You Are Not Alone

Saturday, July 10, 2010

On Novels of Romance

I cannot recall the exact moment I became an avid reader but, I remember laying under the covers in my bed between the ages of eight and nine, a chapter book about a boy and a professor and a scary adventure involving a Mummy's Curse. I remember looking up from the book I was reading briefly, seeing that the sky was growing dark from the curtain less windows of my room, then returning to the story unfolding on the pages before me.

I devoured books from that moment on. I read Baby sitter's Club books until the age of eleven. I remember getting rather bored with Baby sitter's Club, they always spent at least four chapters at the beginning of each book in a synopsis of the rest of the series. I would skip ahead until I found the chapter that began the actual story the book was about, feeling annoyed that so many pages were wasted. I finally set Baby sitter's Club books aside when I walked into the library at the Junior High I transferred to.

Not long after I had transferred to my new school, at the age of twelve, did I wander into the school's library. It must have been lunch time and, having not met any friends to eat lunch with and succumbing to my inclination to be on my own, I walked through the glass double doors, the smell of musty book glue and pages pleasantly wafting over me. My eyes scanned the neat stacks, all crammed with a rainbow of book bindings beckoning my attention (To this day, I love going into library's and book stores and scanning the shelves of books to read. Every time I walk into a library or book store, a sense of awe and calm wash over me. My eyes bounce from shelf to shelf, book cover to book cover, inhaling the scent of paper, glue and power).

After familiarizing myself with the library, as if I were doing a walk through on a home I was about to purchase, I went to the librarian. I don't remember her clearly but, I remember feeling like had a moment of recognition upon meeting eyes. Does that ever happen to you? Meeting someone and feeling kindred with them before actually knowing them? That lady saw in my a love and appetite, found in me a kindred spirit.

The librarian suggested Ann Rice's, "The Mummy". (I must have shared my obsession with Ancient Egypt with her. I have had an interest in Ancient Egypt since I was five and cracked open some book about Ancient Egypt at my Grandfather's house). With fingers tingling in anticipation, I walked over to her desk to check the book out. When the book was safe in my hands, I walked over to a seat in the library and began to read. Too soon, I heard the bell for class ring and, reluctantly, closed the book, packed it away in my backpack and got on the bus.

As soon as I was on the bus, I pulled out the book, devouring page after page of the story unfolding, keeping mindful of my stop. In a daze, I got off the bus at my stop, opening the book and reading it as I walked home, (to this day, I can still read and walk at the same time). I itched to get back to the story through homework, chores and dinner, becoming agitated that parents and siblings would force my attention from the story I was so enthralled with. When it comes to Disney Princess characters, I always thought of myself as an Ariel but now, I think that I'm more of a Belle. My nose was almost always stuck in a book.

When I got to high school, the intense angst that I felt was better channeled in a diary. I still read but, I devoted more time to writing in a diary at the teachings of the LDS church I attended. I immersed myself in church, finding my sense of romance, ritual and history in the pages of the Old and New Testament and Book of Mormon. While my fellow Sunday schoolmates fought off the urge to sleep, (just about everyone, even me sometimes) gossip, (I never liked gossiping) and unclean thoughts about parts of a girls body that were burgeoning, (mine) I listened and struggled to stay awake and imagined that I was one of the people that lived in biblical times.

In my imagination, I wore long, roughhewn robes that were dirty from travel dust and sandals that were thin from all the miles I walked. When God spoke to a prophet, I listened as if I were that prophet. When the prophet spoken to delivered his message to hard hearted villagers, I felt his despair, yearning, agony, anxiety and compassion. When God was angry, I was angry, seeing the waywardness of his children. My heart and soul felt aflame, willing to be a martyr for a life that promised equality, hard work, peace and love. When God's people were unrighteous, I lamented. When God's people had to be chastised, I feared and felt justice. When God's people were righteous and peaceful, I felt contentment. The old books of religion spoke to my passion and, when I came to the end of my Junior year of High school, I began to separate from the old world and forge my own. As I grew, my reading changed. I developed a penchant for Romance Novels but, considering my age and stage in life, it was no surprise.

After High school, I felt a release, a freedom. No longer did I need to be labeled and fenced in, I could reinvent myself. I found a job, ditched the glasses and started to find my own personal style. I started wearing tighter fitting clothing, (but let me assure myself and you that this did not mean I went from pre-carnival Sandy to post-carnival Sandy from the movie, "Grease") and making friends with the kinds of people I wouldn't have befriended before. Those friends, my sense of freedom, my desire to be less inhibited, all led me down a path fraught with activities that flirted with legality and took me further away from the nice, obedient, dependent girl that I was, which was only normal given I was at the precipice of my twenties.
As I simmered down, began to find my independent footing, (after a lot of struggle, danger and regret) I returned to my faithful love of books. 

I began to crack open tomes under the genre of, "Romance". I found a penchant for Romance Novels set in Medieval times, inwardly feeling elevated and sighing as I read of glorious lords come to rescue maidens who were not only innocent and beautiful but, full of grit, sarcasm and possessing a willful stubbornness. I read a couple of the standard Harlequin Romances but, my Mother-in-law introduced me to authors such as Jude Deveraux and Julie Garwood. I fell in love with the Lord and Ladies that Deveraux and Garwood wrote of. Eventually, I branched out and started reading Laurens and Dodd. Whatever each author offered, it was romance that was the key.

My heart yearned for romance, for the one person who I could find peace and love with. I didn't date much but, the guys that I did date were somewhat risque. I found myself drawn to enlisted boys, sensing their loneliness and being able to relate was a touchstone in each of the boyfriends that I had before I met my husband. All of them were handsome and, each one possessed a different aura that drew me in. Maybe my penchant for romance novels fed into my need to find a knight in shinning armor and therefore led me to be attracted to guys who were in the service but, my Dad had been enlisted in the Navy. The guys I dated that were in the military had a...scent about them, a scent I later identified as the scent a solider, who is living in the barracks, has. I was drawn to their bragging about how they trained to kill. I liked knowing I was with someone who could defend me, like a knight of old. I got the sense that these guys, who felt alienated, idealized what home was and meant, and I identified with that. Maybe these guys searched for an All-American, girl next door type. While I was far from Miss America standards, I was wholesome, earnest and innocent at age nineteen.

Don't get me wrong, I wasn't a man eater. Not that way. I was not some heat seeking missile, intent on finding a specialized target, no. I speak merely from a higher ground, not morally but, in the path of life. Looking back on the trail I forged, I see where it has led me and, it's no surprise that the man I married was enlisted in the Army. Not to say that it was some pheromone, buried childhood desire led Tango on both sides, it was. All but one of the Solider boys I dated was a set up but, it seems that I was fated to marry a defender of God and Country, all which laced into my Romanticism of warrior and lady. I wanted to be a lady, homemaker, wife and Mother.

While my head swam with notions found in romance novels, I created visions of a life with a Husband in which I would be like a fifties, apron donning, child rearing housewife. In my mind, life could be neat and organized, simple steps to be achieved with glowing pride. When I finally stumbled upon someone who is the modern equivalent of a real knight, my husband, I became Alice, euphorically tumbling down a rabbit hole.

In words, the courtship of me and my husband is akin to a modern day fairytale. Young love, cleaving, humorous, hopeful, passionate. We were children, bound together by a feeling of isolation, difference. We came together every weekend, ditching friends, preferring the company of one another to anyone or anything else. In the twin bed in my Husband's E-4 room, we'd wrestle and tickle each other, playful pups eager to touch and be touched, before joining together and snuggling in one anothers arms. My Husband would show me his world, share his music, books and memories, and I would share with him. We'd spend hours on the telephone, speaking on minutes purchased by a phone card. My Husband would drive an hour and a half to pick me up from the three bedroom apartment I shared with my seven member family and whisk me away to his cave of solitude. Sometimes, I would hide away in his footlocker during inspections. Once, I wore his BDU's as he shuttled me off the base. Another time, I hid in the trunk of his car as he drove me on base. We would eat packages of Ramen made in the microwave as we watched television on his little, second hand love seat, me wearing his BCG's, wrapped up in a cotton blanket wearing nothing underneath as I snuggled next to him, my head in his lap. I made friends with the other guys in the barracks, helping my Husband make friends too. Eventually, we eloped and moved into an apartment we shared with my little brother. One of the soldiers we made friends with came to live with us. I worked part time as a hostess at a restaurant, living paycheck to paycheck and drinking Koolaid, eating Ramen and drinking every weekend.

Ahh...but I get away from the point.

As time went by, I continued to read romance novels, devouring pledges of love beyond all challenge. The stories swept me away, made me feel dismal about what my life was. Eventually, I eschewed Romance Novels all together, having gone through an experience, a world of a moment in time that made every romance pale. After that, I could never read another romance novel without longing, regret and pain. Instead, I leaned toward realism, and that's how I found Moore, Palahniuk and Rand.

The summer before I became pregnant with Colin, I would lounge by the pool reading at first, "Fountainhead" and then, "Atlas Shrugged" and my world changed. These books, benign looking from the cover, were more than three inches thick with six point type. Each word, sentence, paragraph meant. Ayn Rand was not one to waste a single word, ever. To me, Rand is the finest word architect ever born. If I should ever be made to save one book from a burning building, well, I'd probably singe quite a bit of myself saving both, "Fountainhead" and, "Atlas Shrugged". In my way of thinking, both of those books are a very important part of the American psyche and lexicon.

Rand taught me the true meaning of selfishness. To me, Rand is in the league of H.G. Wells and Issac Asimov when it comes to futuristic storytelling. All of them had this brilliant insight into what our world would and will become. All of their writings are breathtaking, even more so than the much referred to and honored Nostradamus. Somehow, authors like Rand, Wells and Asimov had mental access to predicting where the human race would go, not with technology but, in terms of spirit. Each one of their stories has a moral ending that transcends time, speaking to generations upon generations if they should but read them. To me, that is what is absolutely fascinating about their tomes, that they should hold such indelible and shocking insight. How did these great minds feel, see, hear, think? How they must have lived! Apart, among, amused, dismayed. As if the nerve endings of their minds budded, blossomed and grew. How lonely, frustrating and enlightening!

Personally, I feel honored and privileged to have access to their literary works. Authors such as Rand, Wells and Asimov felt so passionate about the knowledge that lived inside their hearts and minds, they felt compelled to share. Their fire and courage left no room to cower at the thought of opposition. In their hearts, they may have wanted to achieve fame and fortune but, when they put pen to paper and let their heart's blood flow forth, they became possessed and driven. Greatness is born of this. So, when I returned to Romance Novels after the birth of my Son, wishing something light and joyful to read, I found myself disappointed, dismayed and disgusted after I read a couple of my most beloved romance novels.

I had to remind myself that these stories are set in times when women were sorely repressed meaning, medieval times. Still, I find myself frustrated that the authors of these romance tomes would write such spirited, obstinate women of Independence and then have them succumb to something as stupid as a spanking from their Husband, Lord and Master of their lives. REALLY? REALLY? I mean, a mere spanking would only inflame me, not put me in my place! What the hell is this put me in my place crap anyway? I am a HUMAN BEING. I happen to possess woman parts. I happen to have hormones that sometimes rule who I am, (seriously, not a cop out. Think teenage boy and hormones except, as a woman, you don't outgrow the surge) once a month. Men have muscle power and the ability to stifle emotions, women have the ability to gather and bear children but, we are still HUMAN BEINGS. A spanking is NOT going to humble me into submission. A man demanding that I "obey" him because he is lord and master and knows all and, unlike females, can see reason is NOT going to make me think, "Oh Gee! He's so right! I'm such a dummy! I suppose I should just tie on my apron and get to baking that pie!", it's only going to INFLAME me.

Reading about these women who start off so promising and then end up being spanked, yelled at, abandoned and all other manners of vile things, disgusts me. Not to say that there is not the need for compromise and cooperation in marriage, there is but, god help the man who ever thinks that all I need is a good spanking. All I have to say is that man better be prepared for some dirty fighting. I may not be as strong but, I have words, teeth and a keen mind. Instead, a woman as strong as a woman can be deserves a man who can match and meet her.

I just can't read romance drivel anymore. I can't stay in that woven world of romance and passion, once led, when the leading lady is reduced to being draped over a knee for spanking and abused in all manner of ways. It reduces me to shaking my fist in the air and wanting to wave it around and wear pointy heeled boots and scowl over flagons of frosty, foamy beer and dare any man to think he can tame ME. HA! I can just see myself hanging from the mast of a ship, sails billowed, my hair flying behind me and a grin on my face from the sheer freedom of it all.

Luckily, I have a Husband, a warrior, friend, lover, mate who knows better than to spank me. Sometimes, I'm sure he has wanted to spank me. Sometimes, I may need to be humbled. Sometimes, my vinegar rises above the honey and I can imagine him like a stallion, eyes rolling, nostrils flaring, prancing and stepping anxiously at the threat of my emotional eruption but, unlike other men who have tried to tame me, he doesn't. He knows that I am the volcano on the island and he is fine with watching the eruption and then dealing with the aftermath. Is this fair? To quote an seemingly well beloved quote of parents in the U.S., "LIFE isn't FAIR."

We work. Sometimes, neither one of us know why. Sometimes, we glance off to the other side of the path we're on together, see that we could be free and long for a life without the struggle, challenge and strife but, he's stayed the course and pulled me back more often than I like to admit.

It may not seem manly or romantic for a man to dog a woman's heels but, MY knight goes above and beyond for me, always has, always will and THAT is romance to me. He may not bring me flowers, cards dripping with love words, compliment on how sexy or pretty I look but, he comes after me time and time again. He desires ME, MY love, MY self, MY mind. While we struggle sometimes, not much can hold a candle to THAT. We work, we love, we walk, jog, run and tread the same path together, always.

It's no wonder I can't read Romance Novels anymore.

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