In late 2019, I was in the midst of trying on wedding dresses when I found out about Toni Morrison’s death. It was a disconcerting thing – to be so happy and so sad, feeling the two conflicting emotions duke it out within you, while you stared at yourself in the mirror and told yourself to smile. My instinct was to run to my bookshelf, take down my copy of Beloved, and read myself to sleep – to feel even a sliver of her in a world where she no longer was. It was the first thing I did when I got home.
But I couldn’t find it.
I took down every book on that shelf, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the book had crawled into a space I couldn’t reach or see. With a pile of books on the floor, and about ten left on the shelf, I had to deal with an irreconcilable fact – Toni Morrison was gone, and my favourite book of hers was nowhere to be found. That book was my first contact with Morrison’s brilliance, a book I read for a literature module that slowly became one of my favourites. Yet, it wasn’t on my shelf.
After a thorough search of my house, I came to the conclusion that I must have loaned it to someone else, fully expecting to see it again, not knowing I never would. My heartbreak was silly I suppose, since I could purchase the book again (and did so), but my new Beloved wasn’t the same as the old one, the one who had accompanied me while I put in late nights for assignments. It wasn’t the book I brought in for the final exam, and it certainly wasn’t the book I held as I tried to explain my thoughts to the cutest lit professor. Toni Morrison had passed on, and I felt like a fraud for not even keeping track of her book; it should have been on my shelf.
While I waited for my new book to arrive, I dealt with my grief by reading reviews of her work online, gratified by this community who loved her writing as much as I did. How could she write so beautifully yet so hauntingly? Chart bleak horrors through such breathtaking prose? When my new copy of Beloved arrived, I could experience all this first-hand, to grieve her loss while I held a part of her in my hands. It was a weird feeling to find myself slightly comforted when the heart of Beloved is such unspeakable pain and loss.
It came as no surprise to me that upon the discovery of Beverly Clearly’s recent death, there was once again the desire to read my favourite book of hers, the only one I kept because it was too precious to give away. The book’s name was Fifteen, something my mom had given to me when I was younger than that titular age, confident I would enjoy it as much as she did. Well, she was right. As a teenage girl going through puberty and a firework of hormones dancing within me, reading about Jane Purdy and her experience of first love was goddamn delightful.
However, once again the book was nowhere near me, since my husband and I were renting while waiting for the completion of our own house, and most of my books were in my old room back at my parents’ house. I finally found some time to pay them a visit, and after dinner, stole back into my old room to look for the book. When I found it, I held it for the longest time, gazing around at the pink walls of a room I no longer slept in, pink walls that accompanied me through so many book journeys, walls that had gazed down at me while I read Fifteen and dreamed of a boy who could love me like Stan Cran Crandall loved Jane.
I was no longer that girl, but somehow, I could feel her within the pages of that book, stirred to life by a trip down memory lane. It made me cry a little, for Clearly’s passing but also for me, weeping for a time of my life that is now over. I wish I could hold on to that bright-eyed, dreamy girl, the one with stars in her eyes, who treasured books more than life itself.
I brought Fifteen back to my new place, dusting it off the best I could, and placed it beside Morrison’s Beloved on my new shelf. I had to say goodbye to their authors, to pieces of myself tied to these books they had penned, but there is some measure of respite knowing that these books are near me now, and they will follow me into my next phase of life – mine to love forevermore.
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