I learned to read from an early age. Words were my friends. Words did not leave the page. Words stayed. People did not. The military made sure of that. I was accustomed to the ebb and flow of people in my life. I was either the new kid walking into a cafeteria of nondescript nameless eyes never brave enough to do more than offer a second glance, or I was giving the second look and offering nothing more than what was given to me to some poor soul. But words never left. Words always were welcoming and welcomed. Words wanted to sit next to the new kid. Words wanted to sit with me. So I often found myself sitting alone with words, never bothering with “Operation Awkward Blank Look”, knowing the the war had already been lost long ago.

The words on the pages of the books I held so dear never changed; they were the same as yesterday, as they were today, and will be tomorrow. Max would sail to the island of the Wild Things, Sally and Dick would meet the Cat in the Hat, Charlotte would spin her web for Wilbur, and Miss Twiggley would live in her tree with her dog Puss no matter if I lived in Alaska or Arkansas. The stories never changed – the words were always the same. My story may have moved from base to base, but Tikki Tikki Tempo never left the well. Books allowed me a sense of control in where I was, who I was with, and what we were doing because my reality dictated no control over any aspect of plot, setting, or character.

There may not be a bologna sandwich with mustard and a juice box in a brown paper bag, but there is still the proverbial cafeteria. The weird kids are still to the left, the popular kids front and center, and everybody else on the right – and once again, I have to walk into that room and pretend not to give a shit I am alone. But, I am alone.

I was deemed redundant in my job on August 9th, 2016. My job and department were cut by one of those front and center kids because popularity and power always demand fuel for the ego no matter the expense of burning it. I thought I had finally unpacked all my boxes to stay happily ever after. I was wrong. I packed my office and said my goodbyes with a familiarity only time and practice perfects like art marrying form and function. I brought the boxes home and I placed them in the back closet and shut the door.

I opened that door 315 days later. I opened the door to see the boxes looking back at me with nondescript eyes offering nothing – nothing but names like Hammermill, Xerox, and Georgia Pacific. I pulled out Mr. Hammermill and sat next to him on the ground. I opened the box and began unpacking – unpacking all of it! Next was Xerox. She offered little more than a box full of ties, hangers, and a suit coat waded up in haste not taking advantage of any of the hangers piled on top or below. But sweet, sweet Georgia Pacific offered gem after gem – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Learning to Bow, Hard Laughter, Sophie’s World, and Miss Twiggley’s Tree. Miss Twiggley’s Tree! I had not seen Miss Twiggley and her dog Puss in many years. I pushed aside Georgia Pacific and opened to page one of Miss Twiggley’s Tree:

Funny Miss Twiggley
Lived in a tree
With a dog named Puss
And a color TV.
She did what she liked,
and she liked what she did,
But when company came
Miss Twiggley hid.

Introverts unite! I love Miss Twiggley. She was still living in that tree after all these years! She still hated people and kept the company of bears. And she still slept in her crazy hat not giving two shits what people thought. I loved it. I soaked up each word on the pages being sure to take in the illustrations as it was the first, last, and only time to see them. I hunted each page for my handwriting as I often wrote in my books as a kid. I smelled the book. I think it smelled like one of the twenty-seven houses I lived in as a kid? I tried to remember how the back cover received its early departure and why my sister’s name and address were written in the front of what was obviously my book! I wonder when we lived at 103-3 H Street? Where was it? Hell if I knew, but I knew Miss Twiggley was still in that tree just where I left her. Words are precious and so was the love that Miss Twiggley had for those that laughed and ridiculed her. Wait. What? She did what? The mayor and his bitch wife, the plumb Mrs. Honk, and the lethargic Joe Pettibone? After all they did? Those front and center little twits were welcomed in to Miss Twiggley’s tree house? Yes.

And Miss Twiggley found out
Something wonderful, too:
When emergencies come,
You don’t think about you.
You help all you can.
And you never ask why.
Then the first thing you know,
You forgot to be shy.

Miss Twiggley may have stayed in her tree, but it seems she is “adulting” much better than me! And honestly, I do not remember that ending! What the hell? It’s a woman that lives in a tree with bears! Where is she going to put everybody? Ain’t nobody got space for that! Did the story change? These pages look original – yellowed and stained with what can only be peanut butter and jelly and crayons. What changed? Me? No. I am that same kid. Yes, I am that same kid. But rather than look at those nondescript nameless eyes and not be brave enough to do more than offer a second glance, I have spent my adult life making those nameless eyes my friends. I gave myself worth by giving others worth. The words did not change, and the story remained the same, but my story changed allowing me to understand Miss Twiggley in a way I had never done before. Change has always been hard, but my own literacy and love for words has proved to be a catalyst for my own understanding for what was needed, when it was needed, and where it was needed. Together, Miss Twiggley and I are changing the world…but I am leaving the “mayor” in the boat!

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