A couple of weeks ago, I had to go to the school building here in the prison to interview for a new group. When I got there, I was escorted to a room to be interviewed. There were three tables in there, along with a different Rutgers student sitting behind each. Once I was summoned to one of the tables, the student that was at that table greeted me and asked me to sit down. As I sat down, I noticed soothing music was playing in the CD player over by the window. The student asked me to hold on for a minute while she retrieved some papers. As she was rummaging through her belongings, I began to look around the room. I felt a cool breeze coming through the window as the music played softly from the speakers. I looked further and I noticed the other two Rutgers students waiting for their subjects to arrive. Then my eyes were drawn to the bookcase that I had initially overlooked. What was in this bookcase of elementary school books that caught my eye? It was a book called Galaxies.
I remembered this book. I remembered Galaxies from elementary school. It was a simple book that was published by Houghton Mifflin Company, and it was instructional for elementary kids. It had short stories, poems, jokes, informational articles, and skill lessons designed to enrich a child’s learning experience. So why did this book now pique my interest as a 39-year old man? I hadn’t seen this book in at least thirty years, but why did it grab me so? I couldn’t answer that question in that moment, but I was completely enthralled by the book and perplexed by the allure this book held for me.
Whatever the case, I had to have this book. For what reason, I didn’t know. I later approached one of the school workers and asked him if he could acquire the book for me. He told me he would, but I could see in his demeanor that it wasn’t going to be a priority. After about a week, I approached another school worker to ask him if he might be able to retrieve the book, and he told me he would try. Some more time had passed, and, at the same time, the euphoria had pretty much worn off. Some weeks later, I was called back to the school building for another interview. When I went into the room this time, I looked straight to the bookcase. My eyes zeroed in on Galaxies, and I made a mental note of where it was located in the bookcase. When I left the school building that day, I went to yet another school worker and asked him would he be able to get the book. I told him the approximate location and everything, to which he replied, “I’ll see what I can do.”
About a week had passed and I’d pretty much forgotten about the book. The previous guys that I asked to get it didn’t seem too interested in helping me, so why would the third be any different? One day I was in my cell and the third guy came knocking at my door. When I opened the door to my cell, the guy handed me a book. He looked puzzled. He said, “I don’t know why you want this, but here it is.” His tone was almost condescending. After realizing that my request, on its face, looked preposterous, I actually understood his bewilderment at my reasons for asking for this introductory book. I thanked him and he left my cell. As soon as he handed me the book, I sort of zoned out for a second. Once I regained my senses, I knew that if I were to look into a mirror, I would see that my face was awash in astonishment. Now I’m sure that he thought I was crazy!
I immediately took the book into the cell and put my curtain up in order to get some privacy. I didn’t want to be bothered. When I sat in the confines of my cell with no noise to disturb me, I took a good look at the book. Wow! I thought. It looked just like it did back in elementary school. I flipped through the pages and realized that the cover and the pages had the same texture that they had 30 years ago. When I stopped at this specific page, my whole being was flooded with a sense of nostalgia. The page I stopped on was a story called “Surreal: 3000 A.D.” by Suzanne Martel. The stop here was not happenstance, no it wasn’t. I remembered this story because it was something I read in my youth and it intrigued me. I immediately was drawn to the picture, the story, and even the smell of the book now. These feeling that I was having about this book were overwhelming, but they became stronger every minute that I held this book. After I read the story, I continued to flip through the pages of this book. I had to keep stopping because of several reasons: this picture opened up a memory, those words opened up a memory, another picture opened up a memory… and on and on. Even the division of the chapters was instrumental in making me relive my youth. But why was this simple book holding my attention like this?
Over the next few days, I continued to flip through the book, as I was entranced by so much in it. With every flip of a page or every reading of a short story or lesson, I became slightly more aware of why I was drawn to this book. The comprehension began to come in slowly, but it picked up pace like an investigator finding a trail of clues. One of the first things I remembered was that Galaxies was the ultimate book in elementary school. You had to complete a number of other instructional books in order to get to Galaxies. It was sort of the coup de grace of learning in elementary school, the apex, if you will. My memory of the other books began to come into focus. I think the penultimate book was Kaleidoscope. I remember the two other books were called Panorama and Rainbows. Rainbows was the first book you were given in order to get to the rest. I don’t think I spent much time on Rainbows because I got skipped a couple of grades. But all this came to me, and I seemed to remember it vividly now. But still, why was this book, Galaxies, so bewitching to me?
After roughly two weeks with this book, it hit me! I never actually got to read Galaxies in school. I skimmed through it, but I never got to go through the actual lessons and read it in its entirety. By me being skipped twice in elementary school, there was a lot of curriculum that I started but didn’t get to finish because I was moving at an irregular pace. Actually, I don’t think I got a chance to finish either of the books because I always out-paced and out-read everybody else…
Wait a minute! I now know why this book had (and slightly still has) me dazzled. Galaxies was my objective when I was a youth. This book brought me back feeling of aspirations! I knew that Galaxies was the peak, and I was determined to get there. I even read some of it before it was my time. I was determined to get to the top, and Galaxies was it. I not only wanted to learn, but I wanted to tackle the best to learn. The thing was, I never got to Galaxies because I surpassed it. I actually accomplished what I was trying to do, but the memory that Galaxies was my aim at one time was never discarded from my memory.
I’m glad that it wasn’t, because it reminded me of who I can be and what I can accomplish if I put my mind to it. Even though my Galaxies is now on a grander scale, that doesn’t render my old pursuit of the book Galaxies as trivial.
Galaxies was not just an instructional textbook for elementary students, it was a life lesson for me. Will I reach Galaxies now, or will I surpass it? Let’s see!