There is a new toy in our house. I notice that, as dementia claims more of himself, thus abandoning him to yet more difficulties, a new toy always seems to help for a while until the gleam of the new and exciting dulls and blunts. I feel the same way on purchasing a new item of clothing. This, for me, will surely bring the transformation I so desire. In fact, once inside this new, tissue-wrapped piece of kit I will be someone else altogether. The old me is abandoned beside the track and good riddance to her. Unfortunately the old me is also the new me so that all the mees merge in lumps and bumps, scars still visible, after a comparatively short step in time. On Monday I was new for a whole day and then, on Wednesday it rained. Such is a rap paper life and it isn’t just me who lives one of those. We all do.
As a youngster I liked nothing more than to read. I was often in trouble for it, for my passion, my slipping away to find a quiet corner which didn’t stay a corner for long. Soon I was climbing the Faraway Tree or camping with the Secret Seven or bashing one of the Amazons over the head with my Swallow paddle. I was free of all corners for the short and glorious foray into other worlds, other’s worlds, all more exciting than my own. In short, I was and still am transported into timelessness where everything that is possible is possible. I was un-me-ed and that suited me better than any item of clothing. I was bare skinned, free, a part of, not just of the leafy road on which I lived, but of the whole universe. In under two pages, I became integral to the story. I was there, me, cornered me, and I was important.
I have no idea how anyone can possibly live without reading, and reading avidly and regularly. Not forced, like in school, to drag weary and resistant limbs through tomes of impossible math but just because it is all I want to do. I have dipped into somewhere else and those who live there are talking to me, telling me things that take me over completely. I learn of despair turned into powerful action, of hunger and loss, of beauty and fire and huge waves and laughter shared. I feel everything. Even the people I don’t much like teach me. And, as I drift back into the corner, I return to the rag paper life all covered in words and feelings as if I had walked through an enormous spider web. I can feel the tickle of them on my skin, but I cannot see them.
And from my books I find a way forward. Some might say that living in other’s worlds is not realistic, but I would counter that. Without my daily dose of otherness I would wonder why the transforming powers of a new article of clothing didn’t last the week. I would look at this new electric wheelchair, take in the size of our home, the layout of the furniture, the width of doorways and the tumble of disability aids already fixed firmly to the ground of my rag paper life, and I would despair. In books, in other’s stories, I gain perspective, something no newspaper or glossy magazine showing how low a red-carpet celebrity’s dress can go, will ever do. In books I trust. In stories woven and coloured, shaped and distilled, I see all my own bumps and scars and they are beautiful to behold. This, after all, is me, new kit or no, the chaos of motorised aids or no, and me is doing just fine.
I don’t want glossy. I want rag paper stories, words that lift and separate me from introversion, from my destructive or whining thoughts. If she, this woman who travelled alone across countries in search of safety and freedom, terrified at ever step, can make it, then so can I. If this young woman can take on a mighty all-male army and win, then so can I. A well crafted tale has the power to change me.
And it lasts well beyond Wednesday.