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Courtney Wilson

When I was ten years old, I stole a candy bar from Stop & Shop and then lied when my mother questioned me about it. It was the third time that month that I had gotten in major trouble and my parents were at a loss. Having already confiscated my stereo, phone and TV, my barren room left them with the challenge of how to punish me. When they asked what I thought my punishment should be, I shrugged my shoulders and said nothing. They could take what they wanted, and I wouldnít care. While other children would have been distraught with the loss of such items, I was indifferent. Everything they took in hopes of punishing me were luxuries, simple things that I used to amuse myself when there was nothing else to do. Life without my stereo, phone and TV was certainly more boring, but not unbearable. I didnít care about the things they were taking away from me and so it wasnít a true punishment.

Just as I began thinking that I had finally outwitted my parents, my mother gave me a small triumphant smirk and walked slowly around me. Intrigued and more than a little alarmed by her smile, I turned and watched her. Instead of walking toward the few remaining luxuries, my stuffed animals and dress up clothes, she passed by them without so much as a sideward glance, instead heading straight for my bookshelf. Realizing her intentions, I began to panic.

ďNo Mom! Please donít do that, I promise Iíll be good. Donít take those, I wonít ever steal or lie again, I promise. Just donít take them away from me. Please, please, please!Ē I begged her.

For the next hour, ignoring my pleas and sobs, she proceeded to remove every single book from the shelves. Row by row, she stacked them in brown paper bags. The Secret Garden, A Tale of Two Cities, Moby Dick, Gulliverís Travels disappeared into those brown monsters along with Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Harriet the Spy and Encyclopedia Brown. Roald Dahl and E.B White were among the victims. In the end, bags filled to the top with my books sat on the floor while my bookshelf lay naked and bare.

The next month of my life was bleak to say the least. Without any books to read while taking my baths, the water bill went down considerably. Without any books to read on the toilet, my time spent in the bathroom was split in half. Without any books to read, I came home from school, ate dinner, did my homework and went to sleep immediately afterward. Suffice to say, in that one bookless month, I learned my lesson. I have never stolen or lied to my parents since; it just wouldnít be worth the punishment.

As long as I can remember, Iíve been able to read. Perhaps this is because I can only remember my life since kindergarten, but I think itís because before books, there was nothing special enough to remember. In first grade, while my classmates were struggling with Dick and Jane, I was begging my teacher to let me move on Claudia and Jamie from The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. In second grade, my classmates had moved on to chapter books while I was itching to move on to novels.

My hunger for books did not go unnoticed and in third grade I was invited to join an accelerated reading group. Looking back, the books that we read werenít especially hard, like James and the Giant Peach and Number the Stars, but I still loved every minute of it. Not just because I could read more advanced books, but also because I was finally surrounded by people who had the same voraciousness for reading that I did. No longer was I taunted with names like ĎBookwormí or ĎLibrarian.í I was with people who both loved and needed books as much I did.

Every so often, my school would have a book drive, which forced me to go through my bookshelves and clean it out. I canít remember any of these books that I donated which is precisely the reason I gave them away. The books that didnít survive the selections were ordinary and simple with too little imagination for my taste. While reading them, instead of being transported to the world of the characters, my mind stayed trapped within the four, blank white walls of my oppressive room and this was their ultimate failure. To the book drive they went.

The books that were not sacrificed to charity remain on my shelves today. More so than any scrapbook or photo album could do, they capture the essence of my childhood. It is these books that inspired me and gave me something that my normal, monotonous, suburban lifestyle could never give me. Thereís no single word to encompass how I felt curled up on the leather armchair in my family room, with a blanket covering my legs and a good book in my lap. It all depended on the book de jour. When reading The Diary of Anne Frank, I wrapped my arms around my legs and squeezed them tight to my body, feeling my heart pound every time the Franks heard a knock at the door. I imagined myself crouching in a tiny cupboard along with Anne, both our bodies sleek with nervous sweat as the heavy thud of a German soldierís combat boots came closer and closer to our hiding spot.

I felt in my very soul the pain and despair they must have felt upon learning that former friends had betrayed them. I would do my best to keep the tears from rolling down my face as I read just in case any of my family walked in, afraid that they would make fun of me, because who cries while reading a book? Honestly.

When reading The BFG, the Big Friendly Giant, my body relaxed, no longer taut with fear, free from anxiety of Nazi discovery. My legs hung down loosely over the edge, swinging slightly as I imagined myself riding on the enormous elephant-like ears of the BFG. I shivered as I felt the wind whizzing past my body as we ran together through dark, deserted streets of England, but I warmed as I thought of all the stories I would hear while perched high up on his ear. Stories filled with whizzpoppers and snozzcumbers and dream catching. Stories about the horrid giants he had to live with like Bonecruncher, Meateater and Skullcrusher.

Imagining these stories made me so happy that I didnít try to hide my smile from my family, not caring if they thought I was silly or not. Books made me glad and I didnít care who knew. A few weeks ago, I found out just how much of my happiness was dependent on them. Two Saturdays ago, my boyfriend of eight months told me that not only did he not love me and didnít want to be with me anymore, but also that he liked another girl. In one sentence he broke my heart and shattered my dreams.

After he said that, I turned around without saying a word, walked straight to my room and called my father and told him to come get me. While waiting the hour and fifteen minutes it would take him to get from my house to Exeter, I curled up into a fetal position and rocked back and forth with Ducky, the stuffed dinosaur Marc gave me for our sixth month anniversary, hanging loosely in my arms. I didnít think about Marc, I didnít think about us, and I certainly didnít think about Mary, the girl to whom he had moved on. For an hour and fifteen minutes I rocked back and forth staring blankly at the bare white wall and thinking only of one thing: the Southborough Public Library.

When my Dad finally arrived, I climbed weakly into the front seat and said,  ďMarc broke up with me. He doesnít love me. I want to go home. Can we go to the library?Ē

Having never heard my voice so flat and devoid of happiness before, he asked no questions. Turning the ignition, we started the hour and fifteen minute journey back.

Pulling in front of the modest two-century-old building, I quietly turned to him and told him that I would walk home. Thatís the one good thing about living in a small, rural town like Southborough; just about everything you need is within a ten minute walking distance. I was fortunate enough that the library fell into this radius and when I still lived at home, I took advantage of it every weekend.

My ritual was, and still is as follows. I get up early on Saturday morning before anyone else is awake, pack a lunch consisting of two peanut butter sandwiches with raspberry jelly, a small bag of Salt and Vinegar chips, and chocolate chip cookies that I bake the night before. The food goes into a plain brown paper bag, which in turn goes into the front pocket of my backpack. I leave the other pockets free for the ten or so books that Iíll be checking out.

After completing this ritual, I walk to the library, my excitement and anticipation growing with each step. Once I get there, I lose myself for hours walking down each aisle, reading the back covers of books, not limiting myself to any one author or genre. Any book that seems interesting I put in my pile. Eventually, once the room begins to darken as the sun sinks below the horizon outside, I head to the circulation desk and proudly set down all my new books saying, ďIíll take all of them please.Ē

Walking into the library on this Saturday, the same comfortable, content feeling came over me. I headed down the stairs to the basement where the childrenís section was, just as I had done for the last ten years of my life, before Exeter, before Marc, before I knew what it felt like to lose everything. I sauntered through the aisles, looking the books over. Little had changed about the selection and I wasnít surprised. Small town libraries rarely have the budget to acquire lots of new books, and Southborough was no exception. I didnít mind though. These were the titles of my childhood; they were what I had grown up with. They were comfortable, and just like they had always been, they were there for me.

After a bit of browsing, I made my selection. The BFG by Roald Dahl. I sat down in one of the leather armchairs. My legs hung loosely over the edge, swinging slightly as I imagined myself riding on the enormous elephant-like ears of the BFG. As I imagined stories of whizzpoppers, snozzcumbers, horrid giants, I smiled, not caring who saw me. I was back home.

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