I wasn't exactly like the other kids in my class, because my family wasn't from Ashland City. We moved there after my parents' divorce, after my mom remarried, when I was in 4th grade. I fit in okay, but I felt that I existed mostly on the periphery. I made friends with effort and time, but I also liked to spend my time lost in books.
Reading was something I enjoyed from an early age, but when we moved to that small Tennessee town with two stop lights and fewer than 2,000 people, I wanted to be known as a Reader. I decided to latch on to something I loved -- fiction -- and make it part of my identity. I read for pleasure and kept those books clearly on display in my locker.
In 8th grade I checked out A Tale of Two Cities from the middle school library, the biggest book they had. I carried it around with me at all times, whipping it out at the most opportune moments, hoping to impress classmates who couldn't have cared less.
After three long days of carrying the tome around, having been unable to get past page four, I decided on some next-level showing off.
My plan was simple: Ask for help from a teacher with a particularly tough word in the text as a way to highlight that sure, I was 12, but I was already cracking into the classics. Because I was whip-smart and to be adored. And ambitious. And to be feared.
When our English instructor gave us time in the afternoon to work quietly at our desks until the bell rang, as she often did, I cracked open Dickens' whopper and heaved it to her desk.
"Ms. Bower, I was wondering if you could tell me what this means?"
I placed my scrawny eighth grade finger under a word with multiple syllables and looked up sweetly in hopes she could assist.
She peered onto the page, one of the first four in the entire brick of a book, and said, "Look it up in the the dictionary, Brittney."
"And I don't think you're ready for books that big," she said.
She was right, I wasn't. And I never did read A Tale of Two Cities.