on books as solace and books as escape

when I was busily avoiding high school with suicide threats, attempts, and general emotional chaos/destruction, the only thing that would help me exist was my books. I read everything and anything – sweet valley high for the melodrama, simone de beauvoir for the trenchant existential analysis, books about kids stuck in hospitals with cancer, books about young women growing up in apartheid South Africa, books about King Arthur that I had to read in the middle English because… I don’t know. I wanted the real story. I must have been the only 14yo in my freshman class to read all of Mein Kampf and beg my parents to send me to language school in Germany so I could study to read it in the original language. Of course, I could spend time doing this because I spent zero time in school or on my actual school work.  I desperately wanted to know things and understand and also desperately wanted to be anywhere but where I was.

I think I went to my doctoral program for similar reasons.

Right now I’m in the middle of three books. One is a rereading of a young adult favorite about magic, one is Arundati Roy’s “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” and one is George Saunders “Lincoln in the Bardo.”  Between all that reading, I’ve been rewatching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”  I’m dissociating pretty hard.  I learned this as a coping mechanism at a young age.  It has benefits and drawbacks, like all coping mechanisms.

I feel connected to the stories that I read, I feel less lonely, and yet i have the overwhelming sense of dread that comes from putting off something important. That Sunday-night-is-coming feeling that all the ways I feel are just waiting for me beyond the pages, that going to grad school and reading a ton of books and opening myself up to all these other stories actually did nothing to help me deal with my feelings. Even though they helped me get through 35 years of life.

My current romantic partner isn’t a reader. This is yet one more thing that we don’t share. And I think it is all connected. He doesn’t have emotions that feel overwhelming. I think books are where I meet my best friends.

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