Tonight I was reminded of a short story I read a few – maybe four or five – years ago and I remembered that there was a passage or a line in it toward the end that I’d underlined on account of its profundity. I then realized that I couldn’t remember who wrote the story or what exactly it was about. I think it was about an old man living in the future who is trying to get in touch with his son who lives on another planet. But I don’t trust my memory enough to say for sure. Anyway, I started thinking about other short stories or books with lines I’ve underlined because they resonated with me at the time I was reading them. (Aside: This is kind of a rare thing for me. I don’t like to mark up my books.) The first book that came to mind was The Golden Notebook.
I was trying to remember which passages or lines I’d been so taken by that I had to underline them when I read it five years ago. I knew that I’d written down a few passages from the book in one of my old journals, but I felt an urge to get the book from my bookshelf and skim the pages until I found what I was looking for. Page after page went by and there was no sign of underlining. Not even the faintest pen mark. Finally, I got to page 394. One sentence was underlined:
“We all look with disapproval at this hardened kicker of pigeons.”
Then I remembered that this was the only line I’d underlined in the whole book. The passages I’d written down in my notebook actually came from a few novels I was reading that summer, one of which I know was The Death of the Heart. I wrote them all down because I felt very earnestly that they spoke to me regarding a painful situation I was experiencing with a guy. (Aside: I feel weird calling him “a man” because I was 22 and “men” weren’t a thing yet. I also feel weird calling him “a boy” because he definitely wasn’t that.) I know that I felt very strongly about this one sentence. I sullied a book for it. I wrote it down in my journal.
But reading it again, I don’t feel that same connection. I’m not that person any longer. I think that, basically, I felt this guy was the “kicker of pigeons” and I was one of the pigeons and I wanted everyone to judge him for kicking me? This sentence that once seemed so important is now just a strange reminder that I identified as a victim.
I really need to reread The Golden Notebook. Or, actually, read the whole thing. I put it down not too long after that line I underlined and never finished it.