My childhood was much like being drunk. I don’t remember much of it and everyone else has to tell me what happened and remind me of what I did. This has been my coping mechanism in dealing with what was not the ideal childhood experience. So much of it was full of fear and stress that at some point I just blocked it out. What I do remember though is discovering my lifelong passion and love: reading. Reading saved me (Clearly it also gave me a flair for the dramatic as well). The first book that I ever read- the one that changed my life- was A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It opened my six-year-old mind up to endless magical possibilities.
I was given my first copy of A Little Princess by my parents for my birthday. I was only six but reading was something that came naturally to me. I was always three or four grade levels above my own in the subject and my teacher, Mrs. Gonzalez, suggested to my parents that they encourage this skill in me. So after I blew out the candles on my birthday cake at the dinner table that night, my mom handed me a small white box with a frilly pink bow on it. I opened it delicately taking my time until my brother ripped the top off while saying something annoying about me being slow or an idiot or maybe a combination of the two. Anyways, it was something less than charming and when I was done giving him the stink eye, I turned back to my gift. There it was: my first book! It belonged to me and only me and it was about a princess with brown hair who wore her hair in curls just like me! I was sure this book was written specifically for me and when I opened it I saw my name with a message underneath. It read: “We love you and are so proud of you. You will always be our little Princess. Love, Mommy and Daddy”. This made it all the more special and I couldn’t wait to go hide in my room and read it.
It was finished the next day. Then I read it again. It was incredible! Nothing else existed when I was reading. It’s like I was transported straight to India where Sara Crewe was raised. I felt homesick with her when she got to England. And I cried like a baby when her Daddy died. It was horrible and amazing all at once. I’m sure I must have been obnoxiously rehashing every detail to everyone in my family for days. It was all I could think about. I felt like I had just made a friend for life. Sara was so much like me. She was quiet, polite, she never said anything hurtful to anyone, she had a doll that had outfits that matched her own and she was considered weird because she loved telling vivid stories that she could come up with on the spot. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone or like a freak. I was also given hope that I too could make friends and that no matter how bad it could get in our home, happily ever after could and would come for me as well.
After I had read the book so many times that I could recite it by memory, my mom told me about the library. Apparently I could go to the library and borrow as many books as I wanted using only a card with my name on it. Life changing to say the least. I went through book after book absorbing as much as I could. I read many books similar to A Little Princess and I even read books on India, England and boarding schools just so that I could understand that original story even better. Eventually I even came to the realization that there were people who wrote these books that I loved so much. It was somebody’s job to make up stories that other people will want to read over and over again. My young mind was blown by the possibilities that life now held for me. I knew right then that I wanted to be a writer.
One book changed my life forever. It showed me that there were other people in the world than the ones that existed in my sheltered life. It showed me that there were places to travel, adventures to be had and memories to be made. I realized that all I needed to do when I needed an escape was to open up a new book. I found out that I could make a living and a life out of my love for reading and writing. I learned to believe that a happy ending was a possibility for anyone who wanted it and who deserved it-even me. One book started a chain reaction in my young life that is still unfolding for me. I’m as much of a bookworm today as I was on my sixth birthday. I still have that first copy of A Little Princess, only now it’s in good company with the nearly hundreds of other books I cherish on my very own bookshelf that lines my bedroom wall.