Dear Mr. King,
I ‘m writing you (what turned out to be) a long thank you letter. I guess, because I’m thinking about life and loss, and watching my daughters get older, I’m looking back across my life. And you seem to have been around as much as anyone. You’ve seen me through a lot, although you don’t know me.
But I feel like you should know me. I feel like you’ve been there with me for years.
It’s 2017. I just turned 51. So seriously, I’ve been reading you all of my reading life.
I started reading you in second grade, when I got a copy of The Shining off of my mom’s bookcase. I got about half way in, and was having really bad dreams, when my mom caught me with it (paperback, bright, shiny silver reflective cover that was somehow compelling and creepy at the same time) under my covers. She took it away immediately.
It was even freakier for me because of the Colorado connection. See, we lived in Northern Colorado, and I grew up heading to Estes Park when the need for the mountains called. We skied quiet a bit, and Hidden Valley (outside of Estes, closed now) was our main mountain at that time. So, although you never named Estes, I knew where Sidewinder was, at least in my mind.
I’m sure at that point my mom hid the book, but I remember worrying about Danny for few years. He was always in the back of my mind. Finally (I’m not positive of my age, but it must have been around 12) I was granted permission to finish the book.
Although he was safe, I cannot say I was heartened by his fate.
A little sidenote: My 14 year-old makes fun of me when, at hotels, I check behind the shower curtain for Mrs. Massey or someone similar. I’m relieved when we stay at hotels with just showers, no tub.
I’m not going to go step-by-step through my Stephen King reading list, but I do want to tell you about reading The Stand for the first time. It may have been what cemented my fate as a King reader for life: It’s a surreal tale of fiction meeting reality.
As I said, I grew up in Northern Colorado. My brother and I were competitive swimmers, so our mom drove us to many meets throughout Colorado and Southern Wyoming. As a Colorado native herself, she knew most of the towns in which the meets were held, but, for some reason, Boulder was not a city she knew well. (My parents were seriously conservative, and I remember many discussions about ‘hippy’ Boulder.) And there weren’t many meets there, so we just didn’t need to go to Boulder very often.
But the summer when I was 13 (almost 14) we were going to a meet in Boulder.
And I was reading The Stand.
I was reading about Harold’s neighborhood, and it was either his burial committee time OR when Larry Underwood and Leo go to Harold’s house to bring him wine and chocolate Paydays (yes, I’ve read this book a few times). At any rate, they were talking about the dead bodies in the houses on specific streets.
And my mom got lost. On those specific streets. As I was reading about plague-dead bodies rotting on those streets. (And the streets were quiet, as it was an early morning in the summer).
Thank God for my mom’s cussing and losing her mind, otherwise I may have had a hard time believing there weren’t dead bodies behind the drawn window shades.
(I did go to school in Boulder for a time, and have spent quite a bit of time there as an adult, but I still relate certain landmarks with The Stand.)
None-the-less, after the experience I was pretty much hooked. The Stand has become kind of a touchstone for me; I find myself returning to it in times of stress and heartbreak. I’ve read it (and listened to it) too many times to count.
I’ve read nearly every book you’ve written. Some I’ve loved beyond belief, some I don’t love quiet as much. But that’s okay. Reading is subjective.
Okay, to this year, Mr. King. It’s been something, to say the least, for my family. But you helped, in your own way.
See, this past year my mom died in the spring. She was strong and feisty and willful, but cancer got her. She was young when she had me, so I kept thinking we had years. We didn’t. And I miss her like crazy.
After we got through her memorial services, at the end of this summer, my husband had scheduled surgery, a routine surgery pretty much. But, because it’s 2017 and the year I want gone, he developed every complication available, allowing him an extra three weeks to get to know the nurses at the hospital. He’s home now and doing well, but was a little reminder of how fragile everything in this life can be.
Back to the spring, though. After my mom’s first memorial service in Arizona, I started listening to The Gunslinger, and then had to listen to the whole Dark Tower series. I work from home, so I could keep listening while working. I had read the first three in the series many years ago, but hadn’t come back to them. I started from the beginning and made it all the way to the end. I have not gotten to see the movie (I love the idea Idris Elba as Roland) –it came out right as my husband developed complications.
(I’m a huge fan of reading, but listening to a book – letting someone read to me – is incredibly soothing and perfect. Most of your books have great narrators. Frank Muller was brilliant. George Guidall did a superb job as well).
Then I went back and listened to all the books related or semi-related. I’m still working my way through those, but I’m done with the majority. There’s something about connecting your work to another world that makes this real world seem bearable.
I listened to The Shining on our drive to Colorado for my mom’s second memorial service. And then Dr. Sleep. It seemed fitting to revisit Danny for a trip to Colorado, although, while driving through Nebraska, I was (and always will be) looking for Hemingford Home.
So, I guess at this point I’ve rambled on enough. I really just wanted to take this moment to say thank you. Most people don’t thing of Stephen King books as comforting, but they have been to me. You’ve gotten me through a seemingly steady (but actually tumultuous) childhood, an obviously unsteady young adulthood, the divorce of my parents and the end of our family business. You were there for my marriage (pretty good, all things considered) and the births of two daughters 14 months apart — with the second girl surprising us by not only coming along so soon after the first but also by being born with Down syndrome (shocking at the time, but after a few weeks it seemed like that’s what we expected, and now, after nearly 13 years, I can’t imagine that other road).
You’ve gotten me through those seemingly never ending toddler years and a move from Colorado to Central Ohio. You were there during my many drives from Ohio to New Jersey when my mother-in-law got cancer and died, as well as trips to New Jersey when my father-in-law passed away.
You were there in those seemingly uneventful times before my mom got sick. And, as I’ve said, you’ve been there this year.
Your books comfort me in their own eerie way. I guess you’re kind of my Dark Tower, pulling and steadying me, keeping me on the path of the beam (please just keep the Crimson King at bay for awhile).
Okay, enough rambling. I just really want to say thank you.
So thank you.
Kyle Anne Uniss aka Constantly Reading Momma