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2003-07-09 | 10:19 p.m.

Was thinking about feeling kinda bad until I went to Amazon just now and saw that all the Trixie Belden books are being reissued as inexpensive ($6.99) hardcovers. I spent many an hour prowling the K-Mart book aisle in Garner, N.C. in the late seventies, looking for whichever book in the series I was up to. It was just about the only thing I looked forward to in those days, when I stayed with my father and stepmother on the other side of the country, except for our occasional trips to Myrtle Beach. I tried reading Nancy Drew, too, but she didn't do anything for me. Nancy Drew was polished, cosmopolitan, and rich. She had a boyfriend, for Christ's sake, and him just as bland as she was. Trixie Belden, on the other hand, had secret crushes and freckles, like me. She was chatty and impetuous, an incipient feminist, and though she did have some rich friends, there was always something sad about them.

Almost every trip to that K-Mart concluded with a jaunt to the dreaded Piece Goods store next door, where my crafty stepmother would fondle heavy wool plaids from the first week of July through the parking-lot sauna of August. At some point the Piece-Goodians installed a rack choking with Christian comic books, next to which my stepmother would park me as if I might find some entertainment there. But I never spared so much as a moment for those fake Archies and Jugheads and Veronicas, who mocked me with their verisimilitude. I refused to touch them; I'd been rigorously careful about Christian propaganda ever since a Jehovah's Witness lured me into a skanky trailer at the fairgrounds and tried to scare some faith into me with a story about a murdered kitten. I can't remember exactly, but I think the kitten wasn't going to get to go to heaven. Can that be right? If so, that might well have been the beginning. I loathed lowbrow Christianity long before it ever occurred to me to be an atheist.

I spent the years from eight to eighteen with a permanent numbness of heart, mourning what I knew I lacked as well as what I didn't know. I told myself it had to be out there somewhere and I was right. It was out there. I finally found it, thank God. Something to believe in.

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