I have always felt so lucky to remember one of the most defining moments of my life.
My grandmother really loved flea markets, she would go often to buy trinkets for her house or pass the time once she retired. She loved to buy small things whose price she could later brag about because they were super affordable. My grandparents’ house is still decorated with all the trinkets, small things she liked or gathered over the years, pictures of all of us but never of herself. She taught me about dinosaurs and planets when I moved in with them after my parents split up. She would buy me coloring pencils and books to draw in and always hung up what I drew on the fridge.
This aforementioned life-defining moment took place when my mother was still homesick enough to make the four-hour drive to Mexico every weekend. My grandparents’ house was, and still is, my favorite place. I felt safe and loved. I never wanted to leave.
I was sitting on the couch, the old, worn one we had before my grandmother replaced it with a bright yellow one that hurt when you sit down. She came into the living room and showed me a boxed set of Junie B. Jones books. They looked really new and shiny, even if they weren’t. At first, I got excited because I was not really used to new or shiny things. I took them in my hands and saw they were glossy from the disinfectant she always used to clean with. The books were worn at the edges and a little faded, but I didn’t care. She found them at the flea market and thought they would be good to help me learn English.
Before then I had never loved reading. It took me longer than a lot of my classmates and I never felt smart. I never figured out what exactly changed between then and the moment I opened the books my grandmother bought for me. I felt like a sponge. I absorbed everything without trying. For the first time, everything was easy. I didn’t have to try. I learned everything about the books, and to this day I still remember it all so clearly.
After Junie B. Jones came The Baby-Sitters Club and then The Boxcar Children and Beverly Cleary books, all of which my grandmother bought when she went to the flea market. When I would return to Mexico, I could always expect more and more. I was being fed an endless supply of information and knowledge. I know I will never forget those things and I love that I have held on to so much useless information because it means that I will also remember everything that is important.
I read and read and soon everyone at my school knew me for that. It’s the reason I learned English so quickly and did not fail my first year at an American school, even though I was close. I still remember the first creative thing I wrote. It was in the first grade towards the end of the year, something about suspense. My teacher was very pleased. I think it was one of the reasons I won student of the year despite also almost failing. I remember her saving the notebook and showing it to my mom. I remember the flashcards I had to learn every week before my English vocabulary test. I kept getting better but always missed the word “airplane.”
My entire elementary school experience revolved around reading. We used to have Accelerated Reader (AR) tests, which measured how much we read and how much information we retained. We would get AR points based on how well you scored and how long the book was. I took so many tests and kept breaking school records. The library ran out of prizes to give me so they got me a waterslide. I don’t know why I was so obsessed with reading and achieving. Sometimes I wonder if I would have been as compelled to read if I didn’t get an acknowledgment of my process to prove to myself that I could fully master the language. Did I want something to legitimize my knowledge and ability? This greed for merit defined me externally for a lot of my young life.
Middle school was a variation of the same thing. We would take standardized comprehension tests often and I would score higher than anybody else. The teachers would advertise the scores along with the names and everybody knew that the top scorer was me. But that was it. There was no points system, no hyper-specific or outward validation of my knowledge. But, my compulsion to read remained.
I also loved to write. I had so many lists of different writing ideas on my iPod and would be so impressed with myself, I could not believe what I was coming up with. Back then I thought there was no overlap between my thoughts and those of my peers. There was a newness to the complexity and intricacy of my thoughts that made me believe I was the first and only person to feel what I was feeling and to think what I was thinking. That’s when my love for reading started to channel more directly into my love for creating.
High school was entirely different. More people, less recognition. I still did well academically, but only the people who really knew me knew how much I loved to read. I didn’t know a lot of people that still liked reading. It seemed to be a passing interest to so many but a consistent stream within my world. I no longer had anyone to talk to about reading, but I found myself liking the solitude. I used to think that I needed someone else to fully experience something.
But I now realize that there is nothing like talking to myself. To discover how I really feel, unpack my own feelings before they’re mixed up with someone else’s. That’s how I can fully figure out how and why I feel and think. I love to keep things for myself for a while before I share them with anyone else, if at all. I don’t share things I love or what I think with just anybody. I have to believe that someone else can feel what I do before I show them what I think is beautiful. I have to feel that they can understand me. They can disagree, and think that what is beautiful to me is disgusting to them. But if they understand why, then I will show them.
My thoughts are like my belongings. They are almost material to me. But that would be a lesser word. My thoughts are immortal, expanding, and consuming. Who would I be if I did not have them? If my brain stopped thinking the way it did. All of these things came about because of my obsession with books, more particularly, my obsession with words. I had always thought that words can do anything. Explain and convey every feeling. If there was no word to describe it, it was because you could not find the right one. It was on you, not on the words. It has only been recently that I realized that words can and do fall short. They can not describe the grief that I have felt. So I suppose they can not describe the extent of love either.
Now I am about to graduate. I majored in English and minored in Political Economy—English classes have been the hardest I’ve ever taken. I don’t know if it’s because I will never be able to know the language like someone who has spoken it their whole life, or because I now find it lacking when it comes to personal connection and depth. I feel like I will never truly know what it’s like to feel accurately represented using words from the English language, regardless of how much time I spend with it. It is so difficult for me to do what they want me to do so I have just kept trying. Sometimes I no longer feel like a sponge.
I am wondering now whether this is about my relationship with words and language or about my love for my grandmother. I think it can be both. Without my grandmother, I don’t think the other could have ever been born. I know that now that she is gone she will never stop being in what I do. If I am ever the age she last was, I know that she will still be with me just as much as she was the day she gave me those books.
Written by Galia Pavia, Fall 2022 Staff