Lauren Sapala’s Treasured Possession: Paperback Novel
An Everyday History Guest Article
Introducing the Series and the Guest
One of the main characters in my novel Everyday History writes articles about his treasured possessions, to process his thoughts and share what he cares about. Each article focuses on a meaningful object and the important history it encapsulates. Reader interest in that novel and those articles led to this series of guest articles in the same style.
“The everyday things we live with trigger our histories — the stories of our lives.” — Everyday History
Lauren Sapala blew into my life when I started writing my second novel. She’s an author and writing coach for INFP and INFJ (that’s me) personality types. Through her books, our conversations, and her example, I’ve come to trust myself and my intuition more than ever. The voice of fierce encouragement to embrace the power of who I truly am often sounds like Lauren. I’m grateful for her willingness to share this personal story with us.
Lauren Sapala | Paperback Novel
My most meaningful belonging is an old paperback copy of Stephen King’s It. It’s a copy that’s out of print these days, the one with Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown on the cover. That version was released in 1990, when the made-for-TV movie came out on ABC.
Yes, my copy of this book might seem mundane to others. It is extremely ratty — the cover is almost all the way torn off and hanging by a thread, and the pages were made out of the thinnest paper anyway, and a lot of the ink has been smeared over the years from repeated readings.
I would say that no one else really knows the meaning of this particular copy of this particular book to me. I’m ready to share this story.
In the fall of 1990 I turned 12 years old, in October. My mother had just died about six weeks before that. She had a lengthy battle with breast cancer, went into remission for a few years, and then was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, from which she died in August 1990. In the years when she was in remission, my little brother was diagnosed with leukemia and died from that, in the fall of 1987. Right after my brother died but before my mother passed, she and my father divorced.
My dad was an extremely ambitious surgeon, who was also a high-functioning alcoholic. Right after he and my mother divorced, my father remarried and he and my stepmother immediately started a family. My stepmother had triplets and then another baby a year later. So, in 1990, my mother had just died and left me the farmhouse we lived in, my grandmother (my mom’s mother) had stepped in to raise me and my father was deep in his addiction to work and alcohol, was completely checked out emotionally from everyone, and had this other family in another city. So, even though I saw my father at least once a week, it always felt like he was just “dropping in,” and when he was there, he was not at all there. It was like he looked right through me.
On my father’s side, I came from a family of alcoholics and over-achievers and we did not talk about feelings. Any display of emotion was frowned upon, any loss of control was seen as unseemly. The people on that side of my family were intellectual, highly educated, very astute, but completely blind to each other as human beings.
Right after my mother died, I developed a pretty bad case of psoriasis. It was painful and embarrassing and no one could figure out why I suddenly had this awful skin condition. My dad and my grandmother (my mom’s stepmother, who was really loving and wonderful) took me to numerous doctors and I was prescribed all sorts of ointments and creams and vitamins. My dad, my grandmother, and my stepmother asked me about the psoriasis all the time. Everyone was completely bewildered because nothing worked to get rid of it.
I was the only one who thought the psoriasis might be related to my mother dying. When I mentioned my thoughts about this to anyone they looked at me like I was crazy.
Right around that time I started seeing ads in TV Guide that intrigued me. I didn’t even know what the ads were for. They just had a picture of an actor looking scared and the text read, “IT’s Coming…” What was “IT”? Why did these people look so scared? I was so curious. Now, please remember, that was in 1990. There was no internet, I lived out in rural Michigan, and my TV only got four stations. There was not really any way for me to investigate.
Then I was at the mall with my dad one Saturday and he dropped me off at the bookstore while he went to take one of his endless work calls. There was a big display right at the front of the store with this fat book with a super creepy clown on the cover (Tim Curry as Pennywise) and emblazoned on the front was It. Oh my God! THIS was IT. AAAAAHHHH!!! The pieces clicked together for me instantly. I wanted that book. I needed that book.
And of course my dad bought it for me when he came back. He always bought me everything and never once glanced at what he was actually buying for his twelve-year-old daughter.
I had my first real adult book.
After my dad bought me the book I took it home and devoured it. Stephen King knocked me on my ass, took my breath away, and reached a hand down into my throat and squeezed my heart and lungs. I had never read writing like that. I had started reading pretty challenging material from the time I was six years old, but when my mom was alive she was very aware of what I was reading and was careful with what I was exposed to. She bought me a lot of Newbery Medal books and classic children’s literature. She was also very aware that I was a highly sensitive, empathic kid and she knew things really affected me. She would have never let me read Stephen King. But she was gone, and all the other adults in my life were… busy. Or distracted. Or unavailable. Or not really aware of me even when I was in the room. So I was reading Stephen King.
And OMG it was the beginning of a love affair. That man wrote about things the way I thought about them in my head. He saw things the way I did. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone anymore.
What this book represents to me is the way I felt at that time. The way I exactly felt. In the book, there are these seven kids, and they’re all awesome people. They’re eleven years old, just about to turn twelve and they live in a town in Maine called Derry, in the 1950s. The town is basically the playground of the most evil demon ever who takes the guise of a clown and kidnaps and eats children. These kids can see IT, but no one else can (unless you’re a kid who’s about to get eaten), most especially not the adults. It’s horrible because the town’s population of kids is harvested every few years when this evil clown comes out to feed, and no one seems to notice. The adults in the town don’t think it’s odd that so many kids disappear every so often. There are also quite a few scenes where the town bully is terrorizing other children and the adults can’t see that either. As I read the book, it became very apparent that the adults just cannot see the children. They don’t see the children as people, with thoughts and feelings, crises, and desires and lives of their own. They just can’t see them at all. The adults are totally checked out, because some entity has come in and blinded them to the dysfunction, the dark rotting underbelly, the violence, and the true nature of what’s going on in the town.
Wow. Like, wow. That was exactly how I felt in my own life. My mom — who I was incredibly close to — had just died. Three years before that my brother had died. My only remaining parent was an alcoholic — no one would even hint at acknowledging that — who had started a new family where he was recreating the exact same destructive, avoidant, and completely dysfunctional dynamic. My closest uncle was an alcoholic. My grandparents (my dad’s parents) were alcoholics and my grandmother (my dad’s mother) was a narcissist. Except for my mom’s stepmother (my other grandmother), the people in my family were so damaged, in so much psychic pain, and so wrapped up in chasing status and wealth and their own addictions that they could not even see the suffering children in front of them.
I really got it with that evil clown. Man, that was exactly it. I was battling something dark and insidious and way more powerful than I was and I was just a kid and no one else could even see it.
But… those kids won. In the end, they won. I saw how they did it, and I knew I could do it too. I believed Stephen King. I knew I could trust him. If those kids could beat IT, then I could too, in my own life.
This paperback book represents my dream (which I made come true) of being seen. My dad could never really see me in the way I wanted or needed him to, so that dream didn’t come true, but I was able to grow into a person who could see herself.
I love that It is a big, convoluted, sprawling story and, as a writer, I now know that “experts” would say you should never write a story like that. So I love that aspect — that it’s a story that every expert would advise you against writing and it’s still a masterpiece. But I also love the way that book found me. Those little ads in TV Guide felt like they were calling expressly to me, and then the way I found the book at the mall that day. It felt like total synchronicity.
This paperback reminds me of a time in my life that was magical. That might sound weird, considering my mother had just died and I was in a painful place with things in general, but I was really beginning to grow up then, and I always knew that I was living out my origin story — like I was Luke Skywalker when he was still stuck on Tatooine. Me discovering It was like Luke discovering R2D2.
It connects me to a different me, a twelve-year-old me. I was really struggling. I felt so weird and out of place in my little rural town. I did not fit in. At the same time, I had my own private world. My private world included Stephen King, and the singer Morrissey, and writing poetry, and writing in my journal, and wandering around in the fields around my house, and being in my own intuitive space. I deviated from that course over the years, but I finally came back to it in the end.
The kids in Stephen King’s book make up their own club and call it the Losers Club. One of the kids is overweight, one has a stutter, one is hyperactive, one is poor, etc. But then they all grow up and go on to do amazing things. I knew I would too. When I read that book I knew instinctively that I was one of those kids and I would go on to do amazing things.
Lauren Sapala is the author of The INFJ Writer, Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers, and The INFJ Revolution, as well as The West Coast Trilogy, an autobiographical fiction series. She is also a writing coach for writers of the INFJ and INFP personality type and blogs about writing, creativity and personality theory at laurensapala.com. When she’s not writing about INFJs and INFPs, she spends her time writing transgressive fiction.
The host of this article, Alice Archer, is the author Everyday History and The Infinite Onion, thought-provoking romance novels for strong hearts. You can subscribe to her newsletter to receive a free story, notification of new articles and books, and more.
Read an Everyday History article by Alice Archer: The Black Desk