Story Sickness

Presently I am recovering from particularly viral strain of “story sickness.” At least, that is the name I give to it, that passionate “fevered” desire to complete a particularly imaginative or well-told tale, and the effects are not pretty. The story envelops me. I cannot eat. I cannot sleep. I relinquish all work – as well as most conscious thought – as I devour page after page or scene after scene, driven to discover “What happens next?” Does the Count exact his revenge? Does Taran save his friends from the Black Cauldron? If Nia transforms into an intergalactic harbinger of death and destruction, how will she and Simone ever be together? Stuff like that.

I recall one night several years ago, when my Dad knocked on my door sometime around one or two in the morning. Both of my parents had not seen me for much of the evening. I had disappeared to my room right after inhaling some steak and potatoes and rapidly spitting out a garbled “One moment, Mom. Room with flying keys! Gotta go!” Relinquishing them to this cryptic phrase and some small tuffs of fallen potatoes, I scampered down to my room without a sound.

Worried at my unusual absence, the late hours, and whether I was alive or dead – being the good parents that they are – they decided to check on me. So spying the light creeping beneath my door past midnight, Dad decided to investigate. I, of course, had been reading all day. Recently, you see, my brother Ryan had received the fourth Harry Potter book, and taking an interest in the hype I opened the Sorcerer’s Stone that afternoon . . .

“Are you still up? What are doing in here?”

“Learning magic.” (I cannot recall exactly what I said here, but it was something to this effect. I possess little shame.)

“A book? You’re reading a book at three o’clock in the morning?”

“Yeah, Dad, this book is incredible! The storytelling is fantastic. It just pulled me in almost as soon as I began.”

“Well, remember not to burn the candle at both ends. In a few hours, it will be dawn, and you have to take the kids to school tomorrow. You can always finish tomorrow, you know.”

“I know. I know. But I’m almost finished this second book. It’s so hard to put down. I’ll go to sleep soon. I promise.”

Shortly after that, Hogwarts safe once more and basilisk slain, the second book ended, and I lay on the bed exhausted. With a flip of a switch the Walmart-bought fan twirls and cools my head, steaming with potential ideas for Harry’s later chronicles. Will Voldemort return? What is his connection with Harry? Will Ron always be the comic relief?

“I wonder if Harry fancies Ginny or Hermione?” I think aloud. A few minutes later, I break my promise and leaf through the third book until five or six in the morning. I fall asleep for an hour or two, waking exhausted somewhere between pages one-hundred twenty-eight and twenty-nine. The pages peel from my drool-dampened cheeks and ears. Like a wino with a hangover, I curse at the sun, shining brightly through my windows and stumble off to find Sean and my car keys. I – safely – drive my brothers across town to summer swimming practice, where I then waited in the parking lot, my mind passing into slumber and dreams: detailed visions of wizards, castles, and werewolves.

Such is the nature of my affliction, my “story sickness.” Considering the number of stories I finish each year, few provoke such unhealthy responses. Typically coming-of-age tales empowered with dynamic characters, heroic battles, or the search for true love incites the germ (at heart I am a hopeless romantic). Combine these elements with incredible writing or poetic prose, and the infection spreads. The story consumes me, and for hours or days later I am lost within another world among friends, both old and new. The story sickness strikes once again.

Of course, others may know of a more clinical term – insanity perhaps. My siblings simply tell their friends that their older brother is weird and a little eccentric at times, citing the T-shirt wisdom: “He lives in his own little world, but it’s okay they know him there.” I have heard the word “obsessed” too, somewhere in the din as I sat reading Verne and Doyle long ago. I cannot remember when or where. Growing up in a family of ten, you learn to cloud much of the daily cacophony, especially when there are lands to explore and ghost hounds to unmask.

Frankly, I have just learned to accept the fact that stories are a natural part of my life. A natural inclination like the love of seashores or ice cream. It is akin to breathing. Inhale and exhale. Read and write. The only difficulty lies in choosing between the two:

It’s hard to know when to respond to the seductiveness of the world and when to respond to its challenges. If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn by the twin desires to reform the world and to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.
— E. B. White
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