I used to hop off the school bus and sprint to my house, a book clutched tightly in my clammy little hand. I would plop myself down on the couch and read until my mom would call me into the kitchen for dinner — what typically felt like just minutes later.
I read after dinner and before school and while walking in the halls between classes and at sleepovers. I was on a first-name basis with the librarians in my elementary school and was always the one classmates came to when they were looking for a new book to read — they knew I knew what I was talking about.
Reading was how I made friends and went on adventures and learned about the world — and, in retrospect, what helped to turn me into a writer and an editor later in life.
I once had to go sit and cool down on the back staircase after getting into an argument with a coworker about my favorite series — I legitimately thought I might hurt him.
Needless to say, books were my life. My room featured a bookcase taller than I was for the majority of my life.
But when I became a junior in high school, I stopped reading. I don’t know if it was because I felt like I had more important things to be doing with my time — like applying to colleges and practicing for the ACT — or if it was because of some other deep, dark reason that will come to me years from now in therapy, but every time I tried to crack open a book, I would get a paragraph in and just give up. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t see the image the author was painting like I could when I was a kid — the book’s world was dark and unfamiliar to me.
Even my favorites — mostly the likes of Percy Jackson and friends — couldn’t hold my attention for longer than a chapter.
Since then — despite my inability to concentrate — I have always made half-assed attempts to get back into reading; I’ve gotten a book from the library, forgotten about it, and returned it without even reading the inside cover probably at least every two months since high school.
And that made me so sad. I felt like I had lost a piece of myself, the piece that made me brave and excited, and free. The piece that made me feel the most like myself.
I think as you grow older, you leave pieces of yourself behind. You grow out of things and people, you move out of your childhood home, you throw out what was once your favorite shirt — now worn and full of holes. I have left pieces of myself in friends’ basements, dorm rooms, behind the counters of ice cream shops, nestled on shelves of libraries, and — yes — between the pages of a thousand books.
For years now, I have been so afraid of never getting that piece back. I didn’t want to say goodbye to the feeling of devouring a book in one sitting simply because I couldn’t bear to put it down. I didn’t want to have to say goodbye to all of the worlds I’d been introduced to as a kid, but I was so afraid that that part of me was gone forever, replaced with someone who worries about her credit score and the fine lines already developing on her face.
That was why tonight, on the night of my 21st birthday, when I bundled up and braved the November cold to go get a book from the library, I teared up a little. I had received an email that a book I put on hold was available for pickup, so I threw out my plan for the night — watch The Office reruns for the millionth time — and go get this book. This was something the old me would have done: leaving the warmth and safety of home to go get the next book of a series simply because I couldn’t wait another second to get my hands on it.
I teared up because I felt like I had finally gotten a piece of myself back — to be fair, the blustery Chicago wind blowing in my face probably had something to do with it as well.
I got home and dove right in and was transported somewhere else for the first time in years. I suddenly didn’t feel so far and different from that freckled kid who always had a book — or two, or three — in her backpack. I felt a little like I was coming home.
I don’t think we’re supposed to get back all of the pieces we leave behind. Some of my pieces are better left where they are, and I am better for it. But I think sometimes just because we lose a piece of ourselves doesn’t always mean it is gone forever.