It’s my birthday and I am reading Stephen King again.
I do the book reviews for my local NPR station and I knew I would have to take on this very popular author at some point. After a year and a half and over 30 reviews the moment had finally arrived. A copy of his newest novel landed on my porch from his publisher (three weeks before its official release). They want my review. So be it.
I had an aunt growing up that was obsessed with Stephen King. My aunt in some ways was a King creation waiting to happen. She had fiery red hair; a loud, almost shrieking voice; and many of us kids were scared of her. When she got mean, she got really mean. I always did my best to avoid her, never spending the night at her house, trying to avoid being in the same room with her for too long. My aunt would spend her days either on the phone (always complaining), chewing gum or drinking Pepsi (she drank a lot of Pepsi), and reading Stephen King. When I was in 7th grade, she, for some reason, noticed me and gave me a pile of her Stephen King books to read.
I was not impressed and told her as much when I returned the pile a few months later. Rude of me? Yeah, probably.
We spoke even less after that.
Yet, here it is, 28 or so years later and I am once again reading King and I feel like it is a time capsule to that old me, right then. Mainly, it’s because King sounds exactly the same. His voice/prose hasn’t matured, even the plot and characters feel the same as those other books. I’m guessing for many of his fans (including my aunt) it feels like returning to a home.
For me, I see the cobwebs and I wonder why no one has done any cleaning…
I was counting down until my wife was done with graduate school. That would be in May and it felt like my life, our life, was on hold until that diploma arrived. So much of our lives over the last two years revolved around that degree. We had moved from Los Angeles so she could study at this school. Sometimes I missed LA, but mostly we both just wanted this experience finished.
I was counting down until I could quit my job. While my wife being in graduate school made life hard, something else made it ten times harder and that was my lousy job. I was working evenings doing data entry for a trucking company. The fact of that still surprises me, each day when I arrived at the job I would wonder “How did this happen?” I had an MFA in writing! I should be teaching at a college! I have an agent supporting my novels! In LA, I could feel my destiny on the tip of my fingers…. Now all I could feel was the lousy keyboard they gave me to work on and I would sit and stare at a screen until after 1 AM each night quietly cursing.
Because of the job (and my wife’s school) we barely saw each other. I had nothing in common with my fellow workers. So I felt more isolated than I had ever before in my life.
Each evening, I would take three magical, life-sustaining breaks during my job. And for each I would do the exact same thing: I would exit the front door and walk. If I was lucky, I would be able to talk to my wife on the phone, try desperately to catch up with each other’s day. But mostly I just wanted to breathe the air and remember who I am and who I wanted to be. It was like a mantra…
I am Scott Southard.
I am Scott Southard, the author.
This year, will be nothing more than a footnote in some future biography about my writing. When this trucking company fails and the building turns to dust, no one will remember that I was trapped in its walls.
Yes, I was counting down to some kind of an oblivion. I wanted both me and this lousy job covered in dust, and I dreamed that I would be the only one of the two of us that anyone would remember.
That birthday was spent counting down.
I did not drink when I turned 21 but the opportunity was very much there. One of my friends invited me to his house for the evening. Unlike me, he was embracing the college life fully. He lived with other students, was away from home. His stories, when we would catch up, were filled with parties and new and exciting and, many times, illegal and questionable things.
I was living at home and going to a Catholic college. In other words, exact opposite.
While the school and experience was great for my writing (and I did do a lot). Most days I would feel like an animal trapped in a zoo pacing and waiting. Pacing and waiting…
What I was waiting for, I had no idea.
But my friend… my friend was waiting for no one. He had life by the balls! And I idolized his college experience, dreamed about it, wishing I had the capability to just shrug off my responsibilities and scream along to bad songs and party and meet girls and drink too much.
So why didn’t I drink that night?
Everyone expected me too! It was one of the reasons why there was a gathering (for other friends were showing up as well). They wanted to see Scott unrestrained, hear how possibly silly I could get… I just didn’t.
Even that night when I crashed on my friend’s couch, I questioned my current ability to think straight.
Am I lame?
Am I lame?
Am I lame?
When I was eleven I gave up my name for a day.
I’m not sure what happened to our original teacher, but she left early in the year and we had a string of subs until a replacement teacher could be found. After a few subs, honestly, we students became a little annoyed and on my birthday it came to a head.
My friend Steve and I exchanged names. I’m not sure which of us came up with the notion (We both had devilish senses of humor), but by the time the first bell had rung we had it all worked out and the rest of the students were totally into it.
I was Steve for the day and he was Scott.
We sat in each other’s assigned seat. We did our assignments as each other, took a test, and to, make it even more amazing, it was my birthday. Yes, Steve handed out candy as me and the class sang him “Happy Birthday.” (I believe I sang it the loudest.)
This was all fine and good (well, maybe not good), until after lunch when things went higgledy-piggledy. When the sub returned to the class, all of the students were messed up! No one was him or herself anymore. And one student—a very unpopular and mean kid who could not find someone to exchange names with—simply wrote “Batman” on his namecard. That kid was many things but he was definitely not Batman.
I don’t believe we got in trouble, but I do know that the sub did not return. She was probably too embarrassed to admit she had lost control so much. A little while later we got our new full-time teacher. I remember only one thing about her. During one of the recesses I stayed in to help her with our classroom computer. She had no idea how to handle it and I walked her through all that it could do and the programs.
After I was done, she looked at me and said, “Boy, you are a fast talker, aren’t you?”
At the time I thought it was really insulting and the memory stuck. But, seriously, she is right… yeah…
I am a fast talker.
If fiction is more your thing, I’ve had four novels published in the last few years, A Jane Austen Daydream, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, My Problem With Doors and Megan.
You can find all of these books via my amazon.com author page here. Thanks for reading!
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