“I’m sorry, all of the Goosebumps have been checked out, but we did just get this back.”
I was handed a book that was unmistakably new, but had seen heavy use in its short time at the West Kearns Elementary library. It had the look of a book in which the pages had been turned faster than any 2nd grade student could possibly read. This along with the still glossy cover of a small, scarred, dark haired boy speeding through the air on a broomstick was enough to push the R.L. Stein request out of my head. I certainly didn’t need any new horror in my life anyway.
“Make sure to check back in if you can’t finish it in time. This book is normally reserved for the older students.”
Time, however, was not an issue. I spent all of my time either sitting on the floor in front of a small television or wandering alone through my neighborhood and, all too often, beyond. These were both mediums to keep me occupied while my parents kept themselves anesthetized with whatever means they had procured (and later, cooked) that particular week. There are few greater enemies for an eight-year-old than abandon and loneliness, so I more than welcomed the company of the young bespectacled wizard.
That same day I arrived home, book in hand, to a smoky front room filled with a destitute handful of adults. I walked straight through to my room, unnoticed, a scrawny boy marching across the battlefield I’d become desensitized to. However, just like the small boy I was about to meet between the pages in my very hand, I much preferred the silence of neglect over whatever slurs their consciences could get out at the sight of an adolescent in such a tawdry environment. I began cooking Macaroni and Cheese, popped the tab of a Coke can and left my life for a couple hours.
“Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!”
I was whisked away from the dirt and grime of my reality, and swept into breathtaking adventures with those who quickly became my closest allies. I was no longer surrounded by chipped plates peppered with month old rancid leftovers. Instead I was able to spend entire days with Harry, Ron and Hermione in the cushy chairs of the Gryffindor common room. Or even out at the Quidditch pitch filled with the adrenaline and applause of an entire castle.
Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.
I continued to follow The Boy Who Lived through his tumultuous years at Hogwarts. I was with Harry and Ron, on the back of Fawkes the phoenix, as they rose out of the chamber of secrets. I shed tears along with the entire Great Hall after the death of Cedric Diggory. I beamed at Hermione, along with everyone else to have met her, in awe and admiration of her repeated brilliance. My fists even rose before Hagrid’s at the utterance of an insult directed at Albus Dumbledore.
Though, in order to have such an impact, Harry Potter did not comfort me solely as a distraction. I was also learning lessons. I was finding many more parallels than you would expect between a melancholy boy and a wizard famed for defeating the most evil villain to have ever lived. To me, the boy under the staircase was no different from the boy under the cigarette burned blanket. But Harry showed me that a large amount of evil can be weathered by sheer bravery and kindness. Ron taught me that fierce friendship is often more reassuring than any safeguard or armor. Hermione imparted within me the importance of justice, learning and true boldness.
Sadly enough, however much The Chosen One helped me through my turmoil, I was still in it. And that is also not to pretend that it never got worse. It always did.
Harry, suffering like this proves you are still a man! This pain is part of being human … the fact that you can feel pain like this is your greatest strength.
My mom’s first overdose, me being removed by DCFS, my dad’s attempted suicide, and my mom’s subsequent overdoses and eventual suicide all happened alongside Harry’s equally arduous years. We braved them together. There were times when it seemed pointless to fight, times when it seemed I would drown in the empty coffee cups piling around me and the circumstances I was so unfairly born in to. But again, a curious skinny teenage boy was able to teach me that being defeated by either surrendering to circumstance, or with your wand raised at the heart your opponent, are two vastly different things. Hagrid’s strong hands seemed to support me physically, and Dumbledores odd brand of wisdom did the same for me emotionally.
It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew – and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents – that there was all the difference in the world.
There eventually came a time, however, when I wondered whether I had become too scarred, too battle worn and blemished to ever be a truly good person. I had been born into a dark place and, while I was alive, I didn’t feel exactly untouched. More often than I’d like to admit, I nearly resigned all of my will to do and be good, and instead take the path that I was born on into addiction and mistreatment. How could I be anything but foul with so much ugliness constantly surrounding me?
It is our choices, Harry, that show us who we truly are, far more than our abilities.
But as I’m sure you can guess by now, Harry James Potter again came crashing down on a dragon, not only saving the wizarding world, but myself included. Harry showed me that even with a piece of the most vicious soul to exist living inside you, you can still have the courage to make the right choice. Sirius left his entire family at the age of sixteen illustrating what Dumbledore echoed, “It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” And so I made my choice, and continue to make it every day.
This is why a skinny bespectacled boy is not only The Boy Who Lived, but will always be the boy who kept me living.
We must try not to sink beneath our anguish, Harry, but battle on.