Until sixth grade, I lived in an unaware haze. When I try to remember me then, all I see is fuzzy and undefined. It was that first year at Rockford Elementary School, that my mind woke up, primarily thanks to an incredibly understanding and inspiring teacher, Mr. Bakke, and a wonderful, fellow student, Linda Nistler.
Linda was the smartest girl in our class. I envied her blonde hair and pretty blue eyes. One day she led me through the wall dividers that separated our three sixth grade classes to an enormous floor to ceiling bookshelf.
“Do you like to read?” She asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I’ve never thought about it.”
“How can you never think about reading?” She asked. “Reading is so much fun.”
Linda pointed to a shelf, gliding her fingertips across the book spines as though each and every one indeed belonged to her, “This is the Hardy Boys series, if you like mystery.”
She pointed to a row of books on the shelf beneath that, “This is the Babysitter’s Club.” She stuck the tip of her finger onto the top binding and tilted book number seven towards herself. “I’m on book number seven. Why don’t you start at number one? If you read fast, you can catch up with me and we’ll read them together.”
Linda pulled book one from the beginning of the row and placed it in my hands.
“But, I warn you. I read pretty fast, so…”
The implication was clear. Linda did not think I would ever catch up to her. Neither did I, frankly.
“There must be hundreds of books on this shelf,” I said gazing in awe over each row from the bottom to the top.
“Two hundred and fifty-four, to be exact,” Linda confirmed.
As we headed back through the room dividers to our classroom, I asked, “how many have you read?”
Linda’s hair flipped forward over her face as she plopped down onto the brown and black, plaid, reading corner sofa. The same slender finger that had claimed dominance over the Hardy Boys Series, delicately slid silky, blond strands behind her ear. A silver cross dangled from her lobe.
“I’ve read forty-six, actually.” She tapped the empty cushion next to her, “Come on, join me. You’ll see how much fun reading can be.”
That’s all it took. From that moment forward, reading is all I ever did. Reading was all I ever thought about. I did catch up with Linda. We voraciously completed the entire book shelf. The more I read, the more I defined myself. The haze cleared, revealing me.