The Comfort of Reading

By Aroosa

Collage by Rachel Davies
Collage by Rachel Davies

When I was 10 years old my mother had an operation which meant I had to spend the night with my grandparents. I must have been that age since it was around the time my grandmother was able to walk, still rushing all over the place after the rest of us, and she was renowned in the community for her hospitality which, just like her beautiful smile, was never lacking so she made sure us grandkids were always looked after. It was during that night, when I was sick with worry about my mother that my most precious memory with my caring, jolly grandmother occurred.

My grandmother tried to distract me from my rather vivid imagination for a child of all the things which could go wrong in my mother’s operation by putting on The Simpsons. She didn’t know what was going on as her eyebrows were furrowed in obvious confusion as to why anyone would find Homer’s laziness humorous and I wasn’t a fan either. So I quietly pulled out my copy of some long forgotten book out of my bag. I didn’t hear my grandfather ranting about one thing or another, or notice that grandmother had disappeared off somewhere after I had my head stuck in a book for who knows how long. I was escaping from everything and being transported to somewhere far away.

It was only when my grandmother returned with a tray full of snacks, which I remembered included these very spicy noodles which made my mouth burn but were so delicious, that I peeked out from under my book. It was a touching gesture for 10 year old me as it registered to me for the first time in a long time that someone apart from my mother cared about me. Someone noticed me. Someone else accepted the fact I wasn’t the type of girl to play with dolls or video games, but that books were my friends, and as my grandmother sat back down next to me it felt like this understanding formed between us – our bond forever cemented in a passing moment.

Whoever knows me will be no stranger to the fact that I find no greater pleasure in life snuggling up with a new book with anticipation rife about being so involved in another person’s life and questions about how it will ultimately end swirling around in my mind – turns out relationships are a lot like books with both real and fictional boys promising to make you go on an emotional roller coaster. It provided great pride in my mother that I was so passionate about something but was also the cause of frustration when I would want to be reading instead of playing outside with the other kids. To be honest, I preferred books than playing outside with other kids at times because they didn’t judge; they just took you on a journey to places you would otherwise be unaware of.

I spent my childhood in the library searching for something to captivate my imagination for the weekend and the books seemed to put into words all these different emotions I was feeling but was unable to label – disliking boys, liking boys, being scared of the future, feeling insecure about myself, and a list of whole other things which are too long to write down otherwise they will take up all of this article. Then came the sad day where I grew too old for the Young Adult section but since books were too expensive buy I used to save up every last penny, from what my mother gave me as an allowance to birthday money from whoever was kind enough.

One day I was able to save enough up to buy The Bell Jar, a story about Ester Greenwood’s struggle with mental illness and her subsequent recovery. It was dripping in imagery and symbolism yet there was one part which rang out to me more than the others – the imagery about the fig tree.  The tree is symbolic of the life choices that Esther faces. Each fig represents a different life, however, she is conflicted as she can only choose one despite wanting all of them. As indecision takes over her, the figs rot and fall to the ground. In that moment I knew what she was talking about. We are all faced with so many choices, especially as women, and they are not seen as mutually exclusive. This stirred up the feminist in me who refused to be dictated to that I couldn’t have whatever I chose to, and thus a writer was born who tried to categorize all these clashing feelings she felt in the hope that others felt that too and together they could make sense of it.

My grandmother passed away earlier this year.  It was the most heart-breaking moment in my 20 years on this Earth, and along with my grandmother it seemed like I lost my burning passion for reading and writing. It wasn’t something I noticed straightaway but the following week I realised I would sit in front of my laptop with inspiration seemingly having deserted me – every single word seemed harder to write, emotions forced, and this dull ache seemed to have driven out my muse.  Stories became more difficult to read and I would put them down before even ending the novel.  It all seemed so pointless, without a guiding purpose.

I had my exams straight after my grandmother’s passing so words were not to be avoided nor was the rather frantically written essays on these topics. Apparently the last time my grandmother spoke of me, when she was in hospital surrounded by our family while I was at university unaware of quite the severity of her condition as I was in the amidst of revising for exams and no-one wanted to worry me, she spoke of how she wanted me to ‘study with all my heart’. For her I could do that, for her I would do that. Sitting there on the train I forced myself to read through the book which discussed what politics exactly was – a usually riveting read for a political geek such as me became more of a determined, rushed read.

However, writing was still a challenge. It was quite ironic that the one thing which I used as a platform to express myself became difficult for me to turn to at a time when my emotions were all over the place. I would put it off whenever I could. I preferred to stick on a bit of N’Sync while putting on a facemask or calling up my wonderful friends to dive into a conversation about one of the guys they were crushing on instead of writing. Anything at all but writing seemed good. What I got was a bit of space to handle how I felt without having to deal with putting into words how mad a public figure made me by their ignorant view on some social issue. I got to grieve.

To be honest, I didn’t ever really expect her to ever go because she was always there with this big smile saying ‘daaarling’ whenever I saw her and telling me to eat food she put in front of me as she was worried I wasn’t looking after myself at university. Her passing truly hit me like a train on a track – I knew it was coming but I didn’t know when…I hoped, believed, not for a long time. I always thought I would be strong, I would handle it, but when the time came I became weak. I cried and cried and cried until I couldn’t anymore. And then life carried on, like this terrible thing happened but I had to go back to university and put on a smile for everyone and eventually the smile became less forced, and before I knew it I was back to being the joker of the group with my obvious wit.

It was when I was going through my things that I came across my grandmother’s watch which my granddad gave my aunty to give to me. It’s a simple silver, round watch. Nothing special to the unassuming eye. Everything stopped as I held it in my hand because it belonged to her and while it might be worth anything it provides me with a priceless comfort. Sometimes whenever I come across it I can’t help but cry while other times I smile at the memories which come rushing back. Eventually, I found the words again. I started to write with this renewed desire because I knew how much it would have meant to my grandmother that I take every opportunity I have, which she wasn’t given, and make it into something so precious and books became like those old friends I got reacquainted with – it was like nothing had changed, but my world in fact had.

My comfort during that difficult time came from friends, a watch which is worthless to everyone else but me, and eventually my books and ability to write. All these things helped make the world seem a bit less sad, a bit less scary. What they gave me was the realisation that memories will never leave me. I will never forget the way my grandmother got through all the adversities life threw at her and how she was one of the few people to ever truly make me feel like I was loved. That feeling is something I cannot put into words but that doesn’t mean it’s worth any less, it means I’ve lived it which greater than anything else.

Her watch is a reminder that life doesn’t wait for anyone, but when I look at my books it’s like the voices of old and new friends helping me understand the world and these emotions better. Life goes on, words stay the same.

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