The room is dark, heavy rain, falls against the floor-length window, as soft music plays in the background. Yet, tears are raining down my face in what a weather forecaster would have affectionately called a torrential downpour. Beth March, from Little Women, had just passed beyond the earthly realm into the pearly gates of heaven. And as a fifth-grader, for reasons I could not tell you at the time, I was crying my rainstorm in my bedroom.
Although the experience seems rather mundane, when I walk into a library, I act like a kid in a candy store. I was that kid who always had a book to indulge myself. I was the student who not only loved when the teacher told us to read silently to ourselves; I was also the student who adored library time at school. Whenever travels were made to the library, I never left empty-handed even if I arrived there with nothing in mind to check out. I was a regular Hermione Granger, and I was proud of it. Until one Thursday, in mid-November, and I didn’t have a book in mind.
Warn clear plastic caught against my fingers like a scarf that has been frayed at the ends thanks to excessive wear in the chilling cold of midwestern winters. The role of my steady walker wheels halts, standing still; In the middle of the navy blue carpet that ran continuously throughout the room; Surrounded on either side by rainbow shelves filled to the brim with books. I rotate my body and take a better look at the spine of the story that has demanded my attention. My walker stays facing the wall at the end of the room because no line of bookshelves has ever had enough space between them to be considered accessible.
“Austen’s a good one, so is Alcott,” the elderly librarian said, in the mists of reshelving Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. My eyes smiling, come back to the single spine. My fingers brush over the book jacket pulling the book from the shelf just below my eye level.
I had no clue how much those two books that I walked out with from the library would change my little fifth-grade self and help to shape her into the woman she is today. I walked out of school that day with Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. The avid reader in me tackled Little Women first, and I ended up crying on my floor for at least an hour over Beth while still finishing it in one sitting. Afterward, came Pride and Prejudice and, although it invoked some different emotions in comparison to Little Women, I was brought to tears a second time. Again I finished the book in one sitting.
As a fifth-grader in elementary school, I was unable to grasp the full extent of what was perhaps making me so emotional about these works of literature. But, looking back now, I know exactly what happened that night on the bedroom floor. The fact is, I had read just about every single genre of book that existed by the time I was eleven, but I had never read a classic before that night. Pride and Prejudice was a story that taught me a great deal about what it is to be human and what it truly means to live life. Little Women was the first book that I had ever read where the main character died and failed to make it to the last page of the novel alive.
These works written by two dead women helped me come to realize that the stories were more than words on a page. These stories, even though they are works of fiction, reflected real life. No longer was the story, a place to go to escape from the real world because in more ways than one real-life situation was written right on the page. Beth March had died on the page in a novel just as people die every day and, running from the truth of death is impossible.
Looking back now, I know the finality of the event is at least one of the reasons I cried that night. I cried because these classics told real stories about the human condition in all of its different forms of fiction or nonfiction. No longer was reading a book about sugar-coating the truth and replacing it with lies that want to be heard in its place. The experience is funny to think about today because I cry all the time while reading books and watching movies. My little sister even says, “You cry a lot when you read,” or “You’re gonna cry.”
I make my way to the bathroom in a haze between my new definition of “realistic fiction” and actual reality. I scrub at my face, trying desperately to make the water crawl back inside my eyes. But it won’t, to the point where my mom walks in asking “why I’m crying a river in my bathroom.” And, all I say in return is, “she died.”