Constant Reader: An Open Letter to Stephen King
I write this letter by hand tonight, not because I am too lazy to turn on my computer at 12am, but because it is the way traditional love letters have always been written. I wish you could be here and smell the paper of my tattered notebook, warped from the atmosphere of my bathroom/study and smeared with bleeding ink.
We have been together a long time, you and I. I was 12, you were in your mid-40’s. My mother though it was an inappropriate relationship at best, damning at worst. My father introduced us, as you might recall. He had known you for a long time, since the years he ran the 100-yard hurdles on the same field where Prefontaine would take his last laps.
But, I don’t need to remind you. You were there.
I was a short, frizzy and freckled 12-year-old when I read Pet Sematary. I didn’t cry when Gage died, nor did I fully understand that bathtub scene. But, there was an honesty and a closeness there (like skin on skin), and I never forgot that. The final pages haunted me for weeks. I read them again and again from the torn paperback I had stolen from my father and hidden beneath my mattress.
Each time we met, it was under the false pretense of story: the truest pretense there is. I was swept along as you built worlds and people with words: Bevvy from the Levy, Carrie’s insane mother, sweet old Mother Abigail. But, it wasn’t only the women I heard. Even now, each time the third week of June floats in with her wild, warm breath, my soul itches to read my own personal summer story: the tale of the boys who search for The Body and find the place where childhood ends and manhood begins.
Scenes combined with my own life so that each one acted as a pin in a etymological dissection of my personality and nature.
I read about the shifting spider clown of It while lying on the cold tile of the high school band room before classes began the fall of my freshman year. My father groomed the trombones, clarinets and drums, shifted music and hummed, while I alternately gripped the pages and suffered through the long and torturous Middle Section.
Two summers later, I was holed up in the house with the ugliest case of chicken pox ever to visit a high school Junior. My brother and I memorized the audio drama of The Mist that summer, recreating each scene with an old box-cassette tape recorder: one where you had to press the red and black button at the same time to record a sound.
I read every short story. I soaked the language like a sponge, without even knowing what I was reading. My guts knew that the stories were good, that was all. It wasn’t until later that I could see the depth in them – the sheer joy of telling the tale, the mastery of the details that verged on a Victorian aspect of the sublime.
Too romantic, to be sure. But, after all. This is a love letter.
By the time I graduated high school, I was already so close to you that I thought you might feel my breath on your neck as you typed. More than once, Annie Wilkes‘s twisted words would come to mind when your name brushed through a conversation.
Umber Onnneeeee…Ummmbberrr Onnneeee Faaannnnn…
I was 19 in 1999. I was the sickest I have ever been during my lifetime. Confused and scared, I had put away all my dark things (including you) in order maintain some of my sanity. I remember clearly sitting at the dinner table, another meal of deliberate chewing and swallowing food that tasted to me like crumbling drywall.
My father said, “I heard today that Stephen King was hit by a truck.”
The world skewed like a camera with a fish eye lens.
“Is he dead?”
“I don’t think so, but he’s not doin’ good.”
I went into the hospital less than a week later.
After that, we fell out of touch. I had outgrown you. I needed a place where the stories weren’t so darkening, so viscerally human. I wanted stories that didn’t make me feel and need so much. Passionless writers with erudite ideals and doctoral degrees. Work that Twain would have said, “You don’t want to read, but want to have read.”
I gave up on you. I faced the fact that you were never good for me and I needed something…
Years later, I found a little book called The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon in my Christmas stocking. My husband had bought it for me, knowing my previous obsession with your stories. It was a children’s pop-up book, with gruesome pictures of a little girl lost. I ignored it for months, finally sending it in a bag to the Goodwill. In the same thrift store, months later, I saw a copy of the full book and brought it home. Just for old time’s sake.
Despite the time, despite the Coelho, the Chicken Soup for the Soul, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People…despite the best efforts to steer clear of passionate reading, I fell back with you so easily. The words had been fitted to my soul, pieces of a broken monster sewn together again, not without love and understanding, but designed to build a creature with hidden dangers deep behind intelligent eyes and a crooked smile.
Later, my husband and I walked through Mid-World together, following every step of Roland’s Ka-Tet slowly and with great deliberation. I was pregnant with my daughter then, and I understood when you described the strangeness of birth both metaphorically and physically. I defended the final chapters against the critics, because I understood why. And, even if my explanation wasn’t what you had intended, it was the truth that I found that made it meaningful.
I believed in you. I still do.
I wish I could tell you what it’s like to find summer each year through the eyes of a story. I wish you could see how I sobbed as I listened to the last sentence of The Long Walk. Not like a reader, but like a friend. I wish you could have been with me when I walked Jack Sawyer to that dark house at the edge of the world and finally touched the place where all the universes meet in a single room. I wish you could to know what it’s like to see the doors of your own mind open and be filled.
Every part you’ve written, every world you have made, has made my world richer. In an existence of increasing shades of grey, you have taken strokes of bold, dark color. And I have read every word.
I am the true voice in the darkness. I have read every book, essay, comic book and screenplay. When the curtain of this life is finally raised, you’ll see who you have really been writing for, and my face will be among the cast.
I am not your Number One Fan. There are too many people vying for that cursed position. I am simply a 12-year-old, 19-year-old, 35-year-old girl who knows you better with every key stroke.
We should get together sometime. Maybe tell a few stories and whistle in the dark.
Your Constant Reader,
Willow Dawn Becker