"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are."
- Anais Nin
Sunday, October 26, 2014
When I was growing up, my parents moved house often. They were young when I was born, still building their careers and their life together, so I suppose it made sense. It was an apartment here, a house there. Home as a brick-and-mortar place eluded me. To me, home was my mother doing housekeeping to her record albums: Boston or Alice Cooper. Home was my father coming through the door with his briefcase and a guessing game: which hand held candy behind his back?
More than anything, though, home was books.
Wherever we lived, my first sense of belonging came from a trip to the library. I prided myself on taking out as many books as I was allowed, always finishing and returning them with impressive speed. I tore through the Nancy Drew series so quickly, I was forced to read the The Hardy Boys just to satisfy my appetite for mystery.
I felt I’d struck gold when, at about age ten, I found myself living in Rehoboth Village, Massachusetts. Our house was the sort of rambling place I imagined Nancy herself would have enjoyed. It sat beside a pond with a vine-covered garden shed on an island at its center, and the stone ruins of an old barn were nestled into a hill. Best of all, the local library was a short bike ride away, housed in a gothic building I found simultaneously creepy and inviting.
By then, I was reading C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and Tolkien. I was obsessed with time travel and other worlds, and it wasn’t long before I decided that a particular garden path was the equivalent of the Wardrobe in The Chronicles of Narnia, and that it was necessary that I be brave and make the journey for an assortment of reasons: to rescue my parents, to prevent my brother from being turned to stone (though there were days, of course, when it was absolutely required that he be sacrificed), to save all of humankind from certain doom. You know. The usual ten-year-old stuff.
When I wasn’t busy saving individuals or entire civilizations, I pedaled back and forth to the library. In my travels, I met a few of my peers: one girl who shared my love of Star Wars; a pair of girls who seemed to feel my fascination with books made me an excellent target for teasing; and a boy who didn’t want to read the books I’d read, but was happy to have me narrate the stories for him.
So I did.
I spent that summer sharing my love of fiction with a boy who didn’t want to crack the spine of a book, but who accepted that the worlds I described might be real if we just went three steps down a certain path, turned in a semicircle, said some magic words, and continued on our way. He, in turn, showed me the great village secret, a turn-of-the-century pet cemetery, complete with words wrought in a massive iron archway, chillingly: How Do The Beasts Groan. We had a picnic there once, fleeing with the remains of our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when a snake emerged from one of the grave sites.
Not long ago, I learned that that boy became a man who is now in prison, accused of incomprehensibly violent crimes. I saw his picture in the news and I tried to find him, the boy I remember, but my memory failed. Too much time had passed. I wondered, though: does he remember Narnia, the pet cemetery? Does he, as an adult facing grave mistakes made, wish for time travel even more fervently I did at age ten? And what does “home” mean when one is behind bars?
Today I realized that I am still trying to define what “home” means for me, but if I go with my gut, it is always within the pages of a book. I’ve moved myself at least as many times as my parents moved me in my early years, and the one thing I always keep with me is my collection of books. My taste in literature may have changed, but the truth is, as long as I am surrounded by stories, I am home.