What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Brontë

Field-Tested by Rachael Levy

in Silver Springs, Nevada

I scan the school bus for empty seats and spot one in the middle — a good seat. Location is important: Too close to the front and I’m sitting among the scumbags and dirt-heads — the kids who smell like B.O., pick their noses or are in special-ed class. A seat too close to the back of the bus and I’m an easy target for the older, bitchy girls who drink cough syrup on the way to school in an effort to get high, and the guys who laugh and make rude gestures at their crotch when I yawn.

But today I find one in the middle. I slide in and sit near the window, dumping my backpack next to me as a sign that I don’t want to share the space. I rummage around inside the backpack, searching with my hands for the felty soft pages of Jane Eyre. The cover had been lost long ago and the rest of the book was held together by tape. It first was my mom’s — a required text from her days in Catholic high school — and in the back it held the notes she had written to herself: “Helen Burns — friend (died, Jane 10 yrs.), Lowood — school, Miss Temple — nice woman, Mr. Rochester — owner of Thornfield.”

I huddle down in the bus seat, creating a wall of vinyl green around me, making me, for all practical purposes, invisible, just like Jane. I wiggle and breathe a happy sigh knowing exactly how the heroine felt as she huddled in her own window seat, reading in secret and safety. I love Jane Eyre. As a marginalized teen struggling to define myself, I grok this “poor, obscure, plain, and little” orphan who challenges the bullies and the brutes, shapes her own fate and commands her own destiny. Jane speaks directly to me, she acts for me.

The emotional connection I have with this worn and musty smelling paperback edition doesn’t make sense. It just is. The book is my guide through adolescence, because Jane’s efforts to define herself mirror my own. It’s comforting to know that when life is particularly lonely and difficult, Jane is there too, insisting on finding her own set of values and enduring punishing exiles because of it.

For an hour I sit hidden between the bus seats, miles away inside the book. I don’t check the time or glance up to see where I am on the route. After years of riding back and forth, I can feel when my stop is coming up: a lurch at the railroad tracks, a right turn onto a washboard road, and I pull myself away from Jane and the English moor. Stumbling off the bus, I stand on the side of an empty dirt road, dazed and squinting under a hot desert sun. Alone.

Rachael Levy lives in Nevada with her husband and four children, who serve as both inspiration and impediment to her writing. Her articles and essays have been published in the Christian Science Monitor, Psychology Today, Mamazine, The Mothers Movement Online, and the anthology Twice the Love: Stories of Inspiration for Parents of Twins and Multiples. Her blog can be found here.

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