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On Queer Books and Old Journals
The first of the "and other stories" part of this bargain
My parents keep trying to give me my old stuff - boxes of journals and yearbooks and old letters. When I first packed these things up for storage I was 26 and filling boxes with worn copies of Nancy Drew and Little House books I thought I might share with my kids some day.
Now I’m not so sure.
I keep telling my parents that since their generation screwed up the economy, it’s their fault I can’t buy a house and thus their responsibility to store my boxes. They aren’t buying it. Slowly these remnants and relics of my youth are coming back to me.
I read too much as a kid, built too many dreams out of two dimensions, slipped into too many other skins. I spent a lot of time searching for the feelings I read about in books, trying to recreate that certainty. We were best friends once, but I was too insecure to believe in it and too reckless to stop poking the bruise, too self-righteous to stop demanding that you account for the sin of not loving me like the books said you would.
I wonder who I would be now if I had had more queer books to read, if I hadn’t been afraid of Maureen Johnson’s Bermudez Triangle, if there were enough of them that they weren’t so easy to skirt around. Might I have understood myself a little better? Might those desperate, intense friendships have made a little more sense? I think now about all these books and stories I’ve read, all these new romances that settle much more softly on my skin and I wish I had them when I was younger. I wish I had understood that there was a community there too, on the other side of understanding that part of myself. That it was safe to ask where the bruise came from before I poked it too hard.
The pages of my middle school journals are fractured, insisting on one page that I love my middle school boyfriend and on the next I’m less certain. It’s not quite how I remember it, now. I remember being relieved to find that I did like kissing, in spite of my uncertainty about dating. I remember going through the motions of a “relationship” a lot, such as it is, in middle school. I remember that both break ups felt like a relief. I remember wanting so much to be like my friends that sometimes I hurt myself and them and others.
The last relationship I had, labeled as such, was in ninth grade and it went like this. We were friends and we flirted and we teased each other, and all our friends wanted us to date. He had a crush on me and my friends laughed and pushed me into a room where he could ask me out and I said yes because people pleasers make good liars. But I couldn’t lie to myself and three days later I dumped him right before his chemistry final. And our friendship basically ended until senior year of high school when the embarrassment had faded on both sides.
I met his fiance much later, when we were all done with college and home for Christmas one year, and she was delighted, as his last girlfriend, to meet his first. And I was delighted to find that I was remembered with such fondness, and surprised that moment had stayed with him the way it had stayed with me.
I faked a lot of crushes in high school, had one or two real ones, and gaslit myself into more than crush feelings for a more than crush boy who did not treat me with the care I deserved, and who I let treat me that way because I was I wanted to feel something, anything like my friends were feeling, and I was afraid to get to know myself well enough to find something different.
I still have trouble with questions like “what do you want?” and “what do you want your life to look like?” because I spent a lot of time not asking them.
I read too much as a kid, or maybe didn’t read enough. When I think about all the queer books Republicans want to ban, I think about all the kids who don’t see themselves in stories, who don’t see their histories or their troubles or their joys. But there’s always a special place in my heart for the quiet ones, for the ones who think that stories are for other people, the good liars, and those who know better than to ask questions they don’t want the answer to. The kids who poke their metaphorical bruises but refuse to wonder where they came from. The kids who read too much but also maybe not enough, who might find the answers if the books weren’t torn from their fingers with extreme prejudice.
I had a happy childhood, stable and loving and safe. But I needed queer books too, and time. And I want desperately to show all kids, everywhere, that they can have that too.