My childhood was not what you would call “ideal”. My parents, after years of disagreements and fighting, divorced. I remember the morning I knew that my father was no longer going to live in our home. I woke up and walked into the living room, and the brand new tv was gone, and for some reason, I just knew that meant my dad had moved out.

At the time (I was around  6), divorce was still relatively rare. I felt so different. I hated it. It was almost shameful, the way I felt. Dirty. Like there was something wrong with me. After a while, my mom started to date, and ultimately, by the time I was about 11, ended up with a man who turned out to be one of the vilest human beings I have ever had to personally deal with. She never married him. They just lived together (another oddity in those days). And the funny thing was, they argued just as much as my parents had, even worse, but she stuck it out with him, more or less, for around 15 years.

So, home life was hell. I escaped that hell with the help of some friends.

Nancy Drew was my constant companion until 6th grade, when my reading teacher felt I was capable of more advanced writing. I thought for the longest time that I loved Nancy because I loved mysteries, but it turns out I loved Nancy because she was a strong, intelligent, independent young woman. She had a happy life despite losing her mother at an early age. She was a great example to me.

The Boxcar Children and The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler were two friends I met by chance while roaming through the library at Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary School. Again, there was an element of mystery in the stories, but the greatest attraction was the adventure the children in the stories experienced and the ingenuity they all displayed in providing for their needs. I read both of these books only once as a child (as opposed to others that I have read multiple times), but their stories stayed with me and influenced me throughout my childhood.

I don’t remember when I got Little Women. I think it was a “treat” I got to pick out when on an outing with my dad. I knew nothing of the story, I just liked the cover. This book was a friend that I turned to many, many times through the years. She was hard to read the first time. I had no cultural references to the book Pilgrim’s Progress spoken of at the beginning of the story, I didn’t even know that it was an actual book, and so I found that confusing, but I loved the March sisters with all of  their strengths and weaknesses, but mostly their desire to be good and do good.

My copy of Little Women went missing for many, many years. I don’t know how, and it was distressing for me. Every time my mother moved, I asked if she had come across my book. I had come to the conclusion that I would need to buy a new one, when my mother finally found mine in some long-ignored box.  I was 30 years old when we were reunited.

These friends, and many, many more “acquaintances”, provided an escape from the chaos in which I lived, but their impact has been of a far more enduring nature. I learned from these friends that my present need not  be prologue to a life of dysfunction. They gave me a vision of what a healthy family looked like, but most of all, they provided me with role models that taught me to rise above victimhood.

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”  ~Charles W. Eliot

Thank you, thank you, friends.

Advertisements