I’m not that interesting of a person. I honestly cannot think of a single person that would consider themselves an enemy who would devote their whole existence to the annihilation of my happiness. With nobody to defeat in single combat atop a snowy mountain, my life is devoid of almost any truly satisfying conclusions. Without the resolution that comes from smiting a foe that has inflicted decades of strife and misery upon me, what do I have in terms of genuinely rewarding endings. I’ve got the extended edition of The Lord of the Rings, some English degrees for which I did the academic equivalent of stabbing a dark wizard to get, and I’ve got the sense of resolution and victory that comes from feeding my cat and escaping to bed before she finishes her food and starts begging for more.
But I’ve also got books.
I started reading late. It was finally discovered that I had never learned how to read when, during summer school either before or after 1st grade, a teacher found me holding a book upside down with the same look of determined enthusiasm I had seen all the other kids make while they read. I was a tiny liar, and my ruse was discovered. I don’t remember the specifics of learning to read, other than that there was a book called Pots and Pans that I hated with a wild rage only children and animals during an earthquake know. I remember it always being hot when my parents would try to teach me, and I’d sweat my way through learning about bullshit pots and bullshit pans and everything was sweaty and I wanted to go play with my Beanie Babies, but I had to look at shitty pictures of shitty pots and pans. I didn’t like reading very much.
But then I liked reading a lot.
If we move forward in my memory a few years, I was in elementary school, probably around 9 years old, and books were everything. I was the kid that finished their work early so they could read whatever oversized book they’d had stuffed in the pocket of a ripped black hoodie. I was also the child who the other kids poured leaves on in the fall because I was sitting defenseless reading at recess, but it was ok because we all got to enjoyed it. I got to sit in a crunchy pile with a book, and other kids got to keep burying me in waves of red and brown and amber leaves.
I’ve been reading a while, liking it too. There was a window during grad school where the thought of picking up a book to read for fun was as confusing as it was repugnant, but I’m over that now. I can read again, which means I can vicariously get the dramatic and deserved endings I crave. I don’t need to go to bars and look for arch enemies, I can just shove my face into another world and come back a few hours later with the sense that I’ve accomplished something great when, in actuality, I’ve just been sitting in my pajamas gasping for 6 hours.
But there was something I forgot.
In all the dense theory and all the exhausting over-indulgent case studies and all my students papers and all my own papers, at the end there was never any feeling other than “Fucking hell glad that’s over.” So that’s what I’ve been feeling anytime I finished reading something for the last two years. I’d churn through a text, taking copious notes and spilling tea on important pages, and then it would be over, and I’d be tired and happy it was done. I don’t remember ever being sad that an article was ending.
I just finished a book series I started back in 2010. I read the first book in the series because I was volunteering at the public library and got to use my sweet library connections to move myself to the front of the line waiting for it to be available. I was an overindulgent child who was also aware of the 50-ish people I’d just snubbed for my chance to read this book, so I got through it in a day or so. Then I had to wait two more years for the sequel, but I was busy doing things I thought were important in high school–sleeping, chemically-induced sleeping, watching Wall-E on repeat and learning how to cry–that I didn’t get around to reading it until 2013. In 2016, the last in the series came out, but I had just started grad school and only got 100 pages in before having to put it down. But I picked it back up a few days ago, and put it down again last night, having finally finished a series I started when I was a completely, unrecognizably different person.
And I’m sad.
I forgot that, with this overwhelming sense of completion, comes a whole bunch of sadness. I’m pretty good at shoving myself into other characters and vicariously living through whatever amazing thing the author drags them through, but the characters don’t see the end of the book. They see the end of the story. The only person that really gets to end the book is the reader, and that entails ripping your immersion apart by suddenly shutting the parameters of the reality you’d come to enjoy. You close the book, the world ends.
The depth of my mopiness at finishing a series I started as a literal child is surprising. I expected to be a bit down but otherwise to do just fine, but I had completely forgotten how nice it is to get completely invested in something with no stakes other than what are posed in the story. But now I’ve caught the sadness that comes from ending a series that had been with me for years. I think of it as a ride in a train. You go on, you’re taken along a specific path with scenery people familiar with the train expect, and then the train gets to its destination, and you get off, but the staff of the train stays behind. They have to keep riding along the same path forever–in figurative trains, the staff is immortal. I could ride the train again. I’d be treated to the same track, but maybe I’d get something new out of it, but overall it’s the same ride, and it ended, and I’m sad.