My childhood was not a pretty thing. Between a mentally ill parent and a drug-dependent stepparent, there was a lot to get through on the homefront. There was abuse, both physical and emotional. Add to it the fact I was not a terribly attractive child and a ‘quirky’ personality (which later turned out to be Aspergers). I was teased by other children and usually ostracized.I discovered reading fairly quickly. Because a certain adult guardian found it easier to keep me isolated in my bedroom for weeks at a time, it was often my only contact with the outside world. I delved into fictional worlds, becoming the heroines a gawky, awkward child knew she was nothing like. For most of grade school, I hid in Nancy Drew books, dreaming of being a girl detective with a convertible and good friends who thought I was the most awesome thing on Earth. No one ever made fun of Nancy Drew. Nancy Drew didn’t wear glasses. She wasn’t underweight and homely. I wanted to be her and in my fantasies, I was. It beat crying myself to sleep every night.
As I hit my teenage years, I discovered rock bands. I spent a lot of time lying on my bed in the dark, listening to Van Halen, Def Leppard, and too many 80’s hair bands to keep count. But I also continued to read, getting swept up in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragons of Pern world for awhile. I was never going to be a big fan of real life, and I depended heavily on my favorite authors still for frequent escape. The outside world inspired more terror than a sense of adventure. Fortunately, as I got older, things got a little easier. I was still awkward but slowly grew into my looks. I finally had friends who appreciated my weird sense of humor. Once in awhile, I even had boyfriends.Right out of high school I moved to another state. I got engaged, went to college, started a career. Then several things happened in quick succession: I broke up with my fiancee, was hurt in a horrific car accident, and lost my job. Within a decade I was back in school in yet another state. Through my extremely tumultuous 20s, it was once more books that kept me from letting the real world knock me out. When I arrived in south Florida in the mid-90’s, I had nowhere to live, no job, no friends. When I got there, I was suddenly shaken. What the hell was I doing? I had no safety net to catch me if I fell. I had shown up in Florida on a wing and a prayer with nothing but what I had packed in my Ford. I was on the verge of tucking my tail between my legs and running back to a safer but soul-killing life.
I found a place to crash when a dear friend coaxed her dad and stepmom to let me stay until I got on my feet. In their guest room was Jimmy Buffett’s Tales from Margaritaville. The very first story in this collection was that of a cowboy who quits his job with no notice and goes to Florida with pretty much just the clothes on his back. In other words, on a wing and a prayer. Just like me. And his story ends with a happily ever after.I took that as a sign that I was on the right path despite how grim things looked. And I did end up sleeping on a few floors and living on the kindness of others for several months as I tried to make a fresh start. But in the end, it all worked out. Thanks in part to a book.
I have a lot to be thankful for in the real world these days. A great husband, a child that makes life worthwhile, and a career that leaves me fulfilled. But as I journey on through adulthood, I still like made-up places and people. This time however, I’m conjuring these locales and personalities myself with my books. I delight in living through my creations, especially when life throws curveballs. Sometimes escaping into fictional worlds lets me catch my breath and hit a re-set button.Perhaps I could, if I had to, live without books. But I’m not sure I’d really want to.