Sometimes I’d believe I could slip into it, if I could just find the portal to enter. A place that would accept me, quirks and all.
When I was in seventh grade, my mother handed me a book.
“Read it, it’s a best seller,” she said.
I scoffed, “I don’t do best sellers.”
“Read it,” my mother commanded. And since she usually made no demands regarding my reading material (other than screening it first), I obliged out of kibbud eim. It’s a good thing it was my mother who introduced me to Harry Potter, even forced it on me, because she had no one but herself to blame for my subsequent obsession.
And obsessed I was. I remember in eighth grade competing with a friend during class to list all the characters we could think of, including Angus Fleet and Hetty Bayliss, who were mentioned just once in the entire series. I still have pages of the numerous Harry Potter fan fiction I wrote. My hair was cut in a shag, and for the fun of it, I’d put on black frames, with tape across the bridge, draw a lightning bolt on my forehead, and pretend it was normal.
There comes a point in fandom where the source material is not enough. I needed to get my hands on everything, anything Harry Potter-related, so I stumbled across website, the largest Harry Potter fan website. I spent every day on that site, poring over nuances in the story, speculations of what would happen in the next book. I read timelines and dictionaries; I lived and breathed Harry Potter.
It wasn’t just an exciting fantasy world that fascinated me, but an escape. A wondrous world running within ours, it wasn’t as far-fetched as most fantasies that are entire universes to themselves. Sometimes I’d believe I could slip into it, if I could just find the portal to enter. A place that would accept me, quirks and all.
This went on for years, and at the end of the summer before 11th grade, a posting on the website caught my eye. The site was looking for several creative writers for a top-secret project. My two loves, Harry Potter and writing, uniting — of course I was applying. I remember my samples, a description of a funeral in a ghostly cemetery , the tissue Harry’s aunt and uncle gave him as a holiday gift, and a psychological profile of two of the main characters.
Two weeks later I received an e-mail from the website. My breath caught, and my heart stopped a moment. I clicked. My body did not release its tension. They chose me. Me, a self-taught, frighteningly insecure 16-year-old. I couldn’t be prouder — I made it, was accepted on the merit of myself. My escape would be complete.
Who cared about high school, and the Hebrew teacher who kept waking me up, not understanding why I refused to read a Rashi? Who cared about the girls who spoke to me at lunch but never once called me at home? Who cared about it all — the Harry Potter community thought I could write, and they wanted me.
I sent back a quick confirmation, and waited for instructions. And while I waited, an unease tapped my shoulder. I tried ignoring it, but it was summer and I wasn’t busy enough to pretend it wasn’t there. Who are these people? it asked me. Are their values appropriate? What are your boundaries? Will this change you? Is this who you want to be? All rhetorical questions I had no answer to.
To the unstudied, objective eye, I was a miserable teen who did terribly in school, snorted at kabbalos, barely davened more than brachos, who seemed to care little about her Yiddishkeit. But there was more to me; I knew that. I stepped away from the project, stepped away from the thing I wanted most in those years: validation and escape.
I don’t know what continuing the project may have meant for me; it could’ve been life-altering or it could’ve been nothing more than an interesting footnote. But at the time I felt I made a choice, and like the wise Professor tells Harry, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 511)
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