When I was a wee thing, a bucktoothed, brown-haired short girl who lived in books and sketched guidelines for utopian societies with byzantine rules of conduct on scraps of paper and hoarded them away because I sensed, even at that age, that there might be something odd about my interests, I was very very shy. I grew up with family that got drunk and cussed and threw food and raised their voices to get a word in edgewise; among cousins who played Survival and formed strategic teams for which you never, ever wanted to be picked last lest you find yourself tied up and left too close to an antbed after your team got its ass kicked in bottlerocket wars; with an artist mother who hated poetry and music and a musical father who would play the guitar and sing you to sleep in between disappearing for three days at a time on a bender. I wasn’t sure what to do with my voice at first. People usually didn’t act like I expected them to, didn’t respond like I thought they would, and were a little bit… volatile… and I had a keen sense of tragedy and injustice and embarrassment, like most 9 year olds, and did what I could to avoid getting called out on anything at all.
It’s a blessing that books were always valued, or I probably wouldn’t have survived childhood. Even Granddaddy, who would come home drunk for the Foreign Legion at 1 a.m. and put the basenji, Mohammed, on the mantlepiece, wake my grandmother to have her clean and cook turnip greens that a friend had given him in a paper bag, rouse the kids to feed them pork skins or some other Southern dainty that he had acquired on his nightly beer-soaked pickup truck journeys – even granddaddy read. You would tiptoe in on Sunday afternoon and find him on the sofa, asleep, with a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in one hand and a copy of National Geographic or Kahlil Gibran or Edgar Cayce on his plaid-shirt-covered belly.

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