They lived in a drafty old house with an attached chemistry lab — Bunsen burner stew simmering there. I spent my days huddled over their lives. I shared her attic bedroom on the windy nights when she wondered why she didn’t fit — Meg Murry and I. Fortinbras barked at the intruders; ours came from within.
I lingered over L’Engle’s novels living amongst their borrowed dreams — the heroines making sense of themselves, trying to reach a preplanned ending. I return to the fantastic prose in times of stress — when I want to be in a familiar dialogue. We have an understanding, L’Engle and I.
Her father was distant, but kind — a scientist trapped in a sideways world, while mine was all too close, and lived with a lingering bitterness: “My dad wasn’t a nice man, so I stay far away.” Not so much a borrowed dream as an all-too present reality.
They sat together in their kitchen, making cocoa on the stove — we sat on the bed watching B-grade horror films. She lived with the memories of a father she used to have; mine alternated between acquiescent planning and altogether unpredictability.
She reminded me of a strength in difference, “The foolish and the weak shaming that which was mighty and wise.” A love stronger than IT. I lived with an absence and ever-present reminder of what could be — what never was — carving out my own narrative in which I longed to be separate, not too close.
They visited at holidays; I found my ways to stay away, developing a language of boundaries and what is — and yet L’Engle’s narrative of far-flung figures coming back appeals to me. I had my own Aunt Beasts — those middle-aged wise women whose capacity for listening exceeded my knowledge.
I felt enveloped by their listening and space for my words, rather than their looking for space of their own. I borrowed these visions of women who were where I’d like to be. There was a quiet strength in their acknowledgement. I can make space for you. I’m okay — maybe you’ll be too.
I returned to these young adult shelves to find a quiet that was unfamiliar — borrowed — in these stories of becoming — in these linear narratives. Mine was windier and there was a comfort in these fictional heroines, mothering and reassuring me — steadying me.
As I integrated their words into my own narrative — their dialogue borrowed, in a space we’d made in fiction.