She loved them and had many in the house. Those in addition to the stacks we’d have checked out from the Downey City Library every week. I remember always being curious about the books she read, even before her passing. As a little kid she’d often find me with them, just four years old or so. I loved to let my gaze drift across her spines there on the shelf, a dark burgundy dust jacket, some without, worn, embossed gold fading from cloth, mass markets, too. I’d make my choice and open one, not to read, but just to see how incredibly different they were from mine — their fonts, the layout of the words, fancy, rough-hewn pages.
As I got older I began to seek further, twelve years old and opening her pages, reading her pages to read her, to try to know her in some way, my Father too immersed in his grief and his work and dysfunction to share her with me. She became more of a mystery as I read — her anthology of Victorian erotica or Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex* *But Were Afraid to Ask, for instance, Executioner’s Song. Those were the books I always found myself gravitating to.
And then there are the books we shared together. I still have some of them, the most important ones, at least. Richard Scarry’s Greatest Storybook Ever, The Little Engine That Could, The Giving Tree, Dr. Seuss, and my Charlie Brown Dictionary. Sandman Stories, though, is my favorite. One of my very first and it still smells the same. Even sitting here writing about it, I see clearly the pages and type color, a muted reddish brown, the way my nightlight cast its shadow across the pages as she read and we rocked. I don’t take it out all that often anymore, though, because I don’t want that smell to wear off.
In high school I began adding titles of my own, mostly paperbacks bought for school, Catcher in the Rye and Shakespeare and all that, books I’d steal from the Walden’s at Stonewood Mall.
In my twenties I got a job as a bookseller at Brentano’s at the Beverly Center and I stole books from there, too. I relocated to the Bookstar across La Cienega after that. Not to work, though, just to steal.
And my books have come with me, lugged in milk crates from place to place in L.A. — Downey to the Drug Den to the City, movers have never been fond of me.
All I was really left with were flashes, really, losing her as young as I was. Like looking through photographs of the time before it all fell apart. Our connection in books and our love of reading magnified. It evolved into something more — a spiritual communion with a Mother I can never claim to know, yet whose loss and whose death defines who I am more than anything else.
At times they’ve offered me refuge, another world, a brief reprieve from mine when I was younger, the relish of that rare, otherworldly feeling that comes from reading some. At others they’ve shown me what is possible (anything) and how to dream. There are those that have challenged me, made my brain hurt and knowledge grow. And those that just hit me in my core, knocked me down, made me weep, just because they were so fucking true.
I’ve come to realize over the years, though, that my love of books and of literature are more than just her legacy to me, they are her immortality, as well — the spirit of her life living in the words I write, words informed by what I’ve read.
She is, quite literally, the ghost in my machine.