Do you remember the dictionary scene in Say Anything, when Ione Sky’s character is picking out a dress for dinner and John Cusack’s character is in her room giving an opinion? He comes across her dictionary and…
Lloyd picks up a three-inch dictionary.
Boy, this is a mother dictionary.
Yeah, I’ve had it forever. I used to have this thing with
marking the words that I looked up.
Lloyd flicks through the pages of the dictionary. Nearly every
word has a cross next to it.
I was young when I saw that movie for the first time, still in elementary school. Molly Ringwald was huge, Christie Brinkley was THE model, and Girls Just Want(ed) to Have Fun… but I fell in love with Diane (Ione Sky’s character) from Say Anything. She was very intelligent and (just for icing on the cake) was beautiful. I wanted to be just like her. My path didn’t follow suit, I ended up a bit more like a Molly Ringwald with a splash of “I just want to dance” mixed in because that was a natural social fit for me, but inside there was always a Diane. I would never be the valedictorian because I had too many things going on in my life to distract me from the perfect GPA (nice people call that well-rounded, I can think of other words for it).
Since I knew I could never actually emulate Diane’s character to a T, I picked one part of her that I could make my own. I have a dictionary that has a ripped cover and my name in neon green and pink bubble letters across the sides of the pages… it also has checkmarks and dots next to words that I’ve looked up over the years. Some are in pencil, some in marker, and others in pen. It’s been with me from my hometown through college and grad school, reading through adulthood, and still all of these years later.
The other evening, as I was reading and reached for my phone to look up a word on my Dictionary app, I wondered what had happened to my actual dictionary. I panicked because though I have no organizational system for my books I can still tell you which room, on which shelf, you can find most of the titles I own (which, but the way, are numerous). I pictured my house and storage unit (yes, I have so many books that I actually have bookshelves full in a storage unit), I scanned the shelves in my mind’s eye for the dictionary, but couldn’t find it. This showed me how long it had been since I referenced the old gal. I figured, since I couldn’t picture it anywhere, it must be somewhere in storage. Maybe I had even left it in a box? I knew it was somewhere – I would have never thrown it away, right? We have too much history together! The next day I drove over to storage and scanned the shelves. Nothing. I looked through the few boxes that have anything in them. Nothing. I scanned the shelves again, slower. And then I got teary-eyed. Did I leave it behind when I moved? It would be unlike me, but I couldn’t deny that I was not seeing my beloved dictionary anywhere. As I got back in the car, blinking back tears, I scanned my brain – in my mind’s eye I looked all over my old house again, and then the new one, where I live now. And as the tears started burning the corners of my eyes (memories of the papers, the books, the letters, the stories that I’d written using this dictionary flooding back), I decided to drive home and make one last sweep of the house before making peace with the fact that this personal relic was gone.
At home, I checked the bookshelves, and then behind the books on the bookshelves. I checked under the beds (I was desperate) and in between the night stands (which are all bookshelves as well) and the beds. I checked through every pile of books in my house, knowing it was not going to be there. At this point I was just prolonging the inevitable: my old security blanket was gone. My old friend. My longtime roommate, my helper. But also my childhood fantasy of who I wanted to be. That dictionary represented more than just a love of words, it reminded me of who I was at nine years old; a girl who knew that beauty was a crap-shoot, you either get it or you don’t, and athleticism, fearlessness, popularity are also given by fate. I was too young to know which of these I would get, but I knew that anyone could make themselves smarter (not smart, but smarter). All you needed were books to educate you and a dictionary to understand those books. And I had both.
Suddenly I remembered the one place I hadn’t searched, the most obvious place ironically… my office. I moved like a woman who just realized she left her child in the other room with a burning candle lit nearby. My eyes couldn’t move fast enough over the shelf and then I saw it, the torn, cracked red cover with the white writing on the side: Dictionary. I lunged for it and ran my hand over the long-ago written bubble letters spelling my last name over the pages, and I flipped it open to see the dots and dashes marking the last twenty-something years of my life.
If you’re with me… if you look up words for fun, if you make yourself stop and learn a definition so that you can understand the sentence better, if you love your dictionary (or dictionary app) as much as your Instagram – this is for you…
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