RECENTLY, I rediscovered reading in bed.
I read in bed as a child. Growing up, we had an old black-and-white television in the living room. Until my father replaced it with a secondhand color set, this temperamental box required tedious tinkering with its antenna or wires to project a picture that had a mist of snowfall overlying the scenes, even those set in sweltering jungles.
Coupled with my father’s implacable rules—no TV on weekdays; the last full show on Fridays and Saturdays aired at 7 p.m.—it was no contest between a book and that artifact.
Even during the interminable summer, when a book was never not beside me during the day, I still read in the evenings until sleep crept up and stilled the turning of the page. For the young, sleep is a waste of time.
When I heard my father’s snores, I read by the glare of the family flashlight whose batteries were regularly replenished, my father decreed, for “emergencies”. Sudden brownouts then made reading challenging but not impossible.
Bedtime reading was a juggling act. I could not be caught reading by flashlight because my father worried about the abuse of my eyes. I made the batteries reasonably last because I could not imagine explaining to my frugal parent that the absolute need to discover what lay beyond a chapter’s cliffhanger fell under the category of an emergency.
In summer, when no novels could be borrowed from the school library, the book at hand had to last until the next batch of borrowed paperbacks.
Ah, but how else should youth be lived except on the edge? In spite of astigmatism (my father’s fear realized), reading in bed became a habit, a tic, a reflex, along with reading while waiting, reading in the toilet, reading during breaks, reading in the car, reading despite next day’s exam, etc.
Marriage and children paused the nighttime binges. I couldn’t withdraw into other worlds while starting a family.
Then graduate school and its regimen of reading made this trickle of fear: what if I forgot how to read? What was reading but retreating into other worlds?
Reading again fiction at midnight or dawn, I note these changes: I time these binges no longer under the cover of my father’s snores but only when I sleep alone and no one gets jolted by a book, instead of a pillow, or the beam of my smart phone, instead of the family flashlight.
But these nocturnal readings—of the fantastic or the mythic, read in silence or reenacted on bedroom walls as shadows eloping with the storytelling or segueing into other excursions—I would still very much consider as a personal emergency: tell me, how does the tale end?
*First published in SunStar Cebu’s January 20, 2019 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”