Friday, January 2, 2009

Loss of Innocence

We all have those life-changing experiences -- the kind that haunt you, twist at your guts, make you feel like going down twice and only coming up once. The ones that change you for the rest of your life, give you nightmares, affect the way you look at people. Well, this post isn't about one of those. It's about the kind that changes your life, sure, scars you a bit, yeah, but isn't exactly life-threatening.

It happened when I was eleven.

I had been reading quite voraciously, inhaling books, if you must know. It was an addiction. In fact, my father had told me that if he caught me with a book again, he'd whip my butt. Now, before you gasp in horror and ring for the Child Protection Services, let it be known that I grew up in a book-loving family. Our family activities revolved around books and reading and magazines and anything literary. I remember cuddling up to my dad in the fourth grade as he read Romeo and Juliet aloud to me, and I would often be handed the Scientific American and told to read such and such article. If I didn't understand, my dad would just tell me, "Keep reading." And then we'd discuss it when I was done.


When I was three, my parents thought I'd clamber into the nearest car of the first person who talked to me and disappear. I was that curious and that out-going. Once I learned how to read, however, I realized that I didn't have to go off exploring the world. I could safely bury myself in a book, and mom and dad wouldn't be worried. Despairing that I'd ever enjoy the beauty of a sunset or the scent of sunlight in pines again, my parents set up certain rules. One of these consisted of hours in the garden each day, weeding.The withering sun, the dry baked dirt... But I digress. The real life-changing experience came when they insisted that I read a book of their choice for every one of mine.

Because I loved reading, it didn't matter if I was reading a book written in 1806, 1906, or 1986. But when I was eleven, my dad handed me Gone With the Wind. I'm not exaggerating when I say that reading the book destroyed me. Like the scent of old perfume that transports you back to Grandma's house or the strains of an old song that swirls you into the arms of your prom date, just the title of that book sickens the pit of my stomach. I wasn't old enough or mature enough or hardened enough by life to enter into Scarlett's world. I tore through it, just like any other book, but when I read those last words on that last page, I thought I was going to throw up. I don't think my parents even noticed that I spent the next three days in bed, bawling my guts out. I'm sure they just thought I was holed up with another book.

I felt like a part of me died that day. And thinking back, I still feel sick and there's a lump in my throat I can't quite swallow that has nothing to do with Scarlett and everything to do with the loss of innocence.

And the long-term impact of such an experience? I hate drama. I excuse myself from any in the real world that flares up around me. I just don't play. And for the literary world, I despise books that wallow in it, characters that thrive on it, and authors who capitalize on it. I don't read those kinds of books. Don't get me wrong, I love books that explore the range of emotions a human can encompass, but I don't seek out the kind that tears your guts out. And I'm always on the look out for a fun romp minus the messiness of angst. So Stormbreaker, here I come!

7 comments:

B J Keltz said...

I was reading books I never should have been allowed to pick up at that age, and the loss of innocence from an unsuspecting book really does stick with you. For me it was horror. Bloodshed and violence for the sake of titillation is something I just can't abide.

Doug said...

I wish I had picked up more books as a kid. I was too busy with bikes/motorcycles/snowmobiles/cars...
The good news is that now I love checking out a new book, and I am with you. I don't go for books that build drama for drama's sake. I want a fun ride with twists and turns that explores world that I have never been before or tells an interesting story.
Doug P.
twitter.com/thenextwriter

Anna said...

oh wow, that's so amazing...

don't read mine (once it's out in print) as I'm a drama queen...

in a good way, of course... :)))

Alex Moore said...

@BJ: nod. i think it's probably a given that kids will always dabble in what they shouldn't. sorry it was horror w/ you *shudder* not cool!

@doug: hey -- you were having fun! that's cool too. i'm so excited you like the cool ride. i will definitely have to check you out.

@anna: i'm sure there are good drama queens just like there's the good witch (fair Glenda, yeah?!). you're in luck :)

uppington said...

For me, that book was Roots. I set it aside about half way through, walked around feeling like I was going to vomit for about a week, and then picked it up and finished it. I don't know why I never talked to anybody about the whole thing - probably afraid they wouldn't let me finish.

digitaldame said...

I was a sci-fi geek, the closest I got to being traumatized by a book as a child was "The Martian Chronicles". I think I read it when I was nine, probably a lot of it didn't even sink in back then. I'm with BJ, I can't do horror/gore, a la Stephen King, although I guess it's just a natural distaste for it. I can't point to any specific episode in my life that triggered it. I even avoided reading "Dracula" until last month!

Alex Moore said...

@uppington: i've never read it precisely for that reason. my friends warned me up front. i know in my guts that some things are worth the read -- but it's hard to make myself do it, even tho i'm an adult now.

@digitaldame: i *loved* the John Carter of Mars series and Pelucidar and, well, anything else by ERB!! :P