I was sixteen.
I was a junior in high school.
And things were going okay enough.
Yes, there were some ups and down and a heaping amount of stress, but I was surviving. I was reading all the time, and not just for my classes. Books were one of my closest friends and with every free opportunity I had, I had my nose shoved in between the pages. They gave me peace and serenity. They offered escape from the real world and the problems that hid and strived there. I thrived in books, and I was also starting to wield words and craft my own stories. Bonding over books was also how I met my best friend. Where would we be if books and our high school book club hadn’t brought us together, V?
Words and me were hand in hand then. (And still are.)
But suddenly my aunt passed. A young woman with a five month old baby. It was a shock. (It still is.) It was crushing. It ruined everything. Having breakdowns throughout the school day became a new norm.
A week later another member of my family passed, my great grandmother. That was another crack to my sanity.
I was barely moving by that point.
SATs and AP exams were coming up and I barely had the motivation to take them, but I did in the end. I lost all interest in succeeding in school or keeping myself together. Nothing seemed real, to be honest.
But then, a book seemed to open up my heart and my mind.
The Bell Jar.
I found myself diving into the words of that book and never wanting to come out. Plath’s novel help me evaluate and recognize the grief and struggles I was having as a result of those deaths. That book helped me heal, to grow. To find peace and a little bit of solace that helped me move on each and every day. I was starting to accept the facts and truths that I had been so desperate to ignore, to squash down despite the deep heart ache that grew with every breath and heartbeat. That book is now one of my absolute favorites. I cherish it more than anything sometimes.
That wasn’t the first time books brought me a small peace from my grief. It was middle school, I was about twelve or thirteen, and I had lost my great grandfather and my cat (this cat was my everything and I had grown up alongside her, so it had been a staggeringly traumatic event. I remember getting angry at a Ray Bradbury documentary in English class where he had a cat walking along his shoulders. “It wasn’t fair his cat was alive and mine wasn’t,” was my reasoning.). I struggled then, too. But books helped me fall away from the pain of reality and to find peace. Words blanketed me and gave me an escape that was worth everything, then and now. That will never change, the second home books have given me.
It seems as if grief has a clever way of always finding me, but what grief doesn’t know is that I have books by my side to help me keep living and loving and reading and remembering those I have lost.
I still hurt.
I still miss them.
But because of books, I can live.
I can breathe.
I can get up each morning and think about how much I love my family, living and dead, and not crumple to my knees, a sobbing wreck. (Though there are still tears from time to time.)
Books are family too, now. I find myself safe and at home in between the pages. I drink down words like water and grow from the endless stories I absorb.
Books saved me from falling down the rabbit hole of grief, and I always hope that others will find the same savior in them as I did.
Grief still has a home in my heart, but cracked book spines seem to have a stronger presence compared to the heavy grief residing there.