The Reader

My friend Holly and I were once roommates in an apartment complex found in the Barrio. We gave our region of Houston that label due to its predominant Hispanic population. I could not read the local restaurant signs since I knew a mere un poquito Espanol, but I bet the food was authentically delicious though as shy gringos we never tried their fare. On Sunday mornings our alarm clock did not first wake us to ready for Church; instead blaring Tejano music heralded the joys of the Sabbath before we could utter a sleepy morning prayer.

Every roommate relationship has ups and downs, yet overall Holly was ideal. Not only did she put up with me, but once a month she baked chicken pesto pizza for us and our friends. Our apartment had a continuous aroma of incense and coffee - two of our shopping list staples were Sandalwood Rasa incense and Godiva vanilla coffee. I was a depressed introvert at the time, but when I emerged from my room and bumped into Holly in the hallway, my folk music and her punk bands intertwined in the air creating a new synergistic musical genre. Back holed up in my room, I read like a fiend for hours on end. Then while Holly was at work, I secretly claimed her oversized armchair as my reading throne. That chair was near a front window, and in between pages of books such as The Lessons of St. Francis (John Michael Talbot), I would ponder simplicity and look out the window at our neighbors' front doors. During one such profound mulling session, I noticed a guy on the second floor balcony across and to the left. He pulled out an end table and chair from his place, dragged them around to a nook by his window, and sat down to read, smoke, and tap his cigarette on an ashtray.

He seemed confident, nonchalant, and absorbed in his book. He gave off the vibe of a writer and fellow hermit. I was smack in the middle of a love triangle at the time: fighting resurfacing feelings for an ex when I knew better, and pining for a clueless friend in another locale. However, there was something about the way our apartment neighbor held his books that I found attractive and inspiring. I knew I was border-line stalking the Reader, but I was young and immature and well, odd. When Holly discovered my behavior she, too, joined in my stakeout! We sat on our pillowy couch and peeked through the mini-blinds. We imagined stories about his life, what he read, did he smoke cloves?, what he wrote, and enjoyed our insanity. I'd like to say that I eventually shook off the love triangle and my sleuthing ways, but while living with Holly, I continued in both misplaced ardor and neighborly scrutiny. A few years later I needed space and moved into a studio apartment behind Empire Cafe replete with charming hardwood floors and three rooms, but I never forgot about the Reader. Between fighting flying cockroaches, flies in the bathroom, a possum in the wall, and one closet of storage space, I prayed to the Triune God, Please let my husband be a reader!

My husband was not found in the love triangle, but he is a reader. Funny how God humors us, I think. When Johnny and I were officially dating, one of our early dates was to a mega-Borders bookstore. The fact that it was his idea thrilled me. We sipped coffee, slowly browsed each section, and talked about our favorite books. I learned that our literary tastes were not identical, but similar enough to admire and different enough to intrigue my intellect. I discovered he does like literature and poetry, but he also loves science fiction and comic books. He learned that I have read theology, but I lean towards poetic non-fiction and fiction, mostly by females. To commemorate that date, Johnny won me over by purchasing Creed or Chaos (Dorothy L. Sayers) and a Jesus night light for my tiny mold-infested apartment.

Seated at my desk in our bedroom last month, I peered up into the sky as I often do, and was distracted by internal radar which honed in on another Reader! He lives across the courtyard, upstairs, and his ritual has proven faithful: stands, leans on the balcony, smokes, and grasps a paperback. I am willing to bet our now paint-chipped-beady-eyed Jesus that this reader buys his paperbacks at my old workplace, Half Price Books, right down the street. Standing Reader is not nearly as compelling; I like to think because I am much more mature. Johnny is obviously the reason, my very own handsome reader. As I watched him open countless books at his birthday party, I grinned at his happiness, and for the many reading dates to come. We will sit on our little loveseat - Johnny on the right, feet propped on the coffee table, martini in hand; me on the left, feet propped on Johnny's lap, sweet-talking him into rubbing my feet. Harley Cat will mope on the floor in protest. We will read for an hour or two, most likely fiction for me and theology for Johnny. And I will fall asleep thanking God again for dismantling the love triangle, erasing my stalkerness, and giving me Johnny. I might still observe Standing Reader. He willingly claims a stance on his balcony, so it's not my fault.

P.S. ~ What's with all the birthdays? Happy birthday to my lovely sister-in-law, Beckye! She prayed over Johnny for many years: through what he calls his "rank pagan days", his re-entry into the Church, and now, his strong faith in Jesus. Thank you Lord, and thank you Beckye. I love my husband, your little brother.

1 comment:

Christine said...

I miss that bario apartment of yours! And it always did smell like coffee!