There are two things that can create an addict: motivation and supply. As a child who grew up with a less than ideal home life, the escape that reading books provided was wholly necessary in keeping my sanity intact. The world could, and most times, would be crumbling around me, but climbing into another world where characters stole me away from the pain and fear of my everyday life saved me.
The supply came from my mother. You could say that a reader begets a reader, and that is not Biblical but an accurate representation of how books became so accessible to me. My mother always seemed to have a dog-eared paperback copy of something next to her bedside table. I never actually remember seeing her read or ever talking about the books she read, but upstairs from my bedroom was a hole in my ceiling as creepy as the books I was about to read. I would pull down the rickety folding stairs that led to an attic filled with stacks of dusty old books. The illustrated covers would just draw me in to read them. There were no age restrictions, no warning labels, no guidance into whether or not a lost and afraid ten year old should even be looking at these books, let alone reading them, but there they were beckoning me to pick them up and read.
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My first: Night Shift by the great Stephen King. My little brothers were terrified of the eyeball-covered hand on the cover, and that is all I needed to pique my interest. I devoured it. The collection of twenty short stories of which some would go on to become some of Hollywood’s greatest horror films captivated me and caused me to become a lifelong fan of the writer.
At the time I didn’t realise how much of a household name Stephen King would become, or how much he would allow me to leave behind the physically abusive, alcoholic father or the narcissistic, mentally abusive mother and get away to worlds even more terrifying than the one I was dealt. Somehow all the crazy tales King would put to paper comforted the child who was stuck in her own horror story. I read Children of the Corn and felt empowered by the children who didn’t rely on parents to save them but instead saved themselves. They were my heroes, my best friends and my allies, all fictitious but very real to me.
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I read anything and everything that King had published, as well as those under his pseudonym Richard Bachman. The Bachman Books, published in 1985, was my first hardcover book, and it was all my own. I read that book cover to cover at least a dozen times and it became my own personal Bible. ‘The Long Walk’ still today remains my favourite story of all time and I cannot believe it has not been made into a movie yet. Reading it as a teenager, I pretty much had the whole movie cast in my head with all the current heartthrobs in the leading roles. I would imagine the movie playing out as I reread the story over and over, savouring every word King expertly crafted. Not exactly the tale most teens would identify with: one hundred teenage boys forced to walk four miles an hour for their lives, where only one remains the ‘winner,’ since he will be the only one to survive. But it was exactly how I felt; I too was running for my life and most days I felt like either I was going to be the winner or one of the unfortunate other 99, dead on the side of the road shot by The Major.
In the summer of my sophomore year, I was cursed with a broken heart and a bad case of mono. I was quarantined to my house for a solid two months. It also was the summer that King’s blockbuster, It came out. Having already read his massive tome The Stand, I was ready for every word in the 1100+ page novel. That story, those children, that town, they were bound to each other. Their goal, to rid the world of evil that the adults were too afraid to face, or fight, was my goal. They were MY friends. It was my story too. They all came from broken and un-normal homes, which somehow normalised my abnormal life.
I didn’t realise how profoundly they were my mental saviours until some 30 years later when It, the movie was released into two huge blockbuster movies: It (2017) and It: Chapter Two (2019). In the years that have passed, I no longer read as I once did, since my days are filled creating the safe and loving home I was robbed of in my youth. My four children do not need to read horror stories to escape their lives, instead they read books that are about horses, and historical fiction stories that come with pretty dolls and clothes.
I watched It at home, a few days before the conclusion came out in cinemas. The actors were spot on as how I imagined them back when I was younger reading for my life. The story was just as terrifying as I remembered, and the filmmaking captured so many details that I had forgotten over the years. In seeing the sequel, I too, was just like the characters being pulled back into a world that had been disregarded and forgotten. I watched, in horror, not because the story was scary (even though it was), but because the younger version of myself was so alone, so scared, that having these kids as my friends through such an awful time gutted me.
The lives and characters that King created were my escape, helping me to get through abuse and uncertainty, and more importantly taught me not to be a victim. Instead they imparted to me to stand up to evil, and to fight back, even when the odds are stacked against me. At the end of the movie, I didn’t cry – I wept – that uncontrollable, convulsing can’t catch your breath type of weeping, at that little girl who was once so afraid. But they weren’t sad tears, they were tears of relief, because just like those children who had to stand up against unspeakable evil and overcome it, I realised that I too had overcome my evils and emerged on the other side where evil no longer is able to reach me.
And for that, I say, thank you Stephen King. Your stories and characters allowed me to survive, and eventually thrive in a place that few rarely do.