everything sparkles in nostalgia

I can not adequately describe the chokehold that this guy had on me in my teenage years.

Last weekend I finally got around to reading Midnight Sun. If you’re unfamiliar, Midnight Sun is the long-awaited addition to the Twilight series, a rewrite of the first Twilight book from the other main character’s POV. It came out in 2020, and I honestly don’t remember how it was received, whether it premiered with fanfare and exploded onto the bestseller list, or whether the pandemic dimmed its comet streak. The book is 658 pages, and the cover is of a split-open pomegranate, the whole book a loose allegory of Persephone.

I read it in two days. Sprawled on my floor-perched mattress, Pendelton blanket tangled between my legs, finger tapping on the right side of my Kindle. The story was familiar. Not only have I read Twilight a dozen times, but a draft of Midnight Sun was leaked in 2008, which I endlessly devoured, hoping the author would release the full-length book.

And she did. Twelve years later.

It is an understatement to say I was a big Twilight fan. I could get into detail, but I won’t. The midnight premieres, the movie showings, the birthday party I hosted for Edward Cullen, the elaborate chess-themed cake I made that required a whopping 16 sticks of butter (that buttercream frosting, ya know). Part of me is slightly embarrassed about it all—probably because most of the world, especially the literary world, tells me that loving a series such as Twilight is not something to be proud of—and part of me is protective of those memories because I miss those days when books extended beyond the printed page.

Reading as a teen and preteen was something different than it is now. It is not dramatic to say that books consumed me. I read voraciously, and when I wasn’t reading I was often continuing the story in my head, reliving and rewriting scenes. I looked forward to blank spaces of time—bus rides, walks, the liminal space before sleep—because it allowed the story to unfold further in my head.

In high school, I went on a family vacation to San Francisco. I was in the midst of reading the Twilight series for the first time during that trip, and now, as a 29-year-old woman, yes, I still remember Ghirardelli Square and the sourdough bread from Boudin Bakery and walking through Haight-Ashbury where a man startled my sister as he emerged from a trashcan, but I equally remember how alive the characters felt during that time, how I predicted events, created new plotlines for the characters as my family and I walked through the sloped city. So much of that trip was only within my own head, and I remember those unreal memories just as vividly as the world my body traipsed through.

Diane Setterfield puts it best in The Thirteenth Tale:

“…And there has never been a time when reading was not my greatest joy. And yet I cannot pretend that the reading I have done in my adult years matches in its impact on my soul the reading I did as a child. I still believe in stories. I still forget myself when I am in the middle of a good book. Yet it is not the same. Books are, for me, it must be said, the most important thing; what I cannot forget is that there was a time when they were at once more banal and more essential than that. When I was a child, books were everything. And so there is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning that one never expects to be fulfilled.”

I desperately miss the way books made me feel growing up. It is a high I am always chasing, and it is harder and harder to find.

I miss daydreaming about fictional characters instead of real people. I miss how I’d linger over certain passages, certain scenes, and carry them with me throughout the day. I miss being in a motel room with my teammates and them asking “what are you doing” and realizing that I had started pacing the room in anxiety out of what was happening in my book, that I was so inside of my head, inside of the storyline, that I hadn’t even noticed I’d left my bed and was walking around. I miss friends messaging me, guess what chapter I just started!! He dies?!?!?! I miss sitting at the computer in my family room crying while reading fan fiction, and my mom poking her head around the corner and asking “is everything OK?” while I nodded through my tears. I miss how I could slip in and out of worlds effortlessly. I miss loving a book so wholly that I would start it over again as soon as I finished the last page.

I don’t know why I lost that ability to submerge myself in books. It doesn’t happen to everyone (cue research about maladaptive daydreaming and disassociation). Maybe it’s because my own life is now vibrant and interesting, or because as my knowledge of writing and books has increased, my taste in literature has gotten pickier. Or maybe it’s because being an adult means that there’s always something to do, something to worry about, and I no longer have the mental luxury to let characters in completely.

Something they don’t tell you about growing up is that you’ll miss all the selves you’ve left behind.

If you’re still reading this, this post is about Twilight but really its about the cavernous well of nostalgia that exists inside of us all. It is about my teenage crush on Edward Cullen, sure, but it’s about how little in life feels as real, as intense, as things in my teenage years did. It’s about how you live with your sister and your parents for 18 years and then suddenly you don’t anymore and you never will again, and childhood becomes this unreachable phenomena that happened to someone who was you but also distinctly not you, and you don’t want to be that person again, you’re happy with who and where you are now, but childhood and teenagehood retain this aura of sugary wonderment where everything in life was a live wire and the nostalgia coats on, layer after layer, and sometimes when you’re feeling really down and out, you wonder if anyone will love you more than your high school boyfriend did for that narrow slice of time, and you glorify everything once it’s over—the past is easier to swallow once it’s dried and peeled—but you reread your high school journals and you miss the way everything made you cry because multiple people yelled at you this week and you didn’t bat an eye, you barely felt a thing, and even though you’re living the life you’ve always wanted sometimes it feels like you’re existing in a fog, and maybe that’s covid or maybe that’s being in your late 20s or maybe you’ve changed in some metamorphic way, but life rarely feels as ecstatic as it did back when it mostly existed between the pages of a book.

I chatted with my sister about this, and she told me that endorphins and serotonin peak in our teenage years. They peak and that’s that. You’ll never feel that rush again. Not of that height. Not of that intensity.

I hate this fact.

And maybe that’s the reason books meant more to me then. Maybe that’s the reason it is so hard to find a book worth staying up till 2AM for. Maybe. But maybe not.

I’ve been pecking at this post for about a week now, and already I’ve forgotten most of Midnight Sun, the impression the book left bleaching within a mere seven days. The car chase scene toward the end was really good, that was a sticking point, but the characters have already left me. I commute to work and write meeting notes in my head, and make a list of the emails I need to return, and the vampires remain buried. I hate that I’ve moved on. I hate that I can move on, that the addictive quality of those words is utterly lost.

One of my students from the fall continues to email me sporadically. He emails me snippets of stories he’s working on, one of which features a character he made up in my creative writing class. I miss writing fiction, but that’s a whole other topic. Through his writing, I see that he gets it, that he too feels that calling, that longing for worlds nestled inside of books. Keep going, I want to tell him. Keep writing, keep pushing, keep dreaming. It doesn’t last forever.

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