I read my first Stephen King novel when I was 12 years old. The book was Carrie and the year was that of the Gulf War I, 1992. Thus began a love affair with King’s books that has continued to shape my life until today.
This year I turned 30 and I’m even more in love with King’s writings than I ever was. Part of this has to do with longevity: I’ve grown up with him and each of his books has specific memories that relate to all the milestones of my life. The first time I read It was right around the time I first got my period. We were living in Islamabad, Pakistan and so much of the monstrous fundamentalist culture mirrored, in an odd way, the Derryites and It. I remember moving on to Christine, The Tommyknockers, The Dark Half, Cujo, most of those early books I read sitting at the picture window in my bedroom. I was a late bloomer, not a lot of friends in a horrible country, and so I read everything I could get my hands on. Literally.
Of all the hundreds of books I read sitting there, the one that stuck with me the most was Stephen King’s It. Something about the kids in the book, The Loser’s Club, their friendship and their struggles. That story haunted me, I saw aspects of it everywhere. Yes because it’s really freaking scary, and also because it’s pure magic.
I remember reading Rose Madder, Dolores Claiborne, Gerald’s Game and those other pseudo-feminist King novels during high school when we lived in New Delhi, sitting out in my Secret Garden with my dog Cubby at my feet. Cubby has since passed away, but I have such loving memories of sitting with her outside, King book in hand, screaming at her to get away from the bushes (snakes!) while she chased squirrels. She’d come back with a big smile, that sweetheart loved chasing those squirrels and I’m sure her doggy heaven is full of them, plop herself at my feet and I’d return to my book. Until she bolted off into the bushes and the cycle would lather, rinse and repeat.
The summer of my junior year in university, the summer before Wendy’s murder and my life’s course was altered, I worked in Document Delivery at the Occidental Library while I did research for my honour’s thesis on monsters and the exploitation of women and girls in the southern California rave scene. I spent much of that summer re-reading King’s novels and peicing together what has since become my first book, American Monsters (publication pending!). I re-read It again that summer and it was as magical as I first remembered. Something about that story really gets to me. How underneath all the horror is this amazing sense of faith, of believing in yourself and your friends to defeat even the most impossible of odds. And that group of friends! They were the best. Even reading It as a 21-year-old I knew there was something mystical about that group of friends. Something that mirrored many of the groups of friends I’d had up to that point. Beautiful. That was eight years and five countries ago.
Yesterday I finished re-reading It for the third time and something strange happened at the end: I cried. Not just a couple tears, a veritable flood, so much that I could barely read the words as they swam past my eyes.
I think this is why: The first time I read the book I was the same age as the kids, the second time I was at an in-between age between childhood and adulthood, this most recent time I am almost as old as the kids when they return to Derry as grown-ups. There was this feeling of doubling as I read, King talks of it often, where I could vividly remember how I felt the first time I read it, but coming at it this time with a decidedly adult perspective. Like the 12-year-old me still lives in there and woke up to join the 30-year-old me as I savored one of my favorite stories. Two sets of eyes reading the book, the kid in me still scared by the blood in the drain and desiring for the friendship of the Loser’s Club, and the grown-up in me being far more struck by how the people in Derry are as bad as the monster itself. A doubling. Intense.
Stranger still was the presence of The Trauma Fairy throughout the novel, and especially in the end, hence Sezin’s Standpipe waterworks. Remember how none of the grown-ups even remember what happened that monstrous summer? They had forgotten all about their best friends, they forgot that they fought the beast, they forgot everything. The Trauma Fairy wiped their brains clean, until they came back and fought It once again.
I never realised how sad a story it really is, and my personal aging is the reason. It is an epic story, spanning 20 years of people’s lives and sometimes more. When I read it the first and second time, I had experiences of youth, but none of the loss or the great pain that was to accumulate. Now, I read it with many more tragedies under my belt and I’ve felt firsthand how easy it is to forget those details of childhood and its assorted traumas. All the great groups of friends that now are not much more than the vague memories of a connection, if even recalled in the slightest. That sense of areas of my life’s tapestry are, quite simply, fading.
I never understood all the work The Trauma Fairy has done until I actually got older and then looked back, feeling like something is missing but not exactly sure what. This doubling is painful. It makes my heart feel all swollen and I get that lump in my throat that makes me wish I had Eddie’s aspirator. And these feelings, familiar and not, are all stemming from re-reading It. What a great book.
Regardless of my disquieted discomfort of the moment, I am grateful that in my tumbleweedy existence I have someone like Stephen King whose books can remind me of how far I’ve come, ground me into myself, and remind me of my personal history. Even the stuff that I’ve forgotten I’ve forgotten. When Cubby died in 2004, Stephen King became my longest-standing companion in my Third Culture Kid life and I shudder to think of who I’d be without his words as anchors.
I hope one day I will have the honour of shaking that great and talented man’s hand, but until then I will remain his #2 fan. I don’t want to piss off Annie Wilkes, now do I? 🙂