I’ve always wondered what the purpose of the blank pages at the end of a book are for. I’ve never stopped to look at them, to let the frail paper run through my supple fingertips. Books are stories. Stories written by people. People just like us. Sometimes with intention, but most times not. No other intention but to get their words down onto pages, to relieve the tension rippling in their minds, to clear the water, calm the wind, and put up the sail. Writing comes from human minds as complex as our daily thoughts. Our wound up brains spilling over thoughts that are often left intact, undug.
I just finished Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur, a memoir about a young 14-year-old girl whose mother bursts into her room – revealing a dark secret that stains the rest of Adrienne Brodeur, “Rennie”‘s life. For over a decade, she carries this burden – a glue to her mother that hardens over time through curiosity and through guidance that she longs for herself but instead gives as a consolation to her mother through a secret, elaborate affair.
Books have always had a place in my heart. A deep pocket saved just for them. Lately, I haven’t filled that pocket as much as I should, as much as I would like to, as much as I need to. I’ve cherished them for years, even spent eight college semesters bathing in the harsh blue light of cheap dorm room lamps, reading the same sentences over and over again – desperate to find a current running underneath the fading black print, the yellowing pages, the bent spines.
I read a book called Housekeeping in my senior thesis and remember speaking in class about how for the characters in Marilynne Robinson’s novel, time is not linear – it’s circular. It had seemed like such a revelation in my mind, I could barely get the words out. I think it’s true outside of well-done fiction, too. In reality, we live in circles, inevitably coming back to our formers selves and hopefully pulling small fragments of the good, and leaving behind the bad. But we always come back to the feelings that make us feel most alive.
But that’s why books are so strange – they’re these ghosts of writers, these little pieces and thoughts from their lives that they leave behind. Books up on a shelf, collecting layers of dust until a hopeful new reader sets out to take on the challenge of finding shared truths. When we read them, we are pulled to similar feelings, geographic locations, people and characters that remind us of our own lives.
What I didn’t know when I bought this book was that the author is from Massachusetts just like me. What I also didn’t know is that she moved to San Diego, where I live now. And more coincidentally, she lived in Pacific Beach, the neighborhood I live in. It took me a while to read this book. It was hard to get into at first, which I find is the case with nonfiction sometimes. But yesterday on the second to last day of reading this book after months of procrastination, Adrienne Brodeur was writing about moving to San Diego with no plan, nothing pulling her there other than a man. She described walking down the boardwalk, the endless sunny days. As I sat there on the smooth, hard sand north of the pier, I watched the engorged yellow sun prepare to dip below the horizon and kiss the sky goodbye. And at that moment, I turned back to the book and read as she was sitting on the same beach, watching the same sun sink.
I went on a date with a guy and when I looked at him he gave me a cold feeling. I always wanted someone warm to radiate around me – a heater to melt me, reveal my bones through the thin layer of cracking ice. But I think that job is something only I can do – and I think that I can only do that through doing what I love the most.
I remember he asked me a question, “When do you feel the most alive, the most like yourself?” He said, “Don’t say when you’re drinking”- and I couldn’t think of a single answer, except for simple, generic answers like when I’m outside, hiking in the mountains. And that’s true, I do feel alive when I’m surrounded by nature, but who doesn’t? It’s almost impossible to not feel the world turning. You feel closer to the earth and to yourself. But I think that at that moment, and up until tonight, I had forgotten books. I had forgotten the power I feel when I simply read, understand, connect, reflect, and see anew.
Connections find us in odd, stomach-turning ways. The title of the book I just closed for the last time was again, named “Wild Game.” Named no doubt after the wild, risky game that was Adrienne’s mother’s affair. But also the cookbook that she and her lover began. It was intended to be a project that bonded the family friends together and to provide an excuse for the two wronged lovers to meet and slip away when no one paid attention. But the name was also based off of the local hunting that Ben – her mother’s lover – enjoyed, and the cooking that her mother Malabar happily slaved over. It’s a title with two clear, entangled meanings – maybe more to the author.
As I’m writing this, I went to look up a quote from Wild Game, and the preloaded text from Google gave me “Wild Game Restaurant San Diego.” I clicked on it, thinking the book had a scene in a local restaurant that I stumbled too quickly by. The first restaurant that appeared on the search page was The Lion’s Share, a restaurant that I went to with the guy that asked me the question that left me dumbfounded and disattached from myself. We sat there, eating elk loin that was still bleeding onto the celery root puree that was not thick enough to carry the weight of a piece of meat so gamey, so earthy and slightly raw in the middle. I could barely eat three bites.
In the book, while Adrienne lives in San Diego post marriage, she becomes severely depressed. Her father’s future wife, Margot owns a bookshop in Del Mar and gives her stacks of books. She says, “Books come into your life for a reason,” and I think I’ve never understood that as much as I do right now. As I remove the bookmark from my book – a letter from my mom written just days before she visited me here in San Diego – now a distant memory that I’m sure will never fade and will revive through the next pages I read.