I don’t know exactly how old I was when I started to read, but I do know that my passion for books began long before my mother died. Until she got too sick to get out of bed anymore, we always made a weekly trip to the library to check out new stories to read.
One time, the librarian in charge of the children’s department told my mother that she felt that I had already read all of the Judy Blume books that were appropriate for my age level. She suggested that I not be permitted to read any of the author’s other books until I was older. My mother just smiled at her. She knew that I couldn’t be stopped. If the book sat on the shelves of the children’s library, I was going to read it.
I suppose she figured that as long as she was aware of what I was reading and we discussed any potentially confusing topics as they arose, I’d be O.K.
And she was right, I was O.K.
I think people get different messages from books depending on how old they are when they read them. For instance, when I was little, and my mother read Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels to me, it was just a story about a man who goes on a lot of voyages to some really cool places. But, now that I am reading it in school as an English assignment, it suddenly has all of these political undertones that make fun of society in a really nasty sort of way.
Anyway, my mother apparently agreed with the theory that readers only see what they are capable of understanding because, thankfully, she never forbade me from reading any of the library books that I chose to bring home with me.
And I can honestly say that there was only one negative side-effect related to my obsession with reading; one that had absolutely nothing to do with the content of the stories I was reading. I started to sneak out of bed at night. I know that I shouldn’t have, but wouldn’t you have done the same thing if your mother put you to bed at seven-thirty every evening? It was beyond ridiculous.
When I was in the second grade we had an assignment where we had record how we spent every hour of the day for an entire week. We had to account for how long it took to brush our teeth, to eat our breakfast; every moment of our day had to be recorded. The bedtime portion of the chart started at eight o’clock – a seven-thirty bedtime wasn’t even an option.
Now, I don’t know about you but, in my opinion, that chart provides fairly strong evidence that my bedtime was a bit on the early side. It’s impossible to put a second grader to bed that early in the evening and expect her brain to suddenly stop being awake simply because someone says it’s time to go to sleep.
That is why, even though my mother put me between the sheets at seven-thirty every night, my day was far from over.
Once the lights were turned off and my mother had gone downstairs to do whatever it was that she did after kissing me and my brother goodnight, I would quietly slip out of my bed and onto the floor. I’d get down on my itchy, sky-blue rug and position myself so that I was as close as possible to the little bit of light streaming through the crack in the door (my mother always left the door open slightly, so that I wouldn’t be suffocated by the terrifying darkness of night). As soon as I was relatively comfortable, I would start to read.
At the beginning of the evening, I was always watchful. I would listen carefully for my mother’s footsteps and, whenever I heard creaking on the stairs, I would lunge for my bed and pretend to be asleep. But, eventually, I would get caught up in the excitement of the story and forget to listen for footsteps. Then, that small crack of light would suddenly become a spotlight, and I would once again be exposed as the sneak that I was. Caught, I’d turn (with my head hung low) and crawl remorsefully back into bed…for the hundred-thousandth time.
Strangely enough, I never got reprimanded for sneaking around like that. In fact, nothing ever happened when my mother found me on the floor reading books when I was supposed to be in bed asleep. Maybe she didn’t really care what I did so long as I stayed in my room. Or, maybe, she knew me well enough to know that, as compelled as I was to crawl back into bed night after night, I felt a tremendous amount of guilt for doing so; even without her having to scold me herself.
Just the idea of getting caught produced a fluttering of anxiety in my stomach. I knew that I was doing something forbidden, and I feared discovery, but I kept on doing it – sometimes more that once a night. I’d get caught, crawl back into bed, and immediately begin to debate whether or not I should risk trying again. I swear that I wasn’t doing it to be deliberately defiant; I just wasn’t ready to go to sleep yet. I couldn’t fall asleep. No matter how hard I tried, my mind simply would not turn off.
Oddly enough, this strange pattern continued for months after my mother’s death.
It sounds completely absurd but, for some inexplicable reason, my brother and I kept climbing into bed at seven-thirty every night as if nothing had changed.
And, believe it or not, I continued to crawl out of bed so that I could read by the crack of light flowing into my room from the hall. I’d be willing to bet that I was the only nine year old in America who went to bed every evening before the nightly sitcoms came on the television.
Why did we do it? I’m not really sure. It probably had something to do with keeping to the routine. My mother died, we had a funeral, and then we dedicated ourselves to surviving the hazards of day-to-day living.
My father took the lead. His motto seemed to be, “keep moving and don’t stop.” So, I picked myself up, and I kept on moving.