I shrugged my shoulders and finally picked up a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone when I was 21.
I was on 'vacation' with my boyfriend-at-the-time's family. More accurately, he and I had driven down to Newport, Oregon to spend time with his father. This side of my ex's family was relatively estranged. The visit had multiple purposes... But, we'll get to that in a minute.
In hindsight, I can piece the puzzle together quite easily. My ex's parents split while he was very young. He then lived with his mother, who was a drug addict and blatantly neglectful. This side, the father's side, was so ridiculously stable, it was almost laughable. But that's how families work, right? Function and dysfunction. Yin and yang. The yo-yo leads to instability, which leads to a very broken human being.
I never knew the truth of what happened and why these people were so far away, both geographically and emotionally. However, they were wonderful people. Sweet, gentle and kind. Involved in their church and community, and clearly in love with each other. To put a finer point on my confusion, my ex was abusive, controlling and miserable. (I wrote about it here).
This visit was my attempt to patch together what was so very broken and lost in my ex. I naively thought that if he spent time with his estranged family, something inside of him might repair. And if it repaired, I would be safe. It was selfish and silly and wrong. But I was alone and I too, was in need of happiness, stability and a father figure.
Mostly, I wanted peace. And safety.
And that's what I remember. My ex's step-mom was reading Harry Potter to her two sons. She handed me the first book and told me to read it. This was 2001, and the Harry Potter notoriety was just beginning to crest. I began reading that night, before bed, and was hooked from the very start. I felt safe. And peaceful. For the first time in so. very. long.
The vacation, and my peace, lasted a very short time. As soon as we were back on the road, the abuse picked right back up. There was no wasted time in his verbal backlash... probably years of anger and confusion and neglect from a life so wonderfully paraded over the past week. And I was a very easy target.
I went home with the first three Harry Potter books. And reading them was my only respite in a tattered and shorn time. It was a world I could fall into easily, and in those days and hours and minutes reading, I would remember what joy felt like. Reading helped me remember that there was a life outside of abuse. And that words were magical and beautiful and melancholy and poetic and full of life. The life that I couldn't be a part of, but remembered.
These sacred moments with J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter brought me back from the brink. They brought me back from depression, fear and anger.
I left my ex in a fighting fury one night. But I never stopped reading Harry Potter. Those three books were lost in the wreckage of that relationship, but I have the hardbacks of the last four. And even though the last four books were read during a significantly lighter period in my life, they have been read and re-read during the most trying of times.
These reasons are why people read, passionately. This is why people like me (and you) love Harry Potter. Or whatever else happens to tickle their fancy. The memories are tied together...life and words. Seasons and stories. Packaged in worn bows, taped together with a little love and a lot of gumption.
I guess you could say this is a bit of a love letter to Ms. Rowling. Who saved me, many times over, and didn't even know it. She, and Harry, gave me life in a time where I could barely hold on long enough to breathe.
Happy Birthday, Harry Potter.