I’m sure it was November, on the prairies, in my first year of University. It didn’t snow until Christmas that year, I’m sure, and if my memory serves, Bryan and I had broken up, and I don’t think we had gotten back together yet, and Mikhela, his daughter was living with me, off and on, but I remember it being more on, and often her infant sister was with her. And if it was November, I had almost certainly spectacularly failed the Calculus 115 midterm, with a 20%.
My mother was determined, in June of the spring before, and then, as she had been for my entire life, that no daughter of hers was going to a community college, to learn basket weaving. And so I found myself, from a graduating class of 5, in a lecture theater of 400. I had not learned the secrets of making a large place seem small. I didn’t know about making a friend in each class, starting small. I knew no one at university, save the man I was dating, and at 19 I still seemed to lack social skills and graces. I had turned down the orientation, assured by the boyfriend I would not be dating much longer, that he would show me around. I didn’t join a club, find a service group, I wasn’t the sorority type, and I think I found the Anglican Chaplain, but I seem to recall he quit shortly after I arrived, and I never did go back. I was ill prepared for the life I was leading, lost, broken and tired.
In HUB mall, there was, and probably still is, a discount seller of books. I went looking and amidst the odd sociology texts that may have been a text last year, over sized coffee table books of artists I had never heard of, there was a Patricia Cornwell book.
In the midst of drowning, being lost in that unhappy and lonely place, I took my Patrica Cornwell novel to the pedway between HUB and the Arts building, where it overlooked Rutherford house, and I sat and read. I hadn’t learned about the other, secret and quiet places at the University: the Periodical Reading Room in the Rutherford South, the Green house in the Ag and Forestry building, the museum in the faculty of Home Ec, the sunny spots in SUB, and the peaceful chapel at the Catholic residence.
I spent an afternoon devouring the book, a forensic pathologist, gruesome and sadistic murders, dysfunctional relationships, an adulterous affair. Utterly different than the life I was not leading well. Pure, escapist fantasy. I actually kept up with Patricia Cornwell through the years it took me to finally finish my degree (I started in 97, and my degree says 2005). From her I moved into Kathy Reichs, then on to JD Robb. I finally stopped reading Cornwell about 4 years ago, when things got utterly crazy, but I would stop people who were reading the new books, asking them what was happening to the story.
And all of this is a droll and somewhat literary way of getting to the point. I was reading one of Ian Rankin’s books last night. I’m new to him, he arrived in the house shortly after Gabe’s death, when someone brought books. And this particular book is about a serial killer. After the insanity and depravity that is Robb and Cornwell, quite tame.
I cannot read it. I came home from the hospital after Gabe’s birth, and I picked up the JD Robb book I was reading, and I could not read it. The violence, the hatred, the pain, the atrocity of all of it was too raw. Salt in a wound.
And I found myself putting the book down last night. Not putting it on the shelf, but bundling it in the bag for the book sale, half read. And actually contemplating if I wanted to foist it off on someone at all. Wondering if I should throw it out completely.
(I assure you, Mr. Spit and I, of the 2000 book library, do not throw out books. In fact, we don’t seem to give them away much.)
It astonishes me. I cannot read these books. I put down Rankin, and picked up the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
And the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie society is a heartbreaking book. But it is real. Pain and tragedy is measured out by love and joy.
And if I had to guess why I can’t read the likes of JD Robb and Ian Rankin, it is this. I have known pain and sorrow and terror.
I chose joy.