My Google Drive is full of drabbles, short pieces I’ve written and quickly abandoned before they got anywhere significant. This one was called “My Life as a Nerd,” and I totally forgot I wrote it last summer. I will never finish it, and I wanted someone to see it, so Here, Blog! Enjoy.
I’ve spent my whole life being a nerd because I learned, from the very youngest of ages, that fantasy is better than reality. It’s not like I had an oppressed, horrible life. I grew up in a firmly middle-class family: not rich enough to fly somewhere for vacation, but rich enough to afford the newest technological gadget that interested my dad (a case could be made for inherited nerdiness).
The thing is, I was an introverted, extremely shy kid. Life was hard for me, even when “life” just meant standing in front of the preschool to show off a possession for Show & Tell. I would agonize about what to bring, worrying about what each possibility would make people think of me. My stuffed animals seemed to baby-ish, I would probably lose my Polly Pocket, and people would laugh if I told them my Scar action figure was my favorite character in The Lion King. I couldn’t handle a 30-second presentation designed to create opportunities for tiny children to make friends.
In addition to being terrified of people, I have also always been desperate to impress them. Reading was a great way to do both. I could sequester myself in my room for hours at a time, and when I finally emerged to socialize with human beings, nearby adults would always coo and say things like, “Wow, you read more than me! You’re so smart!” To prove them right, I would pick up a new book and head back into hiding.
I’m not saying this to brag (I’m saying this to brag), but in first grade, I took home a specially designed paper certificate rewarding me for reading one thousand books. One thousand. Just in first grade! Granted, many of them were picture books, but I know for certain that there were several chapter books thrown in, because that was the year I was granted access to the squeaky turnstiles that housed the “big kid” books at our public library.
I read so much that in third grade, during the first year Accelerated Reader points were awarded for taking quizzes on books you read, I won first prize. Not for the third grade, but for the entire grade school, up to sixth grade. My equally nerdy best friend, Jill, won second place. She was pissed, and she complained that she only got second because she’d broken her leg earlier that year. Unwilling to part with my prize, even hypothetically, I reminded her that she’d had a lot of extra reading time while she was in the hospital.
But more than the praise (entirely from adults) that I lapped up, books allowed me to stop being myself for a while. Although I did not have the self-awareness to understand that fearing everything was exhausting, I did know that I liked reading about girls and boys who were quick-on-their-feet and ran into danger instead of away from it. I loved the Babysitter’s Club series, because they were entrepreneurs who could make money and attract hot boyfriends.
At this early stage in life, books were total escape zones, not only from my shy personality, but also from all bad things, ever. My mom tried to get me to read Little Women, but when it became clear that Beth was going to die, I refused to read any more. Again, it’s not like I had this horrible life that I wanted to escape from, full of abuse or neglect. It’s just that my bar for This Will Definitely Traumatize Me was so low. I once hid under my teacher’s desk after she congratulated me on qualifying for our grade school’s spelling bee. I was in no emotional state to take on the death of Beth March.
Eventually I was able to handle fictional human pain and death, but I could never quite stomach animal pain. My mom also tried to get me to read ??Jo Dog Book??, which she always summarized as “a great book about a puppy who gets her ears and tail cut off.” How is that even remotely enticing to a seven-year-old, Mom? And why were you always recommending morbid books, anyway??
Even today, as a 27-year-old adult woman, I refuse to read books (or watch movies) if it is even hinted that an animal is hurt or killed. A coworker recently lent me a non-fiction book about a guy who decides to walk across America with his trusty dog. I read a couple chapters, and it was right up my travel-interests alley. Then I made the mistake of flipping to the pictures in the middle of the book, one of which was the guy holding his lifeless dog above a dug-out grave. I snapped the book shut as if my eyes could forget what they had seen, and I returned the book to my coworker the next day, unread.
Already my identity was forming around the fact that I was nerd. But while bookish girl made sense in my white-washed Midwestern city, I wasn’t quite so eager to defend other nerdy passions.
And there my inspiration ended, apparently. I think I was going to talk about how I was obsessed with Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, and generally talk about the trials of being a girl-geek growing up. But I probably got distracted by a good book and stopped writing this personal essay.