June 19, 2011
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Dylan sat on the couch in our basement and waited for me to pick out a video, since it was my turn. The last movie we saw had been his choice – Muppets Treasure Island, as usual. He told me that as long as I didn’t choose Napoleon, the story of a golden retriever puppy, which gets whisked away by a hot air balloon and finds himself on an adventure of a lifetime, I could choose anything I wanted. I scanned the wooden shelf of videos. The Lion King, Annie, My girl. We both knew that I would choose my second favorite if I couldn’t watch Napoleon.
I slid the cassette into the VCR and went to sit on the couch. We shared the light evergreen blanket, since it could fit over both of us back then, and waited for the movie to start. The basement felt the most like a movie theater, relatively dark except for a few thin beams of light shining through the high window. We were reminded we were truly underground since the grass and the bushes were above us outside. Then Matilda began. She was the girl who was thought to be ordinary. The girl who was secretly brilliant, and even magical. The bravest and kindest little girl whose life was the most perfect happily ever after.
Before I discovered books, my life was lonely and ordinary. I have always known I was different than my family, even different in that bad sort of way. That way that makes you feel like you don’t belong anywhere. Except now I realize I belong somewhere. I belong everywhere, in the world of books. I consume the stories and breathe them like their pages are made of oxygen. It actually began with telephone books. My parents would leave me home all day alone while they went to work because I was too little for school. I taught myself how to dress myself, make myself food, clean up, wash my hands, tie my shoes. It wasn’t a matter of whether I wanted to teach myself all of this. It just happened. The most valuable thing that I taught myself was how to read when I was three years old. And it started with telephone books. I liked the way they felt under my fingers, when I flipped the pages. I knew the letters and the numbers could tell me something, and when I figured out what it was, I looked up the address of the town library. My shoes were shiny and black and I put on a pink headband and left my house for the children’s library. It immediately became my daily routine. I would read in that large building until my eyes were sore. I fell asleep with a book in my lap so many times that the librarian eventually knew to wake me up at five o’clock every evening before she closed for the night. She was nice to me, probably because she felt bad for me and how unloved I seemed. Her name was Mrs. Phelps and she was old and walked very slowly. She talked slowly too, maybe thinking I had trouble understanding her. The couch I always fell asleep on was too big for me. My legs stuck straight out and weren’t long enough to even bend.

I wasn’t unloved, though. I guess my parents did love me, somewhere very deep down. But I loved the books and the books loved me back. The stories, the pages, the words. The worlds that enveloped me and welcomed me with open arms. And when the library closed, Mrs. Phelps would help me load my red wagon with storybooks and I would walk home with them, feeling full and satisfied.

This continued for a long time, and by a long time I mean years. I watched my brother Michael leave for and return from school every day, and my jealousy burned tears into my eyes. Not that I didn’t enjoy being home by myself - that was what I preferred. I was usually never lonely with my authors and my stories. But I knew there was something that I was missing. My father was big and loud and I felt small when his booming scratchy voice told me what to do. His cologne choked me and his face was fat and red. My mother would flit around with her long manicured nails and her curly golden hair and her screetchy voice and tell her friends there was “something wrong” with her daughter. The face she knew best was her own reflection in the mirror. My brother called me dipface and threw food at me because he got away with it. So even though I could lose myself to Ivanhoe and Moby Dick and Mr. Darcy, I started to realize that I needed something else.
That something else came one ordinary night, in front of the television. I hated the television, but it seemed to be my family’s reason to live. I was curled up on the couch with Moby Dick trying to ignore my family’s shrieking laughter from the TV show. Dad got up from his seat and stuck his face in mine. His voice thundered around me. “Are you a part of this family?” He yelled. “Family night is TV night. Do you understand me? What is this trash you’re reading?” He snatched the book out of my hands and ripped page after page out, throwing them onto the floor. He turned the volume up on the TV as high as it could go. My initial fear molded into anger and then into a pure wholesome hatred that was rolled into a tight ball in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t feel like me. I felt like fire and like nothing at all. My father’s hands grabbed my face and turned it to face the TV screen. He stood behind my chair and I heard his deep, rumbling cackling at the show we were watching. My mother’s shrill howl. The venom settled in my stomach and slowly spread until it consumed me like a snake and my hatred took me over when I felt it clawing at my insides with more and more anger and I was powerless over the white hotness that burned through my veins and then it happened- the first of many unordinaries. The television set imploded and there were dying electrical sputters and sparks and there was a tremendous bang that blew a wave of heat into my face. There was my mother’s shriek of fear and then there was a dark silence and we sat in the pitch-black family room trying to piece together what we had just witnessed.

Some call it magic, mystery, enchantment, or even witchcraft. I call my talent my very own way of dealing with my enemies.

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