. Even now, thinking about it, telling you all, I can recall everything of those terrible days before–and then that one day where it felt like a light hit me long enough to smack me square in the face bringing me back to my senses, and I feel how much of a difference books made in my life. For my life.
I remember tossing those pills, so angry, so furious, because I’d almost destroyed myself. And I was holding books in my hand again. How could I leave books behind? These worlds and characters? There were still so many more I had to meet too! The monster that was part of my own reality could be slayed. I just had to FIGHT BACK. And I did. I was done. I was done running scared from him every fucking day.
Two weeks later, he was gone. My life wasn’t anywhere near normal. It never has been normal. But I had books again. That’s what mattered.
Lili and I talked for some time about the not-so-unusual links between many of us in the community as readers. How often it is we meet and learn that we did not have the best of times growing up and used books as a means of escapism. Of course we’re not saying all readers came from bad experiences–I’ve seen stories of casual “I just have always been surrounded by books” or “my parents were devoted readers also.” We’re just saying there has been many stories of what made others become readers that showed how impacting books are in many different ways for all of us. I just really enjoyed her post, her own strength to share, the many others at her blog leaving their comments, and I hope you all will continue to tell us: What made you the reader you are now? What got you reading? Feel free to share!
(And I still vow to hug Stephen King one day.)