And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
It’s probably hard to imagine that there was a bright spot during the ten days I was stuck at home, recovering from Covid and quarantining to make sure that no one else got this stupid illness. I did do a lot of snarling – it didn’t seem fair that I became so sick after being so careful, and vaccinating, and boostering. The snarling helped some, but so did something else. An old, old friend, or friends, really:
I found myself with plenty of time to read, and read I did. Everywhere I wandered in this condo, I had a book in hand. I read in my recliner, a hot cup of coffee by my side, or a glass of white cranberry/peach juice. I read out on my third floor deck, baking the Covid out of me in the sun, and either eating my lunch or rocking gently in one of the rockers, ice water by my side. And best of all, when I climbed into bed at night, I brought a book with me, propped myself up on three pillows, and read while the rest of the house was dark and quiet. When it was time for sleep, the book was placed beside me on the mattress in case I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep (that never happened – Covid brings with it a heavy fatigue that makes sleep irresistible). When I woke in the morning, the book was right there and it came along with me through my day.
I didn’t start to read early when I was a kid, mostly because my generation and the area where I lived didn’t teach kids how to read and write until the first grade. But as soon as I was shown the secret of deciphering those letters and making them into words, I zoomed. My favorite day in school was library day, and my second favorite was when the Scholastic book order was handed out. My favorite day at home was Saturday, when we went to the public library. Books very quickly became my best friends.
The early elementary school I went to housed only three grades, first through third, and so the library only held books for that age of reader. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Knuti, realized that I read well above this, and so she began borrowing books from the junior high and high school libraries and I devoured those. The children’s librarian at the public library soon realized the same thing and she guided me to subject-appropriate adult books that kept me enthralled and entertained.
Books were magic.
Last night, I sat with Michael and Olivia and we watched the first episode of this year’s America’s Got Talent. The final performer was a young man Olivia’s age who played the saxophone…and by played, I mean PLAYED. But before he performed, he talked about how he’d been bullied in school. Because he was a preemie, his vocal chords didn’t quite develop, leaving him with a raspy voice. The kids at school teased him mercilessly, and at 21 years old, he wept on the stage, and off to the side, so did his mother. I wept with him. And then he befriended the saxophone.
I had strabismus as a kid, which caused my eyes to be crossed. I had five surgeries to correct this, but they didn’t come in time for my eyes not to be noticed by the other kids. At the time, there was a television series called Daktari, which featured Clarence The Cross-Eyed Lion.
This saxophone-playing boy was called Frog. I was called Clarence.
When books became my best friends, like the saxophone became his, my first through third grade teachers, Mrs. Knuti, Mrs. Johnson, and Mrs. Campbell, realized what was happening and they quietly allowed me to stay in the classroom during recesses. I sat at my desk with my latest book and lost myself. It didn’t protect me entirely; there were still the hallways, the cafeteria, the dreaded school bus. But it helped. In the older grades, I didn’t have that kind of support, and so I carried a book with me wherever I went, hid wherever I could, and read.
The worst times for me: when I was discovered and my book was ripped out of my hands and destroyed. Right before my Clarence eyes.
But there were so many good times too. The books I read! The friends I made! The dreams I had! And when I realized at a very early age that I could make magic with words too, well…I just always had friends to turn to.
Another bright spot this Covid week: My novel All Told was reviewed by a reviewer, given 5 stars, and called a “powerhouse novel”. Powerhouse. Magic.
It took until this Covid week and thinking about books for me to come to a realization. Several years ago, in an antique store, I found a Big Little Book featuring Clarence The Cross-Eyed Lion from Daktari. I smiled at it, held it in my hand, and then decided to buy it. When I told a friend about this later, she asked, “Why would you buy that, when Clarence brought you such pain?” I didn’t know the answer.
I do now. I found Clarence…in a book. And books are friends. I made Clarence a friend.
It’s amazing, really, how much healing can go on in ten days. Reading books and carrying friends everywhere. Going to sleep with a book, waking with a book. Weeping on a recliner with a young man who found his own best friend in a saxophone.
Pulling that Big Little Book out from my bookshelf and reading it cover to cover, and patting the illustrated head of Clarence.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.