As a child I was very reserved and even the thought of conversation with strangers would send me into sweating fits. My skin would get clammy and I would struggle to get out a ‘hi’ or ‘how are you?’ People didn’t make sense to me. Adults were liars or people who looked through me instead of ‘at’ me. Other kids were too young and immature for me. I could relate to no one. I had the bare minimum of the required social skills and that was the way I liked it.
In this, I snuggled deeper. A Life of solitude so that no one could hurt me or let me down. I didn’t have to worry about fake friends or fake family. Even though, admittedly, a part of me wanted to belong to someone. Anyone. Then I found books. They enveloped me in their arms and I fell head first. Around the age of seven I discovered romance. The chemistry that could form between a man and a woman. I discovered fantasy, and all the things our imaginations could create. I also discovered thriller and mystery, and the questions and answers to human nature and what could bring the darkness.
In this new world of Worlds, I discovered The Golden Compass.
I was adopted by a Christian family headed by die-hard pastors with no grey area. Black and White. Right and Wrong. Only god. Only Jesus. Books that were about things called ‘Daemons’ (the name was just entirely too close), animals that talked, a girl who would be the savior or the answer to everything, the layers of universes and the questioning of creation were not allowed. Part of me wondered if this was the initial reason I fell in love with the book. It wasn’t just one thing. I didn’t have to be this ‘perfect little girl’. Lyra wasn’t.
I hid the book among the sheets and pillowcases of my bed so that no one would find it. I read it over, and over, and over again. I pretended that I had my own Daemon, it was an Owl. What I then would call my spirit animal – before I had even heard of Native Americans or their claims to that ideal. I would pretend that outside my window I could hear one calling to me. “Hoot, hoot..hoot, hoot…Jaden” (as I’d taken to calling myself).
This wise creature would answer my questions and help guide me through life. It would let me know when things were too bad. When I should fold into myself, when the bad things were happening. And when, at 9, I wanted to take my life it fluttered it’s wings and put them around me. I lay on the top bunk in the yellow bedroom I lived in and closed my eyes to the moonlight. I pretended that my Daemon hopped about the branches, causing them to scrape against the window. It told me to wait, to see if things got better, to think of better days when, like Lyra, I would be free to bound about free from the confines of the foster home.
Then I made the mistake. It’s bigger than that. I made “The Mistake”.
As a child, my brother and I would go to our adopted Aunt’s house for respite. We would stay there when my parents wanted a vacation, or to just be free of us (of me and all my behavioral issues). I loved my Aunt. She wasn’t as strict as my adopted mother. She was free and light and did things like: make gross homemade pizza under the guise of health (I loved that disgusting pizza), stroke her hand down my frizzy hair like she loved me, tell me that Jesus loved me no matter where I came from or who (like an evil biological mother). I loved her so much that I let my guard slip. I didn’t realize that she was just as religious as my mother. If not more – but just in a different way? I brought my book with me. I slipped it into my weekend luggage and, once I made sure my adopted parents were gone, I stowed it in the room I slept in during our stay.
As the weekend went on, I felt more and more comfortable and I felt it was time. Just after dinner, I clamored up the stairs to my temporary room. I clutched The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, with it’s embossed cover, to my chest and returned to the living room. I curled into a plush chair and opened the first page for what could’ve been the 20th time.
At first, she was curious. “What are you reading?” I responded excitedly, explaining how it was my favorite book. How I’d saved up my allowance ($1 for every day of the week, but some how my mother always found something wrong with everything I did, even when I tried my best. I never got a full $7 in the end) to buy this book. That I loved it with my whole heart. How it, and Lyra, was my whole heart.
She took my heart in her hands and read the back. She flipped through it, reading here and there. Her mouth set in a thin line and, with two hands that curled into claws, she gripped the book tight. Then she ripped. She tore. First a few pages, then more. The cover of the book hit the floor and scrapes of Lyra’s adventures followed. At first, I couldn’t cry. My mouth dropped open and, in a flutter of feathers, I could almost see my Owl pacing in anger.
Then the tears fell. A deep guttural pain welled up and poured out through my mouth. I was ‘the wailing woman’ and I couldn’t stop it. She didn’t love me. She never did. She hated me and everything I stood for, I thought at the time. I didn’t listen as she spewed venom about how Christians didn’t read such filth. That it wasn’t god-like. In that moment I didn’t want to be god-like, or Jesus-like, or christian-like. I wanted to be Lyra. I wanted to be free and adventurous. In that moment, I knew it would never happen, just knew.
I was wrong. Thank god.
(I will add, I now how a beautiful copy of the His Dark Materials series as well as the short – Lyra’s Oxford)