Not only because I can understand the medication instructions
I’ve loved to read for as long as I can remember. From the time when my bookcase was filled with Little Golden books to today when I can find the best writing in the world here on Medium.
I grew up in a harsh way. My mom was mentally ill, and the sharpest memories I have of my childhood are her telling me how terrible her life was and how she was going to kill herself.
Those are scars which have faded over the years, but I can still feel.
My mother was bipolar, and in my home, you never knew from day to day how life was going to be. Some days were great; some fit only for talking about with Social Services.
Sometimes life was great
When things were good, life was beautiful. It was in those times my mom taught me how to read before I attended kindergarten. At night, my siblings and I would sit on the couch and listen as my mom read bedtime stories. Life was peaceful in those moments, and the world was right.
I loved those times, and in my child mind, I figured if I could find the magic in those books for myself, I could have those feelings whenever I wanted.
I was highly motivated to learn to read. In kindergarten, first, and second grades I waited impatiently for my group’s turn for reading with the teacher. I loved the stories about Dick, Jane, and Sally and I hated answering questions about what happened in the stories because for me that broke the magic spell.
By the time I got to third grade, I was reading and comprehending at a sixth-grade level. In sixth grade, the teacher was giving me the 12th-grade tests to see what would happen. I loved the attention, but that wasn’t the best part.
The best part was when I could go to the library and find new books to read. I read well enough that there were no books there I couldn’t comprehend. Nothing on the shelves was off-limits. There were books I didn’t want to read, but it wasn’t because I couldn’t understand them.
Sometimes life was terrible
In elementary school, life was frequently painful. On the bus going home, I would hear kids talking about playing after school while I was wondering if my mom was going to be alive when I got off the bus.
Fortunately for me, I could read. I could escape to a world different than the reality in which I lived. Since I didn’t have to struggle with the actual reading part of the books, I could live in the stories.
I could sail in a Viking longboat across the Atlantic to establish a new settlement in the Americas; watch Black Beauty trudge by shackled to his cab through the streets of London, or learn to wrinkle time with tesseracts.
When my life became chaotic, I could find another place to be at that moment.
When my mom had to be hospitalized, when my dad almost died in surgery, when my brother bled so much from a nosebleed he needed a transfusion, I could live in peace in books. Looking back, I’m not sure this was the healthiest way to handle life, but as a child, it was what I had.
My siblings went on to live lives of great difficulty filled with dangerous surgeries, institutionalization, early death and all kinds of ugliness.
My life went well. Not that everything has been a bed of roses, it hasn’t been, but looking back to my childhood, the most significant difference I can see is that I could read. My siblings could read, but it was a chore. For them, the worlds available in books remained locked away.
When the screaming, door slamming and the threats of suicide filled my home, I had somewhere I could go.
I found a new understanding
It never dawned on me until years later in talking with my sister’s caseworker, that I was a survivor. When she told me that, my view of myself changed.
I moved away a long time ago, but for those years I was growing up, I believe that being able to escape through reading saved my life. All things being equal, being able to read made the difference between my life and that of my siblings.
Learning to read was one of the best gifts my mom ever gave me. Her mental illness didn’t keep her from loving me. And each day I am grateful for the gift of the entire universe that she gave me through reading.