I have a confession to make about books, one I’ve told no one before.
Not even my wife.
And when I grew older, I read women’s classics like Little Women and Pride & Prejudice. I’ve even (and here it comes!) devoured in secret many a Mills and Boon romance novel when my older sisters left their copies lying around the house while out gallivanting!
There. I said it.
Admittedly, it’s a little embarrassing to ‘fess up about this, but if memory serves me right, my sex education started from all those cheesy chick lit novels as well!
What’s a lost and lonely little boy to do?
Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, no boy would dare be caught reading such chick lits. (I’m guessing it’s no different today either!)
Yet back then, I would discreetly consume them by the volumes, enjoying every bit of every scene, conversation and escapade the stories’ heroines would get themselves into.
These books helped fill up the void of loneliness I had, since no one in the family had much time for me. And there were no kids my age in the neighbourhood to play with. Not that I was into group play anyway, being an introvert that preferred to stay indoors.
All my far older siblings were too busy living out their lives then, so I was pretty much left to my own devices. Reading became my escape into better worlds, where siblings were close, confessing and sharing everything. Where parents were caring and all-knowing. Or at least they paid attention in ways that let their kids know they weren’t alone.
I, on the other hand, was almost always alone.
So wherever I could get my hands on them, books became my great solace and reliable companions.
Books were like portals into a different universe, taking me on an adventure each time; letting me believe if only for a brief moment, that the world was a far more colourful and interesting place. More so than the four walls of the tiny and crowded apartment I dwelt in for much of my years growing up.
But since only my sisters were readers, I naturally ended up pilfering from their collections, almost all of which were romance novels.
It was always so wonderful to read about the protagonists in these stories. How they found true love or resolved thorny issues plaguing their lives. Not to mention the guaranteed happy endings!
And they were always oh so pretty and handsome. Making the young, impressionable me conclude that that’s the sure ticket to true and lasting happiness in this world – unparalleled physical beauty. That true fulfilment could only be found if you had alabaster skin, perfect hairdos and bodies befitting gym instructors.
Give me companions or give me books!
But what really hooked me to these stories was how no one lacked companionship.
Everyone had someone to turn to when advice, help or just simply a listening ear was needed.
I loved how they could share the deepest and most darkest of secrets. Most of the time, they would not be judged or disparaged, but instead be on the receiving end of constant comfort and support.
Contrast that with my growing up years.
When I look at my family then, I saw nothing to make me feel safe enough to share my inner struggles and doubts as I stood on the edge of my teen years. The shoutings, fightings and quarrels that regularly took place were nearly always heated and ballistic. So tell me who in his right mind would spill any more guts than what’s already on full, unadulterated display in my home?!
For sure I would also avoid showing any signs of weakness to my father, who only saw them as an excuse to beat the living daylights out of me. Which made me conclude later in life that no man born in the early 1900s, like he was, would ever show vulnerability in front of others, especially family members.
And my mom? She was illiterate, and only had the running of daily household chores to call her own. Where would I even begin to speak to her about the changes in my body or the turmoil in my head as I grappled with adolescent stuff like facial hair and personal identity?
That too meant that I could also rule out my older sisters, although they seemed to be the only ones who would bother giving me some of their precious time. However, the way they did it was to behave with me like they were my pseudo moms and I their baby kid.
Not much help there for a young man.
As for my brothers you ask? They were way too busy carving out careers for themselves to be reading books, let alone keeping me company. With at least a 12 – 14 year gap between them and me , what common areas had we anyway? I was probably more of an inconvenience to them than anything else.
And since they hardly had a good father figure to learn from, how they treated me was probably how they were treated by our father when they were growing up.
No surprise really that my growing up years were pretty much spent with books. And, more specifically in my case, chick lits! Thanks “ladies” for keeping me company all those years ago. Today I am finally putting you out for display to the rest of the world, because chick lit is after all, still lit.