My love of words has always been there. I was early to talk early to read. My family never understood my love of words. They actively discouraged it in fact. I became known as the bookworm and scorned and laughed at by my cousins, Aunts and Uncles. In my part of town words were a medium best left to the enlightened ones. Ours was a family designed for working not reading. Big strong men who could strip an engine down in five minutes had no need of words at all. Mothers who cooked from memory never needed the comfort of a recipe book and washing hardly needed instruction.
I was forever being told. ‘Put that book down…’ ‘Go out and play…’ ‘Why can’t you be like the other kids?’ In contrast to my family the words I read in books welcomed me into their world. They made no judgements as they gathered me up and carried me away. It was as if they were telling me, in their hushed, whispered tones, ‘you don’t belong to these people, it is all a mistake. You belong to someone else. A mix up at the hospital, the wrong baby sent home with the wrong family.’
I became convinced that this was the truth of the matter. I did not belong with the people who haunted my family’s home, or the children around me at school. So alien did my parents appear to me that I began to think of them as pseudo parents. Not real. Fake. Worse still, the thought occurred to me, that if I were meant for another family, then some other child now had the life that should have been mine.
At school I would ask my teachers why the words in a book were so thin yet their meanings so solid? My teachers would stare at me or send me to the corner for being ‘silly’. One told me she wasn’t being paid enough to deal with me. I assumed that a child who wanted to learn must for some reason cost more.
My class mates only ever seemed to see me as a goody two shoes who threatened their chances of being chosen for the important position of lunch monitor. I had no desire to be a lunch monitor. Who wants to sit counting out ragged strings of five-cent pieces into a conforming dollar when there are words to be read and meanings to be digested? I had decided that the only thing money was good for was buying books and lollies. Even there I was mistaken and I think this is when some of it might have begun.
We were having a class party at school. I can’t remember why. My pseudo mother had filled a large Tupperware container with butterfly cakes and shoved them into my hands that morning to take. I didn’t really care too much for my class or it’s parties. I didn’t like butterfly cakes either. So on the way to school I spent my lunch money on the biggest bag of malt chew lollies I could buy. They were all I wanted and my mind filled with bliss as I ran my hands over their waxy wrappers, chewing happily whilst hiding them in the bottom of my school bag.
I entered the classroom and put my bag in the cloak room. A strange name for a room whose primary function was to hold bags not cloaks. Why wasn’t it called a bag room? I took out the Tupperware container and handed it to the teacher. She placed it on a table filled with more things I didn’t want to eat.
I saw some boys jostling each other near my bag. It was then that I started to worry about my lollies. There’d been a few incidences of bags being stolen at school. I stood up from my seat and went to check on my lollies. They were there but I wanted them safe. I gave them to my teacher and asked her to lock them in her desk drawer. She looked at me in a strange way. As if I were asking her to eat snakes. She took my bag of lollies, holding them away from her and pinching the bag only at the corners. I wanted to yell at her to be careful in case they should fall. Didn’t she understand what was in there?
All morning I could think of nothing but those lollies. I wanted to touch them again. To feel their wrappers. I wondered how they were made. Did they have a machine or were there hundreds of people somewhere wrapping those little squares by hand? I could feel the desire to chew building in my jaw. I crunched on pencil but it wasn’t the same.
Finally at 12.00 the bell rang and we were instructed to go out and play for 15 minutes and to make sure that we used our time wisely by going to the bathroom as well. I found myself hustled out the door with all the other children. I didn’t want to play and I had no book so I walked around the playground twice then found I was late for the party. As
I entered the classroom a small plate was thrust into my hands and I was pushed to the end of the line of children shuffling their way along a table. I didn’t want to be in the line. I just wanted my bag of lollies. I put the plate down and headed for my teachers desk. She yelled at me to please for once to do as I was told and join the back of the line. Before I had a chance to ask her for my own preference in food, a pair of hands grabbed me from behind, spun me around and shoved me back toward the line. Why could they not understand that I didn’t want to be there?
My body began to shake with frustration. I felt hollowed out yet full at the same time. My stomach dipped and lurched the way it does whenever my dad drives us down a big hill and my fingers started twisting themselves together. I wanted to escape this feeling of sinking within. I’d felt this before when melting words but never this keenly. I knew I needed a book to hold. To flip through its pages endlessly until this feeling went away. I left the line and went to the bookshelf. Again I was grabbed by a pair of hands form behind. This time I couldn’t help it. This time I screamed.
My arms and legs were filling with a jittery rage while the centre of my being felt like it was removing itself from my body. The room began to spin. There were too many sounds. Too many smells. Too many hands touching me. I wanted them off me. I struck out at them in blind panic. They moved. Someone handed me a book. I took it and ran. The only things it seemed I would ever be allowed to have in that classroom were books.
My pseudo parents were called to the school that day. It seems I was outside the confines of what a child should be and the school no longer wanted me. At least not for the next month, or so my pseudo father said. My pseudo mother told me that I’d have to go to work with her as I could not be trusted on my own. Then she added, that they were taking my books away from me. They were clearly upsetting my mind.