One day in middle school I noticed a book sitting on my mom’s dresser amidst the crumpled receipts, loose change, and half-empty Advil bottles. The cover was a close up image of troubled-looking girl gazing off into her sure-to-be perilous future. The title read Reviving Ophelia.
I had never seen my mom read, not even the back of a cereal box. Reading was frivolous. A time suck.
No reading at supper! My mom would yell over the roast beef.
I snatched the copy of Reviving Ophelia and ran upstairs with it. I went through the secret door in my brother’s room and shut myself in the attic. The attic oscillated between 90-115 degrees no matter the season. I stayed bent low to avoid the overhead beams and allowed the sauna-like heat to wash over me.
I stepped over rusted bed frames and trash bags filled with our old toys and set myself up on the uncomfortable purple blow-up couch I stashed in there. I dreamed of one day transforming the space into a Babysitters Club headquarters once I was old enough to get the business up and running. It was the place I practiced applying blue eyeliner using the small compact mirror I picked up at the dollar store. It was the place I hid to dry shave my legs, nicking the knees in four places and hiding the bloody towel somewhere behind an old suitcase.
The skin on my thighs, slick with sweat, stuck to the plastic couch. I flipped through the book, excited, scanning for anything racy. It was about adolescent girls with problems and I couldn’t wait to read where these girls had gone astray. And even more importantly, this book meant my busy mom was interested in me. She was trying to figure me out as I became an adolescent, a word that sounded provocative in itself. Far more provocative than I felt as a shy, middle-school bookworm.
As I flipped through the pages of her book, I wondered would I someday struggle with depression and eating disorders and pre-marital sex?
It all seemed so dark and illicit that a spark lit up low in my belly. These were adult things. Things girls my age had already started to engage in. It felt like a giant permission slip in book form. Although, at the time, I was fairly sure I would never get the opportunity to ever kiss a boy let alone the occasion to engage in premarital sex. I had yet to work up the nerve to even speak to males in my class. The teen magazines I received during my winning days as a sixth-grade magazine drive champion suggested practicing by kissing your own hand. I tried this one night, but it never felt right. Kissing is totally boring, I thought, dismayed.
I snuck Reviving Ophelia into the attic whenever my mom was away from the house. I’d scan and read snippets I thought maybe I’d missed the last time. I wanted the narratives, the stories of the girls my age who’d acted out, who’d become adults before they were ready.
Sometime that fall, I walked into the TV room and my mother came up and wrapped her arms around me from behind. We weren’t huggers and I froze. Had I been found out?
“It’s okay to be depressed you know,” she said.
I was so shocked, no words found their way to my tongue. I tried to feel my skin, my arms, my hair. Had something within me changed without me even noticing? Depressed. It felt like a badge, a crown, that I didn’t know someone like me could even wear. I still felt like the normal, morose tween I had been the day before and the day before that, but maybe my mother had seen something in me I hadn’t noticed myself. Maybe she had seen something within me those girls from the book possessed.
I made it, I thought. I was a depressed adolescent. Finally, I had become Ophelia.
Have you ever stolen a book??