I’m not entirely certain how I turned out this way.
My childhood was typical, and I spent plenty of happy summer hours outdoors, catching frogs in the creek and trekking through the forest. But always, always, there was an emptiness inside that dragged me toward my destiny of addiction.
I can’t blame my parents. I know they tried.
They encouraged me to spend more time watching Saturday morning cartoons and playing with dolls, and for a long time, I tried to fake it.
I lost sleep at night, hiding under my blankets with my tiny flashlight and a dog-eared copy of Anne of Green Gables. If they’d known how bad it really was, I’m sure they would have stepped in. Gotten me some sort of help. It got worse throughout my teenage years, and the money I earned from various babysitting jobs went straight to the bookstore. Friends and I would huddle in dark corners of our high school, swapping books with one another, far away from the prying eyes of teachers. I kept extra books in the trunk of my car, just in case. It made me feel safe, knowing I could touch them, even if I didn’t read them right away.
I’ve tried to break myself of the habit. But it never lasts. How can I breathe without the written word in my hands? I hunger for it.
As an adult, I moved to a small town without a bookstore. I thought my location would help keep me on the straight and narrow. The next town over has a thrift shop, however, and I have a little problem with their monthly half off days. A Joyce Carol Oates book for seventy-three cents?
How can I deny myself that pleasure? (I can’t.)
My husband can always tell when I’ve slipped off the wagon. The glorious scent of an elderly book stains my hands, and he’s caught on to my look of guilt when I attempt to smuggle a few new books into the house. Pro tip: That thing we do where we try to hide the books under our shirts as we sneak them in? Never works. It’s the sharp corners poking though the fabric that gives it away.
Still, though. I’d been holding steady of late, limiting my habit to just one or two here and there.
Now, the local library has set up a table of books for sale just inside the front door. Fifty cents each! And there isn’t even any social interaction required: the money is just dropped into a box on the table.
People, I’ve got a confession: I’ve slipped.
I began just stopping by once or twice a week, dropping in a few quarters and sliding a book or two into my purse. But the pull is strong, and quarters have changed to nickels and dimes, which soon ran out.
At this point, I enter the library and break out in a sweat. My hands shake. My breath comes out in short, shallow gasps. I’m too honest to short change the money box, so I force myself to approach the librarians.
I search my pockets for the occasional penny and a few balls of lint, hold them out in my open palm.
My voice cracks as I plead for leniency. “L-l-look, man. I just need a few more. I’m good for the rest of the money, I swear. I can pay it off next week. I just… I just need some books today, you know, to help get me through.”
The librarians, they look at me over their bifocals, pity evident in their eyes.
They know what I am.
Deep inside, I know it, too.
Healing is reported to come with admission, so here it is.