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Reading the Future

By: Sarah Ansari

By the time my mother found the source of the crashing, my sister and I had already destroyed much of the wiring on the tennis rackets. She rushed amidst the fray, eyebrows furrowed and demanding that we call a truce in our battle before proceeding to scold us for our carelessness. Try as we might to justify our actions, my mom did not seem to understand the pressing importance of learning to sword fight, a skill which I was certain from my extensive research would come in handy one day.

My scholarly sources had been discovered a few months ago– my kindergarten had been hosting some competition, and I was a victor, my spoils consisting of several DVD movies, amongst which was A Quest for Camelot. Unlike the quality of the box TV that I played the movie on, I remember my first reaction with perfect clarity:

This is knock-off Disney.

Imagine my own surprise, then, when I found I could not tear my eyes away from the screen. The daring female protagonist with ambition to become a knight; the blind, witty hermit with his falcon; and the twin-headed dragons became regular guests in my household from that day forward. Four year-old me would sit in front of the T.V. with bright eyes, inching closer whenever I thought my parents were not watching and absorbing every detail I could about the fascinating new world of kings, magic, and heroes.

Really, the sword fights were a long time coming.

The grievances my parents held only multiplied as time passed. I consumed books about knights and mythology and monsters and samurais and cryptids at an alarming rate, reading by night light through the witching hour until dawn. Seeds, rocks, and plants mysteriously found their way into the crevices of our home for “potion-making” and other dastardly schemes I devised. At any given time, my bathroom held at least three hidden bottles filled with baby powder, water, deodorant, shampoo and other such ingredients, carefully selected to brew concoctions that were not so much magical as they were attractants for mold.

By the time second grade rolled around, a six year old me arrived from school every day with my backpack stuffed full of rosemary and other herbs I found in the wild (read: in the schoolyard) to present to my mom. Although I insisted she use them in her cooking, and she always promised that she did, I am beginning to suspect that was a lie. (Of course, when I say that I “suspect that”, what I mean is that I spoke to my mom recently, reminding her of my propensity to play gatherer, and she said that no, she never used the plants I brought home, because getting poisoned would be quite the inconvenience.)

Such anecdotes defined my life, although at the time, nothing I did was for play, and I performed my magical rituals with all the seriousness only a small child can muster. The same year as the potion incidents, my teacher had us write about what we wanted to be when we grew up.

More admirable than anything else about children is the complete belief that they possess in their capability to do anything. Never for a moment did my peers falter as they chattered excitedly about their ambitions to become singers, astronauts, doctors, and in my case, a knight. 

Holding onto the same wide-eyed hope of a younger me today would equate to nothing more than delusional naivete, but at the time, I believed with all my heart that the words I penned were truth. I distinctly remember the tremble in my hand and the shortness of my breath as I wrote the wish I thought framed my destiny.

I’d always been a big reader, due in large part to an insatiable curiosity that had me nagging my mother to teach me everything that my older sister was learning in school well before I had even begun it myself. If the origins of my personality were examined, it would require a long list of citations– a majority consisting of fiction. My stubbornness and love of languages came from constant re-reads of Ella Enchanted, a book which holds such a dear place in my heart that I make sure to pick it up at least once or twice a year and whenever I’m feeling sad. The fighting spirit (that has made my family joke that I would be a horrible secretary) and my admittedly too-sharp-at-times tongue trails its way back to Esmeralda from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I saw and imagined these powerful women breaking through the status quo and standing up for what they believed in, just as much a hero as any of their male counterparts. Their stories buried deep within me and filled me with dreams so grand that I blame the weight of them for my short stature. 

As I grew older, I became increasingly disenchanted with the notion I would ever become a knight. My mother laughingly remarked that when she had gone to the parent-teacher conference with my second grade teacher, they had talked about the essay declaring my path to knighthood and the other works I’d turned in throughout class. My teacher had leaned in with a conspiratorial smile and told my mom,

“Please tell her to mention me when she publishes her first book.”

Forward the reel to college, and here I am, an English major. An English major who fences, dabbles in archery, and has worked closely with birds of prey. My dream of sitting at the Round Table likely won’t be fulfilled (although you know who to call if you see a dragon), but the influences of my childhood heroes still burn within me, stuck in my heart like Caliburn in the stone. They, along with the real-life female role models who surround me (such as my mother and that teacher from long ago), have forged me into who I am today. 

When I write, I yearn for people to find the same comfort and camaraderie that I was lucky enough to experience in my work. Having someone (real or not) to look up to, that represents them, can shape a child’s future, instilling them with that indelible assuredness that they can do absolutely anything that they set their minds and hearts upon. The words they consume– read, hear, write down in a rowdy second grade classroom– might just frame their destiny.