The First Book She'll Never Read
Everything I ever wrote, she read. Because it started with her.
I’ve told this story quite a few times. How my love for reading and writing started with my grandmother. Like most kids, I was a young chatter head. I spent hours rambling about stories and worlds I concocted in my head. Most adults ignored me, pretending to listen while doing something they deemed more important.
Nana told me straight up that I was interrupting her stories. But she didn’t just tell me to go away. No. She handed me a pen and a pad of paper and told me to write the story down.
“Write it down and I’ll read it later.”
My heart soared!
You see, my grandmother was the first true blue book lover I ever knew. She had a floor to ceiling bookcase filled with books, and boxes of books in almost every corner of our home. By the time I was a teenager, those boxes were flooding the attic.
So, to me, this was an amazing opportunity. I wanted to write a story my grandmother who’d read thousands of books would LOVE!
And she did.
I look back and I’m sure she couldn’t read what I wrote. The frantic scrambles of an 8-year-old child.
But she read it. And she asked me questions and made me feel like I’d done something amazing.
So, I kept writing.
I wrote for her, only her. Until she encouraged me to enter the Young Authors competition. I was nervous to let anyone else read my work but with her encouragement I did it.
And I won!
And 9-year-old Jessica got to hold her first “published” story. And she got a shiny metal that said people loved her imagination.
From then on, I would continue writing. Entering competitions for short stories, poetry, and more. And winning quite a few of them.
My grandmother read every last one.
Instead of going to college for writing, I chose administration. My grandmother never fussed. She said I had to choose my path and I’d return to writing when it was time. She was right of course. When I finally returned to my original love and published my first book. She read it.
She was my first beta reader and when I got the first copies of the physical books, she happily made space for it on her shelf.
Nana reading my first book, The High Arc, Revitalized.
For ten years, I added to that shelf. And my grandmother read each book and told me I better keep going. I did. I wrote, published, improved, and did it over and over again. And the height of every publication was handing a book to my grandmother and waiting for her call to come. Never took more than two days for my phone to ring.
I loved her recaps, her feedback, and her angry rambles when she thought I did a character wrong.
And then Dementia came.
The book lover I grew up with slowly forgot her love for reading. I brought her a copy of my book, Scorned by the Gods as soon as I got them as I always did. And though she never read more than the first few pages, I saw the love in her eyes and I knew she was just as proud of me as ever.
She told me to keep going.
And I did. With the hope that she would return to herself and to her love of books.
She never did.
In 2020 my grandmother crossed over.
After a long fight with failing health, she told doctors to stop poking at her. She made the choice to go home and rest. And there, with family by her side, she took her last breath.
I was devastated when I got the call.
I don’t do well with death. In most cases, I don’t even cry. It’s like my brain doesn’t know how to process it. I know the root of the cause but that’s not what this is about.
I caved. Felt the floor vanish beneath my feet and my heart shattered. And for months I existed in this shell, unattached to the world around me.
As the writer of the family, they asked me to write her obituary. And I did because I loved her. But after that, I couldn’t anymore.
Months passed and I existed. I worked, I took care of my son, and from time to time I even remembered to eat. I existed.
I didn’t write. Not a word. Because it hurt too much to do so.
Because I knew that whatever words I wrote, whatever worlds I crafted, she would never read them. She wouldn’t call me to fuss at me about characters, or badger me about writing more of those Texan wolves (she loved The Alphas).
Then I got a package in the mail, one that would break me again but lead me to repair.
A velvet box with a blue rose inside.
When they decided to cremate her, I optioned to have some of her ashes transformed into art. When I saw the rose, I thought of Beauty and the Beast, Belle and the library, and my grandmother the true blue book lover.
Opening the case, I felt her return to me. In spirit. And that night I dreamt of her. And you know what? She asked me why I wasn’t writing and reminded me that writing was my way of healing.
See, I started heavily crafting stories not long after my father passed away. A lot of the stories I wrote were the adventures I wished I could take with him. I told myself bedtime stories of us together on exciting trips. Through storytelling, even when no one was there to read or hear them, I healed.
When I woke up the next day, I wanted to write again.
And then I got on Tiktok, and the community I built there was right by my side. Encouraging me, quite like my grandmother used to do.
And I started working on the project I’d started months prior to her passing.
With the first word, all I could think was how I was writing the first story my grandmother would never read. With full knowledge that she wouldn’t. There was no hope of recovery, of her returning to her former love.
In the middle, I could only think of her words to me after my father passed away, “No matter where you are in the world, he is with you. Your father lives on through you, as long as you remember him, his love is with you.” And I felt her with me just as I have my father all these years.
By the end, I felt repaired. The cracks in my heart mended by the words on the pages.
And a thought.
As long as I write, my grandmother, the first true blue book lover I ever knew, will live on.
The last photo I took with my grandmother.
To my grandmother.
I carry you with me always.
Your fire is my own.
Like the blue phoenix, you loved so much, I’ll keep it burning bright.
Miss you always.