Saturday, June 9, 2012

Build Your Wings on the Way Down

In the 6th grade, I fell in love with Ray Bradbury.

I was one of those kids that read incessantly.  I often ran out of things to read between trips to the library, because if I checked out as many books as I could read I'd lose one or two.  Anyway, my English teacher only assigned a few of the short stories in our textbook, so I decided to read the rest of them.  Of the lot, I still remember two.  Carnal Knowledge by T. Coraghessan Boyle was memorable because parts were funny, but there were sexy bits I didn't understand.  I probably remember it because of the confusion and the not wanting to ask my parents what was really going on.

But The Pedestrian by Ray Bradbury resonated with me.  I didn't feel confused, I felt I'd reached enlightenment.  When I finished it I felt my heart racing and my brain clamoring and my skin prickling.  It was as if he'd written the story just for me, to let me know I wasn't alone and I wasn't crazy.  Whoever wrote this, I thought, has feelings just like mine.  I think he knows me already.

At eleven-years-old I didn't understand that the stories in my textbook were written by authors that had written other things, so I didn't search the library for his books.  A few years later my eleventh-grade English class read Fahrenheit 451, which is my favorite book to this day.  A couple months prior to that assignment my class had the chance to attend one of his speaking engagements.  If I had read the book first, I would have hung on his every word.  Actually, maybe it is for the best that I was unaware of his awesomeness, because I would have cried in front of my entire stupid class because my idol was so close but not close enough to thank.

The Pedestrian is more precious to me today than it was twenty years ago.  How many times have we tried to hold a conversation with someone who keeps looking at their phone for texts?  How many times have we competed with a motherfucking screen to gain someone's acknowledgement?  How many times have we wanted to scream STOP CHECKING TWITTER AND PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEEEEE!!!  

The only other famous people whose deaths caused me genuine grief* are Jim Henson and Fred Rogers.  Like them, Ray Bradbury changed the way I looked at the world and how I felt about myself.  I have purposefully paced myself for reading his works so I don't run out of new stories by the time I'm 35.  I know I'll continue to be shaped by his imagination, and for that I am thankful.

Rather, I am thankful for everything you gave me, Mr. Bradbury.

*I am tearing up right now.