I love to read.
Always have and always will.
When I was 13, my best friend at the time, gave me a book to read. She was a reader like me. Her taste in books was a little different than mine. One day she brought a book to school in a brown lunch bag. As she handed it to me she begged me not to show it to my parents, no matter what. If I got caught with it, I was not allowed to rat her out. I was to say, I found it on the street. The book was titled, "Going down with Janis; a raw and scathing portrait of Janis Joplin by her female lover."
My hands shook as I pulled it out of my school bag that night, while hiding in my closet, gripping a dim flashlight with my armpit.
I had no idea what I was about to open. I didn't particularly care about Janis Joplin or her music. I just knew that if I didn't read this book, or at least a part of it, my friend was going to think I was still a baby. Being a baby while all your friends were very advanced for all of their 13 years on this planet was one of the worst things that could happen to you at that age. I so desperately wanted her to think I was cool so I cracked open the book and read the opening lines of the first chapter. I read them again. And again. I was confused. I didn't understand a word I was reading. I also felt a little funny.
The book was written by Janis Joplin's lover. I had no idea at the time that lesbians existed. I didn't even know what a lesbian was. For that matter I didn't know anything about gay men either, although I did think a particular boy in our class knew more about the art of being a girl better than I did, but I had no idea that he might want to become one in his later years. The opening lines of the book confirmed that there were woman out there who indeed liked other woman, very much. I stayed up all night and finished the book at the crack of dawn, just in time to get ready for school. I crawled out of the closet after carefully placing the book back in it's brown lunch bag and hiding it in my school bag. I went downstairs, ate breakfast, and went to school like any other day, except I was exhausted, and a little freaked out by the unsolicited sex education course I had been given the night before all between the pages of this elicit work of non-fiction. At recess I returned the book to my friend and then laid down on one of the lunch benches and quickly fell asleep. The bell rang not more than 10 minutes later and I opened my bleary eyes to see Jane standing over me with a strange look on her face. She said, "Meet me back here at lunch," and ran off to class.
At lunch, Jane was waiting for me by the bench. I couldn't look her in the eye. I sat down. I didn't know anything about book clubs, at the time, but I sure didn't want this to be my first experience. We sat there for a minute. I toed the gravel with my white Keds, Jane ate her jelly sandwich. I looked around.
Jane finished her sandwich and then said, "So?"
"So what?" I answered. A favorite thing to say if you're 13.
"What did you think of the book?" she asked.
"Um," I responded trying to think of something clever and intelligent. I didn't know a lot about the subject to say the least.
"Did you read it?"
"Yes," I responded with a wide yawn.
"You did?" She looked at me wild-eyed.
"Didn't you?" I said, willing her to say, yes.
"Well, not really." She answered vaguely.
"What do you mean, not really?" I was beginning to feel a little bit on the hysterical side. After all, I had just come off a rainbow high after reading Charlotte's Web, yearning for a pig, and a spider, and everything glorious, and the next thing I know I'm hiding in my closet reading about a drug addicted singer, with a female lover who has an insatiable sexual appetite and isn't afraid to write about it in excruciatingly painful detail.
"I just wanted to see if you would read it," she said, and then, " I never said I read it."
Great, I thought, How do I get out of this one?
Jane stared at me as if I had suddenly changed into someone else in the last few moments.
Essentially I had. She had unknowingly helped me cross over to the side that was, "in the know."
"Yeah," I answered casually, trying to keep my cool and willing myself to go back to the time before I knew what I knew now. " It was dumb."
Jane breathed a sigh of relief.
I breathed my first breath in 12 hours since the first sentence in that dreaded coming of age book.
"So, where did you get that book anyway?" I asked her. Someone in her family had to have read it. I couldn't be the only one who would have the mental images burned in my memory for years to come. I wanted company in my misery.
"I found it on the street."
The end . . .