The Book that Made Me
A series that has stood by me longer than any other
On the morning of my high school graduation, I knew that I would not cry.
Those four years of my life remain a time that I cannot entirely forgive or forget, no matter how distant I am from them. And I knew on the day where it became official that all I was going to feel that day was relief as I sat in that arena, waiting to throw my hat and go home.
The speeches were generic, bland at best. My eyes wandered around the stadium restlessly, my hands picked at my robes and fingers and arms; the people around me shifted just as visibly.
Then, the superintendent took the podium.
His speech was framed around The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien.
My eyes found the ceiling as he talked, and I reminded myself that I would not cry that day, but the tears came just that once.
I was an awkward kid that grew into an awkward adult. In my younger years though, full of childhood innocence, round around the edges and frumpy for my age predating a later eating disorder, I loved books. Books spoke to a shy kid like me when the other kids were busy playing and having fun. Books took me to wild, fantastic worlds and filled my mind with a wealth of knowledge and ideas that I cherished. I didn’t have to talk to a book, or impress a book, or look a certain way to make a book like me; all I had to do was read.
When I was in third grade, my father came home one day with a new audiobook in hand. It was our bedtime ritual, him and I, to lay in my bed and listen to audiobooks together until I fell asleep.
“What’s a hobbit?” I remember asking.
The night we began listening to Rob Inglis narrate The Hobbit over the CD player in my childhood bedroom is a moment I began to be shaped into the person I am.
I ate up The Hobbit, and then The Lord of the Rings after- I would stubbornly stay awake and refuse to sleep for much longer than I had for other books, and I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I got in trouble a few times for listening ahead while Dad was at work. I loved the series. I listened to them over and over again on my own even after I had finished them with Dad. I dreamed of becoming a writer, of studying at Oxford, becoming myself a strange old English professor. The female Tolkien, I would be.
As interests waxed and waned, I always had a love in my heart for the tales of Middle Earth. I reread the series in middle school, again in high school, again in college. Through all phases of my life, I was eager to go back to the story I knew so well, to look at it though a new maturing lens each time.
And on that day of my graduation, after it felt there had been so many trials and pieces of me missing from breaking one too many times, so much so that I felt like that night when my dad had changed my life with that audiobook must have been another life, a happier life that wasn’t mine, to hear that man stand on the stage in front of me and recite the opening words of my treasured childhood books, it felt like the universe had reached out to speak to me and me alone out of that whole audience. You will be okay, it said to me. As long as you have Middle Earth.