Words for the Wordless
Audrey, Marriotts Ridge HS, Class of 2020
Can a simple piece of literature have a profound impact on the makeup of who you are?
I have spent the better half of my life marveling at the fact that every decision one makes, no matter how small, affects the entire course of their life. With a single different choice, I would not be the same person as I am today, and the version of myself in which I am perceived would be completely different as well. I can apply this theory to most aspects of my life, but as someone who has never had huge, definite events to change me, I often find myself reflecting on times in which my mindset has changed due to me wanting it to. Fundamentally, I do not feel very different than my past selves. I have always been reserved, stubborn, and lost in emotions that are so strong that I cannot even begin to conjure up the words to describe them. But then again, are there words to explain the aching, burning feeling in my hands as I watched my dog’s nose twitch even as the veterinarian told us that she was successfully put under? Are there words to explain that when I feel regret, I feel split down the middle, my stomach trying to pull my tongue back down as to muffle the sound waves? These traits of mine makes it very difficult to tell stories without the emotion being lost in translation, but I know for certain that I can share the impact that reading has had on me without a loss for words.
My love for literature has not always come easily for me. In third grade, my teacher gave me the book How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell months before the rest of my classmates because she did not believe that I could finish it in time, and this distrust, though harmful, was warranted. The idea of books, for my past self, smelt like rotten raisins and made my skin feel like it was infested with thousands of tiny insects, the buzz and crawling sensation prohibiting me from entertaining any thoughts other than away, away, away.
This entire mindset changed for me when I realized, as someone who has always had difficulty expressing myself, the power of words.
We had gone on our weekly media center trips and filled out mandatory 30-minute reading logs all throughout elementary school, but I had never taken them seriously or thought to reflect on why we were reading. I cannot remember the circumstances that led me to pick up Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper that one winter day in the fourth grade, but this action most definitely changed my entire life. The plot of this book is not clear in my mind, all that I can remember being that it was about a genius that was constantly overlooked just because she was disabled, but this is the first piece of media I consumed other than Air Bud that had made me cry. Never before had I realized the sense of belonging that came with relating to an author in their rawest form.
As a friendless child almost two years younger than the rest of my classmates, I found solace in words that no human interaction could have ever given me. When one speaks about trauma, they usually separate their life into the Before and the After, but trauma is not the only thing that prompts character development in this sense.
It is almost unfathomable to me that there was a Before in my life.
I look back, and I do not see events that have happened to me, but the lives I have been granted the pleasure to live and learn from because of the literature I have been so lucky to be able to consume. As a white, able-bodied person who will never know first-hand what it is like to be discriminated against, literature has taught me the importance of representation and how it not only allows people see themselves as heroes, but allows people to see people unlike themselves as sympathetic and relatable. Literature has given me a sense of belonging and community while I was questioning my sexuality and gender, because books about people that could be you lets you try on skin until you a find a label that feels right. I reflect on my ever-growing After, and do not regret any of my actions, because I can undoubtedly say that literature has changed my life for the better.
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