Anna Karenina has been sitting beside my bed for a few years. For a couple decades, I’ve been collecting books and placing them there. I’ve owned some of the books stored in my bedroom for over thirty years. They were classics on my required reading list in college, that I classically never quite got around to finish reading – or, in some cases, even opening. Some of the books stored in boxes beside my bed were memoirs and travel books selected by loved ones and given to me. Many were books that I enjoyed so much that I planned on reading them again. There were also numerous self-help books I could reach for, in case I ever woke up and found myself in need of help.
Over the years, I had accumulated over one hundred books beside my bed. I have always found it difficult to part with a book. Ever since I was a young child, books have represented to me places of possibility: new worlds to explore; characters to discover; ideas to process. As a writer, I have deep respect for the effort it takes to create a world for others to enter. I believe that the cover of every book is a door to a new experience. Those books in my bedroom were one hundred places that I intended to discover or re-visit.
I stored other things beside my bed, including photos, greeting cards, and other memorabilia. When I knelt down to add a keepsake to one of the many boxes, Anna Karenina was always the first to greet me. The artist’s rendering of the protagonist in my copy of Tolstoy’s hefty novel was a pleasant one. Though I never took the time to open the 806-page version that my husband had selected, read, and intended to give away, I often found myself thinking about lovely Anna Karenina’s world. I was familiar with the plot and the setting of the novel, and every time I saw her peering up from beside my bed, I added details to her possible story. I considered that she might be interacting inappropriately with Machiavelli’s Prince, Dr. Phil, or Joel Osteen, who were also beside my bed. Maybe she was partying with Chelsea Handler or Sarah Silverman. Maybe she was finding non-judgmental friendship in Judy Blume. Maybe she picked up my copy of Waiting for Gadot that I purchased in college and finally read it for me.
I never bothered to open Anna Karenina and discover what she was actually doing – and I probably never will. Last weekend, I woke up to a puddle beside my waterbed. My mattress heater burnt a small hole through the mattress and the liner. While I slept, water pooled on my bedroom floor. Once I realized what had happened, I launched into rescue mode, attempting to save familiar and unfamiliar characters from a watery grave.
It was too late for Anna Karenina. She soaked up more water than any other book beside my bed, probably helping to spare the ceiling beneath me from damage, due to the fearless character that I imagined she was – and her massive number of absorbent pages. Anna Karenina became a pile of wet cellulose that would probably take even longer to dry out than it would take to read. I don’t imagine I will make a point of obtaining another copy, because I have several dry books left in my bedroom that I want to read first. So, “Prashchaite, Anna Karenina. Farewell. I will miss you.”
I wish I had opened the door to Anna’s world before it was too late.
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© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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