Have I ever desired anything the way that I used to dream of a cozy hidden nook where I could hide away alone with a book? I was five when I first remember trying out the bay window for this purpose. By six, I had a routine. First, I went to the wooden bookshelf where I shelved all my books and where we stored the library checkouts when we brought them home. I thought carefully about what I wanted to read. Picking the right kind of story. A book that was long enough that it would hold me for a few hours. Okay maybe, I should bring two or three. Sometimes the library book piles would tower above me as I sat on the carpet turning pages, making a plan for what I should take to my secret hideout. Once I decided on the books, I would next go into the kitchen and get a large spoon and a wrapped hunk of blue cheese out of the fridge. I think I tried Cheetos and Goldfish, but eventually I settled on the blue cheese. I would shape a large mound of the cheese, pressing it into the spoon until I had an ugly, smelly, cold cheese popsicle that I could lick as I was reading. Books in hand, spoon at the ready, I would then pick my spot. Sometimes the bay window worked, but in winter I also liked the closet in my bedroom with the slanted roof. The key was to find a place that was comfortable, but not in the main traffic pattern of the house. The best places required at least three calls from mom before she discovered the room I was in. Usually, I ended up in the den using my parent’s filing cabinet as a backrest and sprawling out on the carpet. I would look over the cover of the book, put my spoon in my mouth like a pacifier, and open my book to the first page. The pages turned. The cheese slowly melted into my mouth. The light in the room would dim as afternoon turned to evening. Eventually, Mom would call me.
“Where are you?! Reading again?! Why aren’t you on the couch? And what are you eating off that spoon?!
Exasperation. I’d be wrangled into doing some chore. I reluctantly closed my book and returned the silverware to the kitchen as I slowly brought my mind out of the world of the book and across the border back into my childhood domestic life. Smells of dinner cooking. My sister practicing the drums. Dad’s car pulling into the driveway. Characters from the story drifted through as I set the table and shooed them into their own little nooks, deep in my brain. Oh how I wished I could bring my book to the table and read during dinner. But that was not allowed in my family. I was supposed to talk and ask questions and listen. Things I enjoyed reading on a page, but was rather cautious about doing with my family.
If I could just find the perfect place to read, maybe I would go uninterrupted longer. Maybe I could read an entire book. Maybe I could stay there as long as I liked.
A few days ago, a close friend brought up the fact that I have no children. She is dear to me, and close, but she has never asked this before. I give her the safe and sanctioned response I always give. But as I drive home I think of that little girl with her book. And I know that part of the answer is woven into that memory. I still want a hidden nook where I can escape the world and get closer to my reading. A place where I can feel safe and alone enough to lose myself in another world. I still read quite a bit, but out of necessity I figured out ways to create my coveted nook just about anywhere. I could read on a crowded subway train, at a restaurant, atop a mountain, and yes, on the couch. But I never lost the yearning. My friend grew up and created a home where she could have children and watch them grow and learn and boisterously express themselves. I grew up and chose to create a home that represents my own elaborate reading nook manifested as a house. A house quite different than my friends as it is a place where I find quiet. It is a place where people cannot go if I do not want them there. It is a place where I can ignore reality, if I choose (at least for a while). And it is where I can give birth to ideas, nourish my imagination, develop creativity and invest hope into my own future.
But in some ways, the nook is a place that does not really exist. I make choices based on the satisfaction the nook symbolizes. But it is still, always, around the next corner and just a bit out of reach.
This piece is part of the #52essays2017 challenge where I will share one essay a week in 2017. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out writer Vanessa Martir’s website and post about it.