Television is great, but I had books when I was young. They were a dimension of my life more real at times than the people around me. They were always getting me into trouble. The librarian in our school library when I was in second grade who wouldn't let me get those fascinating ]Mother West Wind] stories because they were on the fourth grade shelf - the teacher in the sixth grade who thought I was peculiar because I stood on the playground and read at recess when I was in a strange school and didn't know my schoolmates - but most of all it was Mother.
"Put that book down and get your work done!" was the theme of my adolescence. The day she passed by in the car and saw me reading a book on the way home from the library she gave me the severest tongue-lashing I ever remember having. Why this upset her so, I've never understood, but I know why she disliked so much my reading around the house. Robert was gone, and we were alone. She wanted me to talk to her, and all I did was read.
Getting my own room was a thrill. It was a tiny cave, so overwhelmed with bed and bureau I was scarcely able to move about in it, but it was mine, a place where I could be alone. The most satisfying thing I did in my room was to read at night. I had to use a flashlight, of course, because Mother would have spotted the light under the door, but at last I could read without interruption. Night after night I covered my book and myself and my flashlight with a blanket, making a cave within a cave, and ploughed through my books. Ramona, Riders of the Purple Sage, Les Miserables with only my fancy to guide me I furrowed trash and classic alike. Then I chanced upon The Hound of the Baskervilles, a tales of the wild English moors by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A vivid sequence describing the hound's eyes burning in the darkness sent me into such a nervous tremor that I couldn't hold the book. I turned off my flashlight, came out from under my blanket cave, and attempted to settle down for the night.
Before I closed my eyes, I happened to look across at my bureau, a scant ten feet away in my narrow room. There, clearly etched in the top drawer, were the two burning eyes of the dog I had just seen described! I shriveled back under the blanket in terror, but soon peeked out again to make sure they were there. They were, indeed! They would not go away! I couldn't scream. If Mother came, she would find out about the book and the flashlight. I couldn't run. I was afraid to get out of bed lest the eyes follow me wherever I might go. I couldn't stay under the blanket because I had to see if the eyes were approaching. All I could do was to lie in bed, stare at the eyes, and tremble; and this I did though the long hours of the night.
The eyes faded as dawn came, and I soon fell fast asleep, exhausted by my vigil. When Mother roused me to go to school, I looked fearfully at the bureau, but the eyes were gone. That night when I went to bed, I turned out the light, hopped into bed, careful not to look at the bureau in so doing, pulled the covers of my head, and went straight to sleep. I never read by flashlight again.
I still don't know if there was some physical stimulus for my nightmare. Did I have a mirror over my bed which reflected a street light on the bureau, or was it merely my fertile imagination so sensitive to the skillfully written word that it grew eyes of its own? I'll never know, of course, but that night those eyes were real, threatening me in the darkness of my cave.
I can't berate the quality that lies within me forcing such identity. True, at movies I have to look the other way when violence or danger walk the screen, but in life this same quality meets the needs of others. When my son looks out into the patio and sees beauty in the arch of the scraggly pin oak deformed in its tender years, I too feel beauty. When a student rears to his feet in excitement over discovering an idea for himself, I too am excited. When my husband walks into the room in tense silence, I too am disturbed. My life reaches out beyond itself into the periphery of others. This quality, though a burden at times, mostly is a blessing. I am alive.