I open the book, hiding under the covers with a flashlight in my hands. My greedy eyes take in the words eagerly, hungrily. I trace the words, pressing my palm against the cool paper, wishing that I could fall into the pages like one falls into a lover’s arms. (Have I ever fallen into a lover’s arms? No. I think not. Instead, I step into those arms. Timid. Unsure. Frightened. Wary. Those arms might squeeze me too tight.)
I talk to the books like they have all the answers. (Get your head out of the clouds, Keely, they used to say. They stole the books away, stowing them in boxes to gather dust. My brother got a book for me. Our own form of rebellion.)
I ask if they were scared when they faced the dragon, giving riddles to stave off the fear, and clutching a little gold ring in small fingers. (Did you wish you had stayed in your hole? Never opened your door. No. I think not. You enjoyed the adventure though we know you’d never admit it.)
I ask if they wished they had never got that owl and stayed under the cupboard where it was safe and sound. (Where it was dark and cold and spiders crawled all over you. Where you did all the chores and only got a scrap of crust for your efforts.)
I ask if they wished they ignored that strange wardrobe and prayed like all the other children did for father to come from the war. (No. You stepped into the wardrobe where animals talked and witches ran amuck, cursing sweets and shaving cats. Looking for something that no one could give. Only a father could. Only a mother could.)
I ask them if they regret the decisions they made and if they could, would they make a different choice?
Would they take a different path?
What was it like to face your death?
I talk but they don’t answer. So I create answers myself. I have conversations with the characters. They help me through heartbreak. They give me advice when I feel lost. They give me encouragement when I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders.
It’s no wonder my first friend was a book.
We lose ourselves in castles, surrounded by dragons, fairies, swords in stone and the knowledge that the hero would always win. Because life isn’t like that. The guy doesn’t always get the girl. The girl doesn’t always find her prince. The heroes don’t always win. The books give us hope, love, faith, courage.
You turn the next page, holding that crisp paper that smells like home, looking for something that you can’t find in the world. Books are more than an escape. They’re a solace. An adventure.