In first grade we turned right and walked down the hallway past the troll’s room, Mrs. Coll’s room, who spanked children on their birthdays because it amused her, past the gigantic, almost naked, bleeding sculpture of Christ on the Cross, his eyes looking down on us from an unearthly height, past the little store where we could buy penny candy if we had been deemed especially good, past the heavy wooden door which opened to a dark staircase and led to where the Sisters lived. We had seen them vanish up those stairs. Each week we walked two by two, silent as spies, to the tiny library, one room with tall shelves pressed against the walls, and we chose books to take home.
I remember the small, black book in my small hands and its title and the first two sentences: A History of the World and “It rained for thousands and thousands of years. The oceans filled up.” I stood near the center of the library reading this. I can bring back this moment. I could see the rain and the rock surface of the planet.
How to bring back the intensity of that moment …. I stood in that room, conscious of where Sister waited, a dark figure in the sunlight, but simultaneously I also watched the deluge fall upon a gray, rocky landscape. I saw the waters rising toward the continents. My real ears were blocked, but my imaginary hearing came alert to the roar of the wind inside my head. That sentence opened up to me. It opened some facility in me. I knew instinctively that this scene had happened long, long ago, before me, before anyone. I knew then, in that singular minute, that there had existed a past life, a time when wondrous events had played out. This book would let me see them again, as if they had been resurrected for me alone, for my private enjoyment, for even at that age I smuggled a flashlight into my bed, and curled inside my den, I left this warm world for others.
With this book, I began to love History.
*Seascape by Anton Gorlin, http://antongorlin.com