My daughter Meredith attended a Christian school. When she was in third grade, I was waiting outside her classroom for parent marching orders, and thought I’d make small talk with another mom, a lady whose child had attended school with my daughter since kindergarten. I and Meredith’s dad were splitting up at this time. I had already been branded with a slutty career woman “S,” at school, and even worse, Meredith’s dad . . . wait for it . . .
Picked his daughter up after school on a Harley.
Even though I’d marked myself as headed for Perdition, I foolishly thought there’d be no harm in a few words of small talk. I had started writing for younger readers and was asking everyone remotely connected to a child about the type of books they enjoyed. “Have your kids read any of the Harry Potter books?” I asked.
“We only read one book in our house,” she said, her nose wrinkling as if I’d bathed in eau de Brimstone. No — a spritz of Burberry Brit. Satan’s own fragrance.
“They’re pretty good,” I said. “Why don’t you –”
As the tone and the whole thing sank in, I thought, this woman would gladly burn every book that is not The Book. I cannot let her in my house. Although I owned three versions of The Book, I also had 2,000 other books. Dear Lord, I thought — what must she think about the library? Bookstores? Even the Christian bookstore! There were books in there covering Satan, sex (within marriage), or even witchcraft . . . at least, “Here is what to look for if cats start disappearing in your neighborhood.”
It’s a kind of strange karmic justice that the things people most fear, or that they most try to prevent, end up being certainties.
My husband and I were the first couple to get divorced in the small parent circle at the school; we were hardly the last. Our breakup due to growing apart, that we tried hard to handle properly for our daughter’s sake, was painful for her. Over time, it became clear that this was a walk in the park compared to the dad who was caught having “relations” with the church secretary, a child’s false sexual molestation allegations, the garden variety drinking and drug problems and affairs, bankruptcies and other financial disasters, and of course, kids coming out as gay. The stricter the house and more sanctimonious the parents, the worse these things were.
The interesting thing about the ALA’s frequently challenged books lists is how many of them I’ve read. What a ridiculous rebel I am, for I have read many forbidden things. Perhaps the choice is between Hell later for eating of the forbidden fruit and riding Harleys, or Hell on earth, which is what we would have if we only read one book in our houses.
You didn’t think I was really wearing Burberry Brit, did you? It was eau de Brimstone all along.