What If

12 December 2018

Once I told my mother, “I don’t want to be here.”

“Where do you want to be?” she asked me, frowning in concern as she scrubbed a plate at the sink.

“Inside my books,” I told her, my eyes falling on my tattered paperback on the counter.

When I was a kid, I found solace in books that I never found in people. I could jabber for hours about my newest read to my half-listening parents, and I could get lost inside a book’s pages for days. I preferred the deafening silence of a library and the scent of an old book to the chaos of Chuck E Cheese and the whirlwind of a playground. While the neighborhood kids rode bikes and played in the street, I read books, tumbling into worlds that existed only for me.

When I was seven, my parents hauled my sisters and me to California. My backpack brimming with books, I followed my parents through the airport. We stopped at a newsstand. Naturally, my older sister gravitated to the colorful, glossy magazines in the one corner, while I meandered over towards the books. I had already read all of their children’s books, and felt a little crestfallen. Then, I saw another section: the journals. There were only a few, but they were beautiful.

I dragged my mom over.

“Look!” I cried.

“What?” she asked tiredly.

“Aren’t they beautiful?” I demanded, wanting to share my awe with someone.

“They’re very nice,” agreed my mother noncommittally. “Would you like one?”

I grinned. “Can I have all of them?”

As we waited to board the plane, my sister flipped through her new magazine and my mother chatted on the phone. I paged through my journal. Looking back, it wasn’t a nice journal by any means. It was plastic, striped with obnoxious shades of orange and hot pink. To my seven year-old eyes, though, it wasn’t any of that; it was something magical and grown-up. I didn’t know what I planned to write in my journal; I just liked it.

In that moment, something occurred to me. Looking back, it was a momentous occasion. I turned to my dad, who was perusing the business section of the newspaper.

“Daddy,” I said. “What if it’s a magical journal?”

He said gently, “It’s not, honey.”

“What if,” I lowered my voice for suspense, “a magical fairy lives inside this journal, and when I touch it, I’ll be sucked through a rainbow tunnel into a magical universe?” I beamed proudly despite my father’s lack of reaction. Little did I know, something magical had happened: my very first idea was born.

I asked my mother if there was a book about that, because I wanted to read it. She said she didn’t know, but probably not.
“Why don’t you write it?” she suggested half-seriously.

“Write a book?” I echoed.

“Sure. You love them, don’t you?”

I nodded solemnly and set about writing my book. Of course, I fully intended to publish it and star in the movie when it came out.
Something special happened in that moment: I had found a piece of myself. I realized then that I loved writing books almost as much as I loved reading them. Many ideas followed that first one. Most of them, at least the ones in the beginning, were just as childishly ridiculous. It didn’t matter—they all made it on to paper somehow.

Writing books became my life, utterly and completely. It took me some time to realize that my friends did not randomly get ideas or have words buzz around their brains and tingle at their fingertips—I was different.

To this day, an idea can come from anywhere, can strike me at the most random moments, but they always begin the same way. Sure, it’s ten years later, but it all begins with two words: What if.

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