[I wrote this a long time ago, relatively, but have saved it as a kind of last resort. I figured since I didn’t have time to write last weekend, I would give it to you now.]
When I was in roundabouts sixth grade, I purchased a copy of the recently book-to-film’d children’s novel Bridge to Terabithia.
(Spoiler Warning: there will be HUGE spoilers for aforementioned children’s novel in this post. Beware all ye who read here.)
The book looked good; it was about made-up monsters and a boy who liked to run and a girl with a bigger imagination than my own at the time (which is saying something). Not to mention the film starred everyone’s future favorite boy-with-the-bread, Josh Hutcherson (seriously, though: when did he stop being the cute little boy from Bridge and start being this masculine manly man?).
And so I read the book. When I finished it, it was at night on the couch in my living room. I was laying down, perfectly at ease, when WHAM.
It hit me like a physical blow. This could not be happening. No. She was not dead. Absolutely not. She had her whole life ahead of her, she was supposed to go have adventures with Jesse and be happy and show him what it was to imagine things.
I managed to make it through the rest of the book, but only because I was in a state of shock and denial and blank horror. She was dead. This girl, this girl whom I had come to identify with and love and take for granted, was dead. Dead and cremated and now Jesse was terrifyingly alone.
The book ended on a hopeful note, but I was crushed inside. I put the book down, still not able to come to terms with the fact that the book was over and there was no sequel and she was not coming back. Leslie was never coming back.
And this is how, a short while later, my mother found me curled up on the couch in the living room, drowning in a small ocean of my own tears.
She, of course, could not understand why I was sobbing in her living room. As I have stated before, she is not a big reader and thus could not comprehend such a strong emotional reaction to a novel. And so she, trying to help, stayed with me as I cried and assured me that it was okay, that everything was fine, that Leslie had not been real and that no real people had died.
But I could not tell her how wrong she was. Leslie was real. The author had made her real to me, had showed me just how real a fictional person can become. Leslie was real and so when Leslie died, I felt that pain just as much as if it had happened to a friend. But no, my mother had not read the book. My mom could never know how real Leslie was to me. And so I just went along with her attempts to make me feel better, knowing all the time that it wouldn’t change a thing.
Leslie was dead, and so I mourned her.
Years later, I still think about that book. It sits on my shelf, quietly waiting for the day when I will work up the courage to take it out and read it again, to see if the pain is as fresh the second time around. That day hasn’t come yet. Maybe it never will.
A few months ago, my family rented the film. I stayed for most of it, but when we got to That Part I retreated to the safety and silence of my bedroom. Once upstairs, I thumbed through the book again, even reading a small bit where Jesse has just been told the news.
I had to quickly put the book back.
That was the first time I had opened the book since sixth grade. Just now, while writing this, I opened it again. I turned to a page farther along in the book, and so the pain was not as severe there. Still, I did not read very far. Even writing the story of my experience has made me feel a bit like I’m going to start crying again.
I don’t know why this book is so powerful for me. I don’t know why I cared so much and cried so hard for Leslie. Perhaps I had not read a book before with such a real character and such a tragic death. Certainly I had read deaths before, but never like this. Maybe Katherine Patterson just understands what it is like to be a child, and more than that, to be a child in grief. Whatever she did, however she knew how to write this, she did it right. Her book affected me in a way that perhaps no other book ever has.
Since then, I have read hundreds more books. Many of them included tragic deaths or tearful happenings. I can recognize when I am supposed to cry, when the author meant for the reader to feel these certain emotions.
The problem is, I’ve never cried. Not once. Not since Bridge to Terabithia.
A few times, I have been very close. I have felt my eyes well up, but never have I actually shed tears over a character since I shed so many over this one. Maybe Bridge has increased my tolerance, has made me numb to everything that I’ve read thereafter. Maybe something inside me refuses to go back to those feelings for anything else.
Maybe I’m just waiting for another Leslie.
Readers, I know today’s post has been a bit of a downer, but I needed to share this. I’ve only told a very few people about this, but never in such detail. Thank you for listening.