Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Misery Trials

One day in high school, I found myself on my motor scooter as chunks of it began to fall away unceremoniously on the street. I was 6’2, broad shouldered, and 190 pounds despite the 4-10 miles I ran daily for the cross country team, a team I was destined to disappoint. I was too big for my clothes, my sport, and the miniature desks at school.

I was too big for the scooter as well -- a vehicle I admitted to myself that had probably been made for a smaller person -- almost certainly for girl -- but it was cheap enough for me to afford. That day as it labored up the long hill that lay between me and my school, it wheezed a little more than it usually did and little bits of its outer shell started to fall off.

I’m not a vain person, never have been, maybe to a fault, and as the wheel cover fell off, I turned to follow it with my eyes, thinking that as long as the scooter kept going, the wheel cover probably wasn’t necessary. Then, a bit off the bottom came off, and I wondered impassively why it was even put there if it had no true function. After all, the scooter kept on going.

Frankly, I felt a little like Han Solo piloting the Millennium Falcon, a pirate with a swagger with a vehicle that wasn’t pretty but did its job.

It’s not until the side luggage compartment popped open that I felt shock. Inside was the book that I’d been reading lately, the best book I’d picked up in a long long time, Stephen King’s Misery. I turned just in time to see Misery flutter open and spin a couple of times in the air looking for a moment like a splash of white foam in the air.

I hit the brakes and picked it up. It had landed in the gutter and gotten a little wet. The last 100 pages or so would have a crescent moon of ichor darkening the edge.

But it was still readable, and I was grateful. I had no money to buy a new copy, and Annie had just crippled Paul. I couldn’t put it down now.

The discoloration of the pages frustrated me the rest of that morning. My own Millennium Falcon had choked the rest of the way to school, and I’d arrived early enough that I could sit on the lunch benches and keep reading. The pages were slimy and difficult to see, but this was Misery after all. This was Stephen King my favorite novelist.

At least for that day.

The day progressed, and I kept reading whenever I could. At break, I sat at the lunch tables again, alone and focused.

This of course was high school in the 1980s and that meant campus was something like Thunder Dome. An upper classman came by and grabbed my book staring me in the eyes and laughing.

I was a nerd then and still am. Proudly. But what he didn’t understand was that I was a really big nerd. I’d never fought before that day, and I’ve been in only one fight since. But that day, I stood up and snatched the book out of his hand. I was a good foot taller than he was even if he had two years on me and for the first time in my life I glowered. It’s a look I’ve found particularly useful as a teacher.

He backed down.

Some time around fifth period, I was just about done with the novel, and it was building to a crescendo. I sat there in the back row of biology when the bell sounded, and I had only 10 pages left.

I’m not a rule breaker, but I kept going as well as I could over the teacher’s rude insistence that Gregor Mendel added value to our lives. Her voice crept into my brain, ruining King’s amazing story until I heard, “Brantingham, what are you doing?”

She was staring at me as was the class. I held up the book.

“Go to dean’s office.”

Oh thank God, I thought. I stepped out of her classroom and into the relative quiet of the hallway to finish the novel. Finally, some peace. It would be bought with two hours of detention where I’d be picking up trash in the parking lot, but it would be worth it for the ten minutes I needed to finish the novel. Besides, those hours in detention would be spent dreaming of what I’d read.


Julie Luek said...

Now that's when you know you're a true reader. I once got in trouble at home for reading when we had company. I don't remember the book, but I do remember I wanted to read far more than visit with our guest.

John Brantingham said...

We're both true readers. The book are so much more interesting than people!

Liane Spicer said...

A funny (and familiar) story. I was mortified when my French teacher--a lovely, gentle lady and my favorite faculty member--caught me reading a novel in her class. She just said in her quiet, disappointed voice, "Very enlightening", and the sting of it endures to this day.

Can't count how many times I've been stuck in parties and assorted gatherings and all I could think was I'd give a lot if I could just have a book and retire to a quiet corner. If it's a function where I can carry a fair-sized bag, I put a book in with my lipstick--just in case.

Charles Gramlich said...

I remember reading Misery straight through and finished at close to four o'clock on a work day.

Yolanda Renee said...

I'm that kind of reader too, although I'd never been sent to detention for it. My mother, on the other hand, hated my reading. I could disappear in a room full of people and she'd be standing over me yelling my name and I wouldn't hear her!

Now, my husband stands with his hands on his hips - but he doesn't yell, he just walks away.

Great story!