School wasn’t nice. There wasn’t anything particularly horrible about it. Except for a few dark episodes, not connected with the school itself but with people’s inability to handle global changes in a decent manner, it was okay. The problem was that I just wasn’t there. I don’t mean physically. There was a short period of time when my attendance wasn’t what it should be, but the reason for that wasn’t problems at school – it was those dark episodes I mentioned.
I didn’t belong. My mind was always wandering somewhere far from the school hallways, the talks about boyfriends, and mischievous ways to get hold of alcohol and cigarettes. I wasn’t interested in any of these things. It seemed that with everything that had already happened to me, I skipped the being teenager part altogether. Someone half-jokingly told me at that time that I was like a forty-year-old woman, and now I think they were right.
While for many of my classmates, the school was the centre of life, for me, it was always somewhere on the periphery. Something unavoidable but not important. I’m not proud of not being able to recall the names of almost all of the people I went to school with. Still, the fact illustrates my attitude better than anything.
I wasn’t lonely, and, surely, I wasn’t an outcast. After my first best school friend died, a new girl came into our class, and for many years, we became inseparable. She lived in the seaside town where I lived, and we took a train together every morning, having agreed on a train carriage we’d meet. She didn’t often join me on the way back home. She was the most popular girl in our class and beyond, and she usually had more interesting things to do after school than rush home. She always asked me to join her, but for me, there wasn’t anything I wanted more than to get lost in yet another book.
It wasn’t as easy as it is now to buy the books one wanted to read, so book lovers grabbed every book they could find. That is why the impressive library my father had managed to accumulate is a rather unconventional collection of literary works comprising various genres from historical to crime fiction. For the same reason, I wasn’t choosy in my bookish preferences. I read everything from Honoré de Balzac to Jack London, not skipping Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, even if I genuinely preferred Alexandre Dumas. I remember how excited I felt when my mom brought the volume of “Gone with the Wind” from somewhere, and how my joy dwindled a bit once I realised that it was only the second volume. I’d lived for years having read only the second part of the book! Dear Diary, I’m warning you, there is nothing funny about it, so don’t you dare laugh, but when I finally got hold of the full book in two volumes, twenty pages in book one were missing. And then, it took another handful of years before I could read Margaret Mitchell’s masterpiece in full.
When I hear that belittling remark about “nowadays everyone is a writer”, I feel like giggling hysterically. As far as I’m aware, illiteracy had been conquered a while ago, at least, in my part of the world, but still, when I was a teenager almost no one my age was interested in reading, let alone writing. It doesn’t seem logical to me that in the present era of the Internet and digitalization, more people have become interested in books, even in ebooks.
And so, I spent the years I was supposed to fill with reckless escapades with my head deep into book pages, and dear Diary, I’ve never regretted it. I travelled across continents and time when in real life, I couldn’t travel. I was surrounded by hundreds of fictional characters, while in reality, I was losing one close person after another. When out of our huge and fussy family, with people moving between cities and countries (republics at that time), with someone always arriving and departing, staying for months until it seemed that they’d stay forever and everyone would only be happy if they did, there were left only my mom, my aunt, and I, I met new people through books.
By the age of eighteen, I’ve read so many books that it came almost naturally that I stopped reading.