i fell in love, for the first time, the summer that i turned nineteen.
it punctuated my life.
as a compulsive reader [from a young age], i had read about life-changing experiences, emotions, and moments in books. the crucial developmental stages of my life were all punctuated by literature that expounded upon things i would never see. a true nerd, i was rather non-discriminatory in my reading habits. i read non-fiction [history, poetry, biographies], and fiction alike.
when i was growing up, the one-story house that we lived in had a secret attic. carefully tucked away in the closet of a corner bedroom, it held the mysteries of a child’s imagination captive. a wooden staircase built into the wall rose up into the darkness. a single light bulb with a chain hung from the ceiling, and i remember delightful shivers would run down my back because i had to climb a few of those old, creaky stairs before my fingers could reach it.
old, dusty, and dark, with a tented roof that, as i grew taller, meant that i could only stand up fully in the center.
one day [i was grade school age, old enough to read, and that’s all i remember], my mother loaded all of us kids in our family van. we drove down the hill to a library that was being closed down. there were stacks and stacks of books, old and new alike, piled up unceremoniously in every room. when closed, the edges of their pages came together to show the stamp of a public library. when opened to the first page, right inside the cover, a large red imprint could be seen, stamped over the pocket where the checkout card used to rest.
it said, in fierce letters, REJECTED.
or maybe something less dramatic than that. i just remember that every single book that was being expelled had the same stamp inside the front cover. it was in stark red lettering, it was all caps, and it indicated that the book was no longer part of the library.
out of housecleaning desperation or sheer economic downturn [i’m not sure which, this was mid-nineties], the books were being given away or sold ridiculously cheap. i might be reaching here, but i think an entire milk crate of books was $5.
i wanted them all.
my mom did too, which is why we were there. my brother and sister and i helped carry the books out of that old library and into our van. i’m sure we had to take several trips. it was a lot of books.
kids books, science books, history books, geography books, novels, biographies.
what to do with so many books?
create a library, of course. the old, dusty attic was given a revived purpose. my father built strong bookshelves that would withstand the test of time, and installed them along with thick carpeting. the books were painstaking sorted by genre [yes, i’m serious] and arranged in enclaves that fit the natural shape of the space. it was transformed. the books proudly stood in their places, categorized with like-minded peers and ready to be poured over. i remember helping my sister push a giant beanbag chair up the stairs. we also managed to get a stereo with fm radio up there without breaking it into a million pieces.
since the closet that held the secret staircase to my new nerd heaven was in my older brother’s room, i wasn’t always able to access it. however, i would go up there as often as possible. in the summertime, it got unbearably hot, so a fan was installed, and the white noise would drown out any semblance of reality outside of those walls.
i distinctly remember one instance where i, always a social and people-loving child, had a rare bout of introversion. as was fairly typical in the summertime, we had a few families over for the day. my childhood home was built on a grand expanse of acreage and was equipped with kid-friendly activities. so, it naturally became a hub for every other family that we knew. it wasn’t uncommon for a mom, a dad, and several kids to come over and stay the entire day, from lunchtime until way past dark.
i usually enjoyed this.
but, the evening prior, i had been engaged in a fascinating novel about horses [i can’t remember anything else, just that there were horses in it. i’m not even sure that they were related to the main characters or any key participants in the story]. as it was a big book, i couldn’t finish it the night before. and now, my house and my yard were full of humans and activities. i was enjoying myself, but i couldn’t stop wondering what would happen next in that alternate reality, which i had recently begun to care so much about.
so i stole away.
i remember climbing up the hidden stairs to the attic. the fan was roaring, and it was comfortably warm. i picked up the book that i’d been reading and dove back in. and, over the next few hours, continued to do just that. i also might’ve fallen asleep.
naturally, at some point people began to notice that i was missing. i think my sister was the one who finally found me.
she told me i was being weird and rude and that i should come out and play.
so i did.
“okay, let’s go.” i said.
partly because that day, i realized that reading about adventures of others made me long even more for one of my OWN. i didn’t want to merely read about life, i wanted to LIVE it.
i still love to read. i love books and i love alternative ways of viewing the world and i get excited when i can vividly picture scenarios through someone else’s eyes.
there’s nothing more intriguing to me than a well-worded image or a deeply-developed character.
which is why i found it so interesting that, at the age of nineteen, nothing that i had read prior could have prepared me for life’s pivotal experiences. i went to a new and unknown place, with fresh faces and new activities.
i said, “let’s go.”
and then, in my own search for a life-changing adventure and a rich narrative full of my own stories, i unexpectedly lived out the cataclysmic series of emotions and thought-processes that thousands of people have, since the beginning of time, attempted to describe using words, or melodies, or a paintbrush.
and i realized that i had been, subconsciously, trying to educate myself this whole time.
when a certain feeling emerged, i would know how to handle it because i’d read THIS. when i found myself in a moral conundrum, i would recall the wisdom of THAT book and be inspired. and when i finally lost my mind and my heart over another human being, i could strategically behave in a manner befitting my situation because of THOSE ideas.
it just didn’t work that way.
no matter how much i read about other people’s experiences, emotions, journeys, ideas, revelations . . . i had to live my life for myself. that included being foolish: saying things that i replayed in my head over and over again at night, desperately hoping for a better outcome. moving away from someone rather than towards them. allowing my insecurities and fears to sit like a weight on my chest, holding me back from honesty and bravery.
i had read about being brave.
but it was a lot harder in real life.
this morning, i remembered being nineteen SO vividly. i remembered feeling so self-aware and so introspective and confused, all at the same time. i felt that ache of wanting adventure, of being willing to step out close to the ledge, even if only so i could feel my heart thumping loudly in my chest. i could conjure up the desire to live a life full of really, really good stories.
i’m twenty-seven now.
i am still learning about the world, still gaining knowledge from other lived experiences. there are so many fascinating and multi-dimensional humans in my world, who have shown me that life is a journey. i will sometimes still hide away in my apartment and read a book.
but i have been living a life full of dynamic and richly colorful adventures.
upcoming [in four days]: a twelve day excursion within the beautiful European countries of Greece and Italy.
this, undoubtedly, will make for an excellent chapter. i can feel my toes twitch in anticipation. this is the kind of stuff that you wake up on a saturday morning, nine years later, and still feel.
so stay tuned.
the best is yet to come.