Words Enough and Time
Updated: Jan 31
By Thomas J. Misuraca
A word after a word after a word is power.
— Margaret Atwood
In high school, I felt like I had all the time in the world.
It didn’t matter that I had no friends and hated playing outside.
I preferred the dark, cold confines of our local library. Cracking open a tome like The Count of Monte Cristo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Middlemarch transported me to a different time and place.
I never dreamed of inventing a time machine, I already had several.
While other kids were playing sports and riding bikes, I was devouring Dickens. Bleak House and David Copperfield would take some a lifetime, but for me they were a weekend or two of entertainment.
My father often yelled at me for reading too much. My mom quickly pulled him away. “Let him be himself,” she’d say. This infuriated him, but nobody argued with my mom’s soft-spoken voice.
Mom also loved to read, and perhaps my love sprung from the many bedtime stories she read me. As I got older, she recommended books both old and new.
The one book we bonded over was Vanity Fair. We read it simultaneously every summer, much to my father’s dismay. To him, it was a girly romance, not a broad historical novel.
Outside our bonding time, my mom still worried about my lack of friends.
I never felt I was lacking anything. Books were wonderful companions. Alexander Dumas and Victor Hugo accompanied me to France of the past. James Clavell showed me Japan of the 1600s. Tad Williams and Robert Jordan create fantasy worlds I could never imagine.
Trick-or-Treating with a bunch of kids was nowhere as scary as spending my Halloween time reading The Stand, It or The Witching Hour. And my Christmas time was warmed by reading all five of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Novels. It felt like I was the only person in the world who knew there was more than just A Christmas Carol.
At school, bullies pulled books out of my hands, tore out pages and smashed horrid things between their pages. As much as it pained me to watch my friends suffer, I knew they were resilient and would last longer than those illiterate idiots. Who, when ignored, sought out other prey.
It was in college that I found my tribe. I was ecstatic to move away from the constant snarky comments of my father, and my mother’s new fears that I’d no interest in girls. I minored in literature so I didn’t have to sacrifice my pleasure reading. It was great to study books like An American Tragedy, Of Human Bondage and Don Quixote in depth.
Within days, I made friends.
Fellow students who loved books as much as I did. We’d sit around coffee shops for hours dissecting prose. They expanded my horizons with War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, Les Miserables, Atlas Shrugged and Infinite Jest.
I read less literary books in secret. Scared to share works like Gai-Jin, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and all my favorite science fiction and fantasy series (that were endless) with my new friends, since their tastes were borderline elitist.
The only person I confessed those secrets to was Frida, my first college girlfriend. She was part or our literary circle and I found myself talking to her a little longer than the others. I enjoyed walking with her back to our dorm. In my Freshman year, I finally experienced things I’d only read about in books.
For my birthday, she gave me a copy for her favorite book, Mists of Avalon. I still own it to this day.
Just looking at its cover resurrects feelings of my first love. Her being my first love was what eventually drove us apart.
I wanted to spend all my time with her while she wanted to absorb the college experience. She just wasn’t as in to me as she was Ursula K. Le Guin.
I had a few more college girlfriends. Each had a special quality, but none held my interest as much as a good novel.
I graduated with honors and was ready to enter the work force. I thought about teaching literature, but as much as I loved books, I knew that others didn’t. I couldn’t imagine spending my life trying to enlighten those who felt reading was a chore. An office job was what I needed to survive.
Making time for books is what I needed to live.
I started optimistically, planning to read during lunch every day.
But I was so overwhelmed with tasks, I had to wolf down my lunch and rush back to the office. My head pounded when I got home; I couldn’t focus on a book and had to vegetate watching television.
A book always sat at my bedside. It took a little longer to complete them, but I made it though the best novels of Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon, John Irving, Donna Tart and Anne Tyler.
To feel a sense of accomplishment, I moved on to some shorter works by authors like E.M. Forester, Shirley Jackson and Kurt Vonnegut. H.G. Wells and Jules Verne were lighter reads. Dickens-wise, Hard Times was now more my speed.
I was surprised when one of my co-workers offered to fix me up with a friend of hers. I hadn’t dated since college, and thought it was time to get back out there. The moment I met Tracy, I felt like I’d known here all my life.
Conversation flowed with ease.
On our first date, I plotted the story of our lives. I could see us making it all the way to our last page.
Until she dropped a bombshell during our first date: “I don’t read.”
My heart shatter into a million pieces. This woman couldn’t be The One.
My One would be a voracious reader. But I couldn’t get her out of my mind, and continued to call and make plans to see her. Every date, I grew more captivated with her conversation.
She may not have read, but she wanted to know everything I was reading. My favorite books, characters and authors. And once we were married, she was happy spending Sunday mornings knitting while I read.
Children further changed the plot.
As much as I loved every moment I spent with them, they cheated me of my reading time.
A happy substitute was reading them picture books by Eric Carle and Mo Williams. When they got older, we progressed to Roald Dahl and E.B. White. But when it was Harry Potter time, they’d lost interest in literature.
Having learned from my father, I didn’t force them into an activity they didn’t enjoy. I let them discover their own interests, but always had a literature recommendation ready.
I missed my favorite authors, but temporarily filled my need by reading an occasional short story. James Joyce’s The Dead, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, as well as anything by Flannery O’Connor and Edgar Allen Poe.
My life became all work and parenting.
Driving the kids to their multiple activities and being a volunteer for a few. Before bed, I tried to read some flash fiction in literary magazines.
It amazed me how much an author could pack into a few words. I usually fell asleep with the magazine dropping from my hands.
The kids’ teen years, found me waiting up at night for them to come home from dates, movies, concerts and who knows what else. To keep myself from worrying, I tried to focus on a short story or two.
Before I knew it, they were gone to college.
The house was empty and silent. I filled the quiet by returning to novels. It was nice to catch up with authors I’d lost track of. And rereading some of my favorites felt new again. I feared memory loss, because there was so much in those stories that I’d forgotten.
Noise returned to our house when the grandchildren arrived.
We were happy to babysit and host sleepovers. I dusted off the picture books I’d read to their parents. It was wonderful experiencing them again through new eyes. And most stuck around for Harry Potter.
Eventually, the grandchildren lost interest, except the youngest, Jill, who always wanted more. I’d catch her reading when she was supposed to be sleeping. Grandpa spoiled her with late bedtimes and a plethora of books.
We went from Beverly Cleary to Judy Blume. Books her friends would call old (or retro), but the stories resonated with her. Come her teen years, we began recommending books to each other.
She loved the versatility of Joyce Carol Oats and rural insight from Toni Morrison.
We took turns reading to Tracy when she fell ill. She enjoyed Great Expectations. “Read a little more,” she’d say when I finished for the night.
“That’s because it puts you to sleep,” I joked.
“No,” she said. “I love hearing your voice.”
When she fell asleep, I remained. During those long hours, I revisited epic fantasy novels like Lord of The Rings. Getting lost in other worlds had become a necessity.
When Tracy’s pain worsened, she consoled me by saying, “Now you’ll have all the time in the world to read.”
She was referring to the old Twilight Zone episode. The ironic tale about a man who now had all the time in the world to read, but broke his glasses. In truth, I’d burn all my books just to have another day with Tracy.
My life fractured when she died.
I once again feel I have all the time in the world, though I know this is merely an epilogue.
Still, I pull books like Vanity Fair off the shelf, sit in my bright, warm library and read.
About The Author:
Tom Misuraca studied Writing, Publishing and Literature at Emerson College in his home town of Boston before moving to Los Angeles.
Over 125 of his short stories and two novels have been published. His story, Giving Up The Ghosts, was published in Constellations Journal, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2021. His work has recently appeared in Roi Fainéant, con(text) quarterly and Cosmic Double.
He is also a multi-award winning playwright with over 150 short plays and 13 full-lengths produced globally. His musical, Geeks!, was produced Off-Broadway in May 2019.