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Madeline Wahl Headshot

How Reading Books Helped Me Deal with My Parents' Divorce

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My parents divorced during my last year of college. Though it didn't come as a surprise - they'd been arguing for as long as I could remember - it still came as a shock.

The arguments were something I'd mentioned only to my close friends and to my sister, who'd come into my room and wrap her arms around me, smelling like whatever Victoria's Secret perfume she had at the time. The tears on my cheeks faded as I learned to internalize my emotions, and drown out arguments with other things ... like reading.

I soon learned that books were always there for comfort. The arguments faded in the background as the words on the page rushed in, flooding my thoughts with swords, battles and sorcery (I was a big fan of science fiction and fantasy). It eventually became an automatic response - I'd hear the beginning of an argument, and would then pop in headphones, pluck a book off the bookshelf and immerse myself in a story.

Reading books helped fill the crevices of my broken heart, the love once there chiseled away. The gap stayed there for a long time, emotions leaking out like a punctured gas tank eventually running on empty. As the days drifted by, the stacks of books grew. I read well into the night, my eyelids heavy and my arms tired. I found solace in the struggles the characters faced. These protagonists wanted to save their friends, to find meaning in their lives and help ease the pain of a loved one's losing battle to cancer. None of the books I read were about divorce. I wanted to stray from reality, to dive deep into the fictive dream and only awaken when needed.

The arguments came and went, but the reality of the situation hung over us like humidity after a storm: my parents were filing for divorce, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

I kept talking to my friends, but there were some days when the words would stop at my throat, leaving me choked up with tears in my eyes. I'd read the tear-stained pages of my books and wonder why. Why did this have to happen? There were answers, but none I was ready to hear.

The characters continued to face their inner demons. They'd march into war, sometimes out in the fields, other times into the ones they faced by themselves, alone. I knew they were fictional stories, created by the thoughts of an author, but these books spoke to me in a way that nobody else could. My confidence grew as the melting pot of collected experiences from across all genres, protagonists and situations brewed inside me. These characters faced all kinds of situations and conquered their fears and faced reality.

It was time for me to do the same. Living away from home post-college, I wasn't numb from the full effect of the divorce; it stung each time I was exposed to it. Whenever I drove down to visit home, some piece of my childhood was missing. A picture frame here, or an old broken dish there, wrapped up in newspaper and either packed away or given away. The house was on the market, the little red 'sold' sign displayed out front, and things I had passed everyday would now appear only in my memory.

My dad had already moved away, leaving behind pieces of a puzzle I couldn't solve. After my sister repeatedly told me that he loved me and missed me, I got on the phone and dialed his cell. I thought about advice from my friends, and all of the fictive experiences I went through in books, and my body relaxed. I spoke to my parents and there was so much love in their voices it went straight through to my heart, filling it back up.

In my apartment, I trace my fingers across the books on my bookshelf, along the broken spines and cracked covers. While accompanying protagonists on their adventures and reading about how they conquered their own fears, I was able to simultaneously conquer my own.