Please, Corinne pleaded, handing me a small novel with the words “Franny and Zooey: JD Salinger”printed across an otherwise blank cover.
Note: I did not read much at all while growing up, whereas my currently begging best friend had consumed entire libraries by the time puberty hit. Her house was lined with shelves of literature and, needless to say, I had heard similar pleas before; too many books tossed my way to count.
I cannot tell you exactly why, whether out of best-friendship or boredom I am unsure, but there was something about this time that made me listen. And I listened as I read, not only hearing but finally feeling as if there was somebody else who was not one for emptying [their] face of expression, who was sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody, and who wondered whether they could continue running back and fourth forever between grief and high delight—someone who, not to be overly cheesy or banal, also felt lost and alone. After this I read everything Corinne suggested. Since then she has patched me with pages upon pages of literature, always sure to shower me in Salinger and Rumi whenever I am spilling sad energy everywhere.
When I was little, I spent much of my time alone. At any given moment I had two places to live— Mom’s and Dad’s—though throughout my childhood the total racked up to nine: a condo, a townhome, two apartments, and five houses. Having two working parents and a brother who found his escape elsewhere made one thing, throughout all the moving, all the change, consistent: both houses were often empty.
Each morning I would wake to the ringing of my bright red old-school alarm, popping out of bed to prepare myself a breakfast consisting of sugary cereal or waffles doused in syrup. I would walk to and from school, afterwards peering into the fridge and pulling out soda after soda, gulping them down as I watched TV for hours on end. On the rare occasions in which my parents came home before bed, my mom would lay down in her room as voices of strangers on the TV filled the silence. My dad, wiped out from work, would sit with a cigar in one hand and remote in the other, persistently and methodically puffing, covering his own loneliness in a cloud of smoke. And in the room over my brother would be busy bringing bong and bottle to mouth, creating a rhythm, which combined with the chatter of his friends, served to drown out the steady, underlying beat of his anxiety. Food. TV. Movies. Drugs. We ‘entertained’ ourselves to escape.
But as I explored Corinne’s home racked with reading my world widened. It was in this home-library on Sunnyglen Drive that I found a way to engage and explore, seeking shelter and solace in words of faceless strangers, making a home out of the pale pages, loneliness lessening. I am full of holes, of inconsistencies and missing pieces—one day an introvert and the next an extrovert, sometimes simple while at other times dutifully dynamic, always up and down. Though no matter the moment I have found there is always a book to lose myself in so much so that I resultantly find myself. No matter my mood, I read. And because I read, I write.
We are constructs of our environments and our choices, and while it was in my houses growing up that I recognized we model ourselves after our surroundings, it was in books—in my homes—that I learned how to choose what around me to model myself after. I may not be able to avoid the fact that I in part mimic my mother: unsteady, unstable, unsure, and at times all too insecure. And my dad: dependable, determined, increasingly independent yet alone. What I can choose is whether or not I want to mimic my parent’s mentality and momentarily escape feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and the like through mindless entertainment or, rather, actively engage my mind and combat these emotions. As an avid reader I have chosen the latter, and as an aspiring writer I hope to help others do the same.
Throughout the years I have made similar pleas to my parents and brother that Corinne made to me, begging them, Books. Books. Books. For birthdays and holidays I buy them books, hoping they will open them and find the same comfort that I do. If there is one thing I want to make clear it is that I do not blame my family for my loneliness. Sure, my empty houses growing up made me feel empty, but it also taught me that while being alone may not always be a choice being lonely often is.
It was during the days I spent sprawled out on the floor of the Sunnyglen house, reading for hours on end, that I realized this. Not only did I realize that I have control over certain aspects of myself but also that through writing I may be able to pass this realization along. You see, when I was little, I always imagined that there was a factory up in heaven where angels patched us together from an assembly line of parts and pieces; and while I still like to imagine this to be more or less true, I now see that the angels are in fact all around us. Life itself is an incessant assembly line. All of the friends, family, teachers, and authors who have helped piece me together are angels working the assembly line and Corinne is my archangel. So I want to work, to build up as many as people as possible through writing and otherwise.
I do not think my story or my motives for writing to be novel. There are undoubtedly others experiencing the near exact emotions I have and likely countless individuals with experiences similar to mine—our holes aligning and overlapping. And I proudly own this ordinariness. While others may wish for extraordinary, I sit with standard. When your life is just barely outside of banal, the simple solution is to silence yourself, to think you have nothing new to say, nothing to add to this already complicated world. But I’d readily counter that you do.
Tell them how your childhood friend was taken too soon, you too far away to attend her funeral. Tell them of the shock, the guilt. Tell them how your brother fell to drug addiction, years later slowly recovering. Tell them of the relief, of the pride. Tell them how your best friend, your angel, is bipolar, nearly three thousand miles away, struggling, suicidal. Tell them of the frustration and sadness, the anger. Tell them you know how lonely life can be—I’m sure they know too.
Danielle is a rising junior at the University of Michigan, where she is majoring in Philosophy and minoring in Writing. As an avid yogi and aspiring rock-climber, Danielle loves all things active and outdoorsy. Her educational aspirations are primarily centered on enhancing literacy in low SES areas, hoping to enter the nonprofit sector of such upon graduation.