The cold damp winter and spring days seemed eternally dark, and endlessly dreary, trapping me indoors with only my thoughts and my loneliness. Living in rustic conditions with little or no modern conveniences made this even more difficult to bear. The acrid smell of kerosene lamps and wood smoke, combined with the ever present mildew-y tent smell permeated the air. The days brightening only just a little in the hours between dawn and dusk, if there was a sun break it was barely able to penetrate through the thick moss covered trees under which our little shack was built. The Drip, drip, dripping of the rain on the yurt roof, mirroring the drip, drip, dripping of my dark thoughts. Thoughts of hopelessness, betrayal, confusion, and sadness.
I was sinking.
In these days I did not see light or hope, I saw hypocrisy, hopelessness, and a betrayal. I was let down by nearly every adult in whose care I was entrusted. Fatherless, sexually abused, and virtually orphaned by a mother lost in her own struggle for survival and raising my young siblings, I felt invisible and unprotected; I was left to flounder without guidance, and to deal with heart wrenching grief over the loss of my innocence alone. My grief and loneliness was so complete I couldn’t see how it would ever be different. There was no light at the end of the proverbial tunnel that I could foresee.
I did my best to escape these thoughts, these conditions I was surrounded by, with my books. Stacks and stacks of books, fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, biographies, whatever I could get my hands on. The smell, the weight, the feel of these books in my hands was such a great comfort to me during these dark times. They were a means to elude my own reality and dive into someone else’s. I would submerge myself in someone else’s story, someone else’s grief, fantasy, joy, or triumph.
I found solace and escape curled up under my blankets with a cup of hot tea, lost in the pages of a new found novel. I would slip away into some elaborate tale, or fanciful adventure. I was encouraged by the likes of Anne Frank and Harriet Beecher Stowes Uncle Tom, and their perseverance in the face of enormous adversity. I would also lose myself in the fantastical pages of Narnia or The Hobbit, and other such fantasies. In this way I would pass these dark days one by one, and soon my days became brighter. I learned to cope with my circumstances, looking forward to a future I knew could be different. Hope was finally something I could grasp.
I must have spent hundreds of hours reading, escaping, and surviving. Reading saved my life. I owe a great deal to a great many authors who inspired me to look beyond myself, whose words lifted me up and carried me on. The stories that enlightened and encouraged me. The little truths and bits of wisdom I found in the thousands and thousands of pages I read.
Literature played a significant role in restoring my faith in humanity, made me look outside myself, helped to me educate myself and gave me the confidence to pick myself up and carry on. I still find great comfort in the written word, both in putting pen to paper, and turning the pages of a book to see what new knowledge it has to teach me, or just to plain old escape into another world.