Thursday, September 27, 2012

How Books Saved My Life

Okay, so maybe books haven’t literally saved my life.  They certainly saved my sanity however.  Without books to escape into, life would have left an ugly mark (or a million) on me. 

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.

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