It’s there in my purse, in my car, on the counter. In the bed, by the tub, on the porch. I can’t seem to shake this book, not that I’m trying, because I’m not, but, still, shouldn’t it just be near my chair or by the good light, someplace book-stable? Some place. Not every place. But this book. This book that follows me everywhere. The pages purr under my thumb when I’m on the phone; I suppose the ritualized pop of the sateen cover is now unheard as it is pushed in and pulled out of my bag. The flyaway pages are turned at the corners, edges marred with smudges from the fat kindergarten pencil tucked inside, found in the seat pocket when I was waiting in a drive-thru line at a bank or some drug store.
I don’t even know if the book is any good and after whispering a recommendation, I decided to see if anyone else thought it was worth reading and, well, good ‘ole Annie, I started with ‘one star’ and worked my way back. Not really, though, because I only worked back to halfway through the ‘two stars’ because I hate book reviews because, in short, I really don’t care what other people think about the books they read. But in this instance, after saying “you should read this book”, I felt a spasm of guilt and a moral obligation to cover my ass.
I know I’m not a mainstream reader. I like my books like I like my people, big on character development and short on plot. I want to get to know story-people, not ride the safety-tested, Honors English approved Story Structure Roller Coaster with them. I want to float the Lazy River under an evening sun, dip my tired hands in the cool water. I want the House of Mirrors, maladies of proportion and beauty, not my feet on hot coals while I’m tweaking on meth and/or Pop-Tarts.
Dear Beautiful Writer Person,
Give me a slow jam. A jolt of poetry. Make me want to listen to Burn by Ray LaMontagne. All. Night. Long. Let me cry with your creation, curse his enemies, drink their wine, and develop a stalker-ish crush on her boyfriend/husband/lover. Wrap it all up with an unsatisfying bow and I’ll be yours forever.
Love, your fan,
As I was saying, I don’t even know if this book is any “good”. One would think it is because it has the precious New York Times Bestseller label on the front, but I’m not on terms with the New York Times Bestseller list, and in fact I’m not on terms with Kindle Bestsellers or B&N Bestsellers or anyone’s most purchased, fan pick, or county fair winner. It’s also adorned with about three pages of stunning remarks from some well-known authors and some not-so-well-known-to-me folks, but none of that matters either. I just flat-out like it.
And God knows I’m certainly not known for my ability to judge greatness, or even mediocrity for that matter, but I do know what I like, what sounds good in my head and to my ear, what makes me want to write inside the margin or fold the pages back or snap a photograph of a passage. These pages are well-folded and filled with wispy arrows and wavy lines and tall curling brackets. And I find myself re-reading those lines and grafs that have already kissed me rather than venturing farther into the party.
What if the rest doesn’t leave me breathless or heartbroken or drooling exclamation points and loopty-loops along the outside of those uniform lines of prose? What if those One-starrers are right? I already know that on page one I felt the chemistry and that on page two I was searching for any writing utensil at my disposal and that on page four, six, eleven, twenty-three through twenty-eight, I was in love, and blah, blah, blah. One hundred thirty-two and I’m still here, still glowing, still excited by the words and their order or their meaning, imagined or otherwise, and so I’ve kept it tucked inside my arm or within reach.
Tonight, I’m giving it a sideways look and checking my Facebook (political joke, political hack, political cartoon, fucking cat) and poking around in the kitchen cabinets (Fluff, some stale Kashi something-or-other that has been open for weeks, a roll of athletic tape), but it’s always here, the shiny black and white cover waving me over, lifting and falling on swirling air from above (or from the swinging cabinet doors). Come here, Annie, let me hook you up, girl. These hateful reading glasses that are way too strong and pinch my head remain atop it for an emergency session—like this one—for me to read these pages down off the sill, attend away their relentless lighthouse beckoning. For us both to be tucked in between the sheets.
There are a handful of things I value above everything else. Of course, family tops the list, but close behind are my friends. Some of those friends I’ve had my whole life. Those people take up a very special corner of my heart. Those people are home. Home Base. The place you’re safe, where no one can tag you and make you “it”. And when you’re from as far out in the sticks as me, Home Base is a lot like its own Universe.
Those people are all that’s left of “home” for me. My momma passed away, my dad and brother moved with their jobs. Someone else lives in the house I grew up in. For someone as obsessed with the idea of home as much as I am, very precious little in my life remains there. Hell, even those home-base-friends have scattered. Regardless, I’ve always seen us in the same circle. The circle was just much larger, filled in with spouses and children.
I’ve been gone from home for a long time. Since 1993 when three of us got married the same summer. I was fortunate to move back for a brief stint, but soon we hitched up our gypsy wagon and were on the road again. I thought it was great fun. Cute apartments that we moved out of before the carpets got dirty, decorating, new places to go and things to do. Relocating was just a fact of the job and it suited our twenty-somethings perfectly. Anyhow, I still had my friends from home. It was all good.
Looking back now, I’m not sure I made more than two or three long-term friends for at least five years. But that was okay. I was still part of that thing greater than myself and I suppose, looking back, that I clung to that notion and those friends even though I was slipping through the cracks.
Our stop in North Carolina turned out to be the longest we ever sat still, but before long we were gone again and let me tell you, Southwest Missouri is a long, long way from home. But, lo, the advent of Facebook, a fine fine way to deceive yourself into thinking you are part of something that you no longer belong to. I did that. I allowed status updates and emails convince me that I was still some distant sun to those home planets, long since spinning in their own orbit. I only just realized that I spin in a completely different galaxy.
Home: “Are you going to the get-together at the lake this weekend?”
Me: “What get-together?”
Home: “The Home Planet Get-Together. It’s always the last weekend in July.”
Me: “Errr … No.”
And it was just like that. Like cutting your finger while slicing tomatoes. It took a few seconds for the acid to sink in.
When we left Missouri, I was heart-broken. So were the kids. I told them not to worry, that they’d always have those friendships if they worked at it. “Look at me. I still have the same friends from when I was your age. It will be fine, fine, fine, fine, fine.”
I need to revisit that and tell them to work harder. To spend less time boasting about having life-long friends and more time being a life-long friend.
At the end of June, after a long trip to the beach and a stop in Atlanta to visit PA friends who moved earlier in the year, we stopped in North Carolina where Kayla had a surprise Sweet Sixteen with the friends she had from Kindergarten – third grade, when we moved. Four of them. It was emotional for me and (now) I have to wonder how long I’ve known that I no longer belong to something like that.
Probably a lot longer than the two days I’ve been thinking about it.
Third day. Ripping off the Band-Aid.
Hurts like a mother fucker.
While wandering around B&N last week, I stumbled upon the Summer Reading tables for the local high schools.
Check out the lower left hand corner.
And who knows … with Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, he might get another swing at her.