When I was nearly 21, I got my cat Scout at a town 6 miles away.
His name wasn’t Scout at the time, it was Shadow, but dammit I was an English major and I knew wearing a beret all the time wouldn’t give me cred so instead I wanted to name my pet after one of my favorite literary characters since that was for sure original and cool and made me look legit.
So I named him Scout.
But here’s the thing: I’d only read To Kill a Mockingbird once in my life. Freshman year of high school.
Unlike other books I’ve read, loved, and continued to reread over and over, I don’t recall having that feverish need to read and reread To Kill a Mockingbird. I kept meaning to read it again. I swear, I meant to.
Two weeks ago I pulled it from my bookshelves and started reading. I’d just reread In Cold Blood (for probably my sixth time since first reading it a few years ago) and wanted to meet Dill again. His character was inspired by little kid Truman Capote.
I’d also been feeling a need for some nostalgia and some comfort. I recently started a new job and even though I am excited about the new adventure and am grateful, I’m having a hard time catching my breath and I worry it will affect my still-growing relationship with my boyfriend.
And I’m far from my close friends. And my family. And both my grandmothers were recently moved into assisted living facilities. And I haven’t seen them since they moved. And one of them is losing more and more of herself to Alzheimer’s and it’s completely out of everyone’s control, most of all hers, and before she was transferred to her new home she once found out it was Sunday and proceeded to walk two confused miles to church since her drivers license had been taken away months ago.
My new job is in the world of Technology. I’ve moved from my comfortable world of education and English and moved me into a world of computers. It’s been cool. But I can feel my mind getting crowded with neurosis and stress. It has reminded me that, out of all things, anxiety is my most constant companion. So I reached for my dusty copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. I reached for paper.
As silly as this sounds, the book surprised me by being really good. I didn’t remember the book being so beautiful — so simplistically poignant.
I was reading it every night before bed. Every day on my lunch break. I would capture those 10 or 20 minutes of freedom and open Harper Lee’s words back up.
I hadn’t remembered Aunt Alexandra. I’d forgotten about the fire across the street, the blanket around Scout’s shoulders. I’d forgotten such perfect descriptions of summer like, Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch on cots, or trying to sleep in the treehouse; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape; but most of all, summer was Dill. And I’d forgotten Lee’s eloquent and simple way of handling such a variety of complicated social situations.
But then I hit a wall.
The minute Tom Robinson took the stand and tried to put his hand on the Bible, but it kept sliding off, I closed the book. I haven’t opened it since.
His hand slides from the Bible despite his repeated attempts. Hand caught in a cotton gin when he was a boy. Tore all the muscles loose from his bones. I closed the book and haven’t touched it since.
In High School, I doubt this moment seemed symbolic. But now I find myself obsessing about this image, and its symbolism, and its truth. I think about it during the day and I want to cry. Just like I can feel myself wanting to cry when I see an old person just going about their business and then I hate myself for possibly feeling pity or sentimentality or whatever bullshit we poets have rattling in our pockets like spare change. Oh, look, an old person! Oh, look, a pigeon with a broken leg! Oh, look, the humanity!
But, oh, how we can try, we can try, we can try our best to be the person we want to be and the person we think we could be but sometimes we slip. Whether it’s due to circumstances out of our control, or ghosts that continue to try and haunt us. I want to be good at my new job. I want to be a good friend, daughter, granddaughter, girlfriend, person interacting with the grocery store clerk. I try.
That image of Tom’s hand sliding off the Bible just kills me. Maybe because, out of the things I remember from To Kill a Mockingbird, I remember Tom Robinson’s fate.
It’s now six years later and Scout has traveled with me from college in central California, up to my parents house in Sacramento for a year, up to Spokane for 2 years of graduate school, one year of work, and now he’s living in Seattle with me.
Even though I still haven’t reread the book all the way through, I do know that it was super cool and legit for me to name my cat Scout.