It’s appalling that I haven’t finished this book for several reasons. The first is that I had been anxiously awaiting its release for over a year; The Dresden Files is probably my all-time favorite urban fantasy series, and usually when a new one is published, I have it read within the week at the very least. Secondly, although these books are relatively substantial, it’s not like I’m reading Tolstoy – Butcher can occasionally be a slow starter (I find that he often ends his novels on a nail destroying cliff hanger but takes a chapter or two to warm up) but he ramps up quickly and the action is non-stop – these are not books I linger over. I usually tear through them with a raging ferocity and find myself incredibly annoyed, ten or so hours later, that I have another eighteen months to wait for a new installment. His are well-written, character-loving, plot twist heavy popcorn novels.
And yet, here I am, almost a week into the new year without even this one delightful book done. I tried, I really did. I read in the airport during our long layover. I read when I woke up early, my body sick but still on east coast time. I read while I was waiting to watch Les Mis (finally) on Saturday night. I read a chapter at a time here and there, trying to collect myself and process the fact that less than twelve hours after we arrived home, my father called to say my grandmother was dying. It’s 2013, and the hits just keep on coming…
I’ve never particularly thought of 13 as being an unlucky number, but so far, I’ve found it difficult to remain completely above superstition. I rang in the new year with a clogged, aching head, and as I sit here this morning, trying to decide whether to turn around and fly back for the funeral while chowing on Tums to beat back my anxiety-related heartburn, I feel a little unlucky. One of the things that I love most about Harry Dresden though, is that he is a relentlessly unlucky guy. He’s a hero, in his way, but he is also beaten down so hard in every book that it takes a supernatural talent to keep rising above. Fortunately for him, he’s a wizard.
I’m not. I am blessed, I admit, with friends as dear and valiant as the ones Dresden fights and laughs and lives beside, and most times that feels as near to magic as I can imagine. There are days for us all when it stands out in stark relief that life doesn’t give a shit whether the last few weeks or months or years have been tough, and the choice – the choice we each face – is whether we want to fight. Dresden always does. He’s not much of a strategist, and he loses nearly as many fights as he wins, but he puts his head down and keeps moving forward against terrible odds. Because that’s what fighters do. To live another day, to have hope that things will get easier, sometimes, all it takes is putting one foot in front of another.
My grandmother was a fighter. She lived a hard life with many a deep valley, but in the last ten years, she and I have become close. I was terrified of her as a child; even though I grew taller than her in the fifth grade, she had a personality that sucked the air out of a room. She could be ferocious and never shied away from confrontation. I was timid and a picky eater – two things an Italian matriarch could hardly abide. In the last weeks of her life though, I visited and she seemed to really see me, an unexpected gift since she hadn’t been communicating almost at all. I sat with her and held her hand; she couldn’t really speak, but when I got up to leave, I told her I loved her and she mouthed back at me love. Love. She kept forming that word, although there was no sound at all. Love.
In the last decade, she and I learned to really love each other, to take both of our lives for what they were and accept what they could never be. It was a relationship I fought for, not one that came naturally to me, and it was all the more special for that. Some people we have to fight for; often, we have to fight for ourselves. She taught me that both matter, that it’s fighting that makes life unexpected and powerful and worth everything.
So that is what I’m trying to do. Just one small step forward, and then another, and another, until I can make a decision, or by failing to do so, make one anyway. It’s a little less hard, somehow, with a book on standby, with its flawed, striving characters patiently waiting for me to take a few minutes to remember to fight.
For more about Jim Butcher, head over here.