Since I was a young child, I have carried a knife by its blade. No matter how many times I prayed, no matter how many times I dug into my heart trying to pick out the blade, the feeling would not go away. Hell remained within me as if I were Satan from Paradise Lost wandering the earth, except instead of seeking revenge, I sought a way to assuage the pain.
I don’t know why I gravitated towards novels. Maybe it was because when I had a character to cling to, I was never truly alone. The library was where I first found friends. Books are quiet, orderly, accepting creatures, and, for a while, I could forget about the knife I carried.
But the mere act of reading is not enough to save oneself from loneliness. As I grew older, I found that the old stories of talking animals, knights and dragons had begun to lose their luster. I needed a story that would touch me deep within my bones and understand my pain.
My first gothic novel was The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. Within its pages, I discovered a character who understood what it was to be alone. The Phantom was a character with a kindred spirit, someone I could look towards whenever I thought I was alone in my suffering. I had finally found a friend who understood. The realization that there were authors who had created characters I could sympathize with gave me hope. I no longer had to carry the knife blade alone.
Now in my final year of college, I am finally starting to let the blade go. The knife is slowly dissolving in the camaraderie I have found in my closest friends. But even though I now have friends of flesh and blood, I will always have a special affection for the fictional friends of my childhood—the Raskolnikovs, the Frankensteins and Phantoms who taught me that no one, not even someone who feels like Satan from Paradise Lost, is truly alone.
–Jay Payne, Senior English major