I borrowed a copy of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier from my friend Ashley. I couldn't tell you how long I'd had the book before I finally nestled into bed with it one unseasonably warm night in December. Usually I am more selective when choosing a new book to read, but I felt considerable guilt for hoarding her copy as long as I had, and I read Jamaica Inn several years ago so knew more or less the dark, brooding text with which I was about to engage. I plucked Rebecca from my bookshelf without much fanfare, knowing only that it was not the romance novel its red satin imagery and gold, scripted lettering suggested it to be. Ashley purchased this copy (she has two) from a used bookstore conglomerate in Harbison. The cover fell slightly off the spine and there was a Snoopy stamp on the back of the jacket with the name (Laura, perhaps?) scribbled across the signature line. I wondered who this Laura was who'd once owned the book. Used books are so interesting. Why had she gotten rid of the book? Was she the one who'd traded it in? Or had she released it to someone else? Perhaps Rebecca wasn't the recipient's taste. Perhaps it had been a boy. Perhaps she had insisted it was not the book it appeared to be, just give it a chance, please, you won't regret it. Perhaps he had tried and failed and then they'd broken up and he was left with this book he still insisted was a romance novel, not knowing exactly who Daphne du Maurier was, not caring enough to find out, just wanting to be rid of it and her and this asinine idea she'd had of him as a reader. Perhaps.
But I'm getting off topic. I did, at some juncture, get around to flipping through to the first page of the novel. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again... Can I just say that the second Mrs. de Winter knows my love for whimsically poignant language? A few weeks into the book, for it took me over a month to read, I brought it onto the balcony of a mountain cabin with a glass of wine while vacationing with my parents. This was the afternoon we'd arrived, and they'd gone out to the store for salad dressing. When they returned, they found me on the balcony, and my mother lifted the book from the wooden end table where it was sitting beside my wine glass, and began to read the first page. After a few minutes, she let the cover close and set the book back down. "That's too depressing for me," she said. I looked at her. "What do you mean?" "It sounds like something happened to her husband." "Nothing's happened to her husband..." I took a sip of wine, reconsidering my words. I was not very far along at the time. "...as of yet." I placed my glass back on the table and picked up the book. "Although the narrator is very solemn, sometimes erratic. Her anxiety in narrating the story does suggest a tragic climax." "Mm." My mother doesn't talk to me very much about books. I think I come off a little precocious in my discussion. I'm not sure how to correct this or if I should. I can't help the way I talk about literature. It is much like not being able to help the shape of your nose. At least not without forced, artificial restyling, which I don't go in for.
I did not read much of Rebecca while we were away. Traveling always seems the perfect backdrop for reading, but it rarely ever is. It can't be the kind of travel where you're doing very much. You have to be reclining on the beach or waiting for your flight in the airport or once you're on the plane and you have the next two or three hours at your leisure. But when we were in the cabin I felt I should spend time with my parents and when we were in the car the roads were too serpentine for doing much of anything except looking out the window. The bed was not comfortable. There was no back support in the headboard, which was styled as a row of clunky wooden columns, and the pillows were not firm enough to withstand them, as they would sink through the spaces between the wood. I would have to lean against one of the columns for support, which was quite painful. So I waited until I returned home, back to my own bed, which wasn't all that comfortable itself due to the low-sitting headboard but was at least manageable with a stack of pillows propped against my back. Usually in my own bed, the tension will gather between my shoulders and work its way into the base of my neck. I roll my head back and forth toward my chest throughout the day to relieve those muscles strained by escape. I wonder how many of my aches are from things like gymnastics or dance and how much germinated from improper reading posture.
I'm sure its lent itself to a fair amount of soreness--partly responsible, then, for me taking up yoga several years ago. But a lot of that came from the overwhelm of depression and seeking ways to alleviate the weight it put on my body. This was shortly after college when the melancholy hit me so hard I couldn't see how I'd make it through. There were days when I thought I'd go to bed at night and disintegrate while I slept, or that I was perpetually disintegrating and that one day I'd take a step across a parking lot or grocery aisle and collapse into a pile of dust. (Haven't we all stood on a small balcony overlooking our dreary past while a Mrs. Danvers-shaped demon urged us into oblivion?) Reading was such a struggle then and I never fully recuperated. Before that I would glide effortlessly through books and now I linger in the spaces between sessions, almost as though I'm afraid of them. I don't think it's the book, though, I'm afraid of. But there is a wedge prying between us--me and what I consider to be my first love, the book. Any book. Its paper white mouth that smiles at you just before splitting it open, its covers that extend like loving arms against your hands, and all the conversations resting in-between--useful ones, hopefully. Maybe it is mere self-sabotage, the fear of becoming someone my former self doesn't recognize. Or maybe the fear stems from becoming someone my family doesn't recognize, that through literature I'll grow out of the skin they raised and into a foreign skin, one they can't understand. Alas, whoever I am cannot be helped.
Much the way the second Mrs. de Winter would argue her love for Maxim could not helped. It was as though only one path had been forged for her, though many smaller veins surrounded it. Maxim was a bruise, and instead of running from the hand that struck her she grabbed the hand and followed it back to England. We always seem so stupidly brave in the beginning. We launch ourselves into the air, not quite sure where we'll land. We want to believe in the one path and that no other way could reap the same rewards. We forget that it is by our own actions that happiness emerges and spend quite a long time sifting through the puddle of self-pity we've deposited at our feet for not knowing what we've done or how to rectify the outcome. Like this new Mrs. de Winter, we wander through our days in search of some lost item to be found and repurposed; we worry over people instead of confronting them; we become victims of our own apathetic nature. It took an entire book before Mrs. de Winter could unearth her husband's cryptic behavior. Even then he had to take the first step. But I don't think we can always count on other people's conscience to inspire them into action. We first should inspire ourselves. If we cannot do that, we will only be looking into a dreary, shapeless mirror when we are faced with opposition. And the opposing form may not even realize he's opposed. We will have personified our idea of him and dressed his physical existence in unfit robes, conversing with this fantasized caricature rather than the man himself.
Don't our delusions create such a fine tapestry of lies under which we shelter ourselves? It is rare that we should notice the mirage and smooth it clean. And yet, this is the only way to live--by burying ourselves deep within the tombs of our own mental caverns with nothing but a small ember of courage by which to find our way out. So long as we keep stepping forward our smaller, meager light will be met with a brighter exterior light, one beaming down from a separate source, one that absorbs our own glowing ember into colorful hues of enlightenment. We will find that we are still in the same place, but at least now we can see our interior and we can furnish ourselves accordingly. This I attain through reading--my soul the swelling ember, the book my exterior light.