Patronymics

Words made me. They are my family tree and my ancestry test and the marrow in my bones.

I cannot say when my love for them sparked.

Could it have been when my grandfather tucked me against his side and read to me, even before I was capable of understanding the language? He had left our family, but, even in retirement, the librarian in him wanted to instill that same stability, the same love and affection for and by words, in his granddaughter. He came back for those little moments. I loved them then, I think.

Maybe it was later. Maybe it was when I was eight-years-old and standing next to my grandmother at the public library. I’ve always been small, but then I was smaller; she’s always been tall, but then she was taller, and the shelves still managed to tower over her. The afternoons she dispensed, embraced by books, may have been excessive, but she had remarkable taste. She enveloped each story as they came. A book in her pocketbook, a book in the passenger seat, a book on her nightstand. Wherever she was, words were too. I loved her, so I loved them, then.

It could have been sooner. It could have been two summers ago, when I sat at the kitchen table of my aunt’s house with my legs tucked against the rungs of the wooden chair, pretending I was still small enough to fit curled up. I had my head resting on my hand, and I was watching her, as the evening light fell in through the windows. The words were in her too. The library called her, as it did my grandfather. Her sons -- my cousins -- were not in the room at the time, but they were lingering in my mind. We breezed through the boys’ interests and their ages and what books they were ready for and what books should wait until they were older. I was desperate to share with them all the books that had morphed me into who I was; one taught a little elementary school girl that it was okay to be different, and a series on fictional diaries instilled in me a voracious hunger for the past; a book about a group of kids protecting animals hooked me on specific authors, and one about young superheroes was the first to make me cry. The boys weren’t ready for those now, she told me, but they will be. I was --  I am -- willing to wait. I loved them then. I love them now.

Last Christmas, I sat across from a cousin, older. His eyes were dark, unlike mine, but we have the same triangular Neopolitan nose. I told him I sent him a book for Christmas. A very particular book. See, for my sixteenth birthday, he had gifted me with more words -- a book, in fact, one of the rare ones that leads to you putting them down with a ragged gasp and looking at yourself with glazed eyes in the mirror, wondering about the kind of world in which we live. I chose to give one back to him, one that I found on my own. He smiled, his grin chipped and eccentric, and there it was, that love, once more. Something that we manage to share. 

Perhaps it’s been brewing all along. My mother feels words the way I do. They’ve always been more than a way of living or an escape to us. There’s a sentiment in it all, and she taught me that, through books -- always books, any books, all the time, reading together, reading out-loud, reading next to each other -- but also through my own voice. That spoken words can be powerful and thoughts can be powerful and anything, everything, no matter how mundane, is more potent when shared. She took that love of books and of absorbing and she steered it. I was taught that my words can matter. In that, my mother taught me to write. 

Last Christmas, I sat across from a cousin, younger. His eyes were light, like mine, but a skyline blue. He’s quieter than I was at his age, and far more articulate. He deftly engineered an automobile out of Legos, and I watched, oddly in awe, my legs crossed on the bean bag. He told me about what he’s reading -- it was my favorite book, once, too. A smile danced on my lips. I was once young, and now I’m older, and I realize that I’ve been given a gift, here. I get to witness the words roaring in his veins blossom. I pay close attention. He smiled. I was -- I am -- proud already. 

I cannot say when my love for words sparked. I cannot say because how can my love of words be taught when words are what I am? My grandfather’s affection, my grandmother’s escape, my aunt’s unity, my mother’s power, what we share, what we learn, how we age. Words are what makes us. They are my family tree and my ancestry test and the marrow in my bones.