Based on a true story.

Out of the blue, I got a message from an old friend. “Hey!” Eddie’s grinning icon appeared on my laptop’s screen. “I bought a book at the Bookery last week with your name on the inside cover. Guess what it was!”

I had no idea. I took a wild stab and guessed it was my Norton Shakespeare anthology, since Eddie and I have a shared love of theater.

“No, it’s your copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone!”

My heart skipped. My hands hovered over the keyboard as I sat stunned. How could I respond?

Of their own volition, my fingers typed out, “Awesome!”

Good. A safe response. One that wouldn’t tell him what the book’s discovery meant.

I vaguely knew Eddie from high school. I got to work with him a few years later when I played Jo March to his Laurie in Little Women the Musical. It was wonderful to portray a character whose passions so closely mirrored my own.

One night after rehearsal, I sat on the edge of the stage next to our director, Arthur.

He stared out at the creaky seats in the dim house and said, “You’re so good as Jo, Meg.”

“Thanks,” I smiled.

Art adjusted his thick glasses and leaned back on his elbows. “She just seems to bubble up out of you naturally.”

I laughed.

“What?” he asked.

I explained, “Jo and I have a lot in common. I always thought I had the wrong namesake in the books. I might be ‘Meg,’ but I’ve always been a ‘Jo.'”

Art nodded. I slouched over, settling my elbows on my knees, and thought out loud.

“Jo loves drama. Clearly, I love drama.” I said with a smile. “Jo has a sister she cares for more than anything in the world, and so do I. Well, except that mine’s a brother. But still.” My hand waved away the discrepancy. “Jo’s a writer, and I’ve been writing as long as I can remember.”

Art looked at me, surprise crossing his face. “I didn’t know you write,” he said.

“Oh. For forever. I used to tell stories to my friends on the bus home from grade school. I’d give them adventures in episodes.” I sighed a little. “It was great.”

“Just like this show is going to be,” Art smiled, looking back to the empty seats.

That role was the highlight of my brief theatrical career.

I quit performing when I was 22 years old, mostly because of the man I was dating.

Jordan was an abusive alcoholic, and he loathed my love of the stage.

Whenever I was offered a part, he would rail against it for one reason or another. We would clash every time theater was brought up. Each argument boiled down to “It’s the show, or me. Give up one or the other.”

My resolve would collapse. I would call the directors and tell them I could not accept the part, always trying to keep my voice steady, trying to keep it from giving my tears away.

The subject became so explosive that just talking about auditions would spark a fight. Eventually, I stopped bringing it up altogether.

Leaving my theater career behind was like cutting out a piece of my soul.

I would go see shows with my brother, and I would cry. Not because of the stories. Not because of the music. But because I missed the stage so much.

Things got bad with Jordan. And they got worse.

Three years into the relationship, we were incredibly poor. Jordan had lost his job (again), and we were barely eking out our meager existence on my paycheck. That’s when Jordan started selling things.

First, he kept to his own stuff. His excess sound gear—mixers, speakers, amps, compressors. Then, more personal things. His guitar. His only good suit. All but one pair of shoes.

He said he was doing this to “help” with rent, utilities and other debts that we’d accrued. What he really did was spend the money on addiction fuel—vodka, rum, or the cheapest beer a fistful of change could buy.

Once he’d sold most of his valuable possessions, he started rifling through mine. Jewelry went missing. My collection of vintage clothes. Some hand-sewn costume pieces.

And then, my books.

When I was in sixth grade, my Grandpa John mailed me a copy of a book I’d never heard of. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. He’d seen it reviewed in the newspaper and bought it right away.

“It’s really popular in England,” my mom explained to me, handing over the colorful Scholastic hardcover. “Grandpa thinks you will like it.”

I started in on Harry early that afternoon. I didn’t even realize that time was passing until the book was suddenly done. Some ridiculous hour of the night glowed on my digital alarm clock when I finally came up for air.

I hadn’t meant to devour the book like that. I immediately started the book again after an hour or two of sleep. I gave it a second read, a little slower this time. Then a third. Fourth. More.

A friend at school had a copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, but she hadn’t read the first volume yet. We swapped books. Before handing mine over, I turned to the front page and wrote my name on it in my best sixth-grade scrawl.

It was the beginning of a love affair with the series. Every book was pre-ordered and scarfed down as soon as it arrived on my doorstep.

When I was older, I moved around a lot. School and my terrible relationship with Jordan took me all over Sacramento. I packed up my books into a sturdy banker’s box and carried them with me. Most of the time, they stayed in a corner of my closet.

The entire Harry Potter series. My grandmother’s 1969 Lord of the Rings paperbacks with the crazy covers. The old copy of The Little Prince that had been a gift to my brother that I appropriated at some point. A few others.

While I was dating Jordan, I didn’t read them, but I took comfort in the fact that they were near.

By keeping them cloistered, I was protecting myself, just a little bit. So many of the things I shared with Jordan were spoiled along the way. My theater. My singing. My music. My writing. I didn’t share my long-loved books. I think they were too precious to me.

Then, one day I came home from work to find that my carefully packed box of books was gone. Just gone.

My entire library had vanished, and my boyfriend was passed out on the living room floor, a handful of empty forties scattered around him.

I eventually left. I packed my bags and got out. Not soon enough, but I got there.

I have always lamented the things that I lost during that time. The costumes, the vintage clothes, the jewelry. The books.

I try not to think of the things that are gone. My heart still aches over anything associated with that relationship, even years after its end. When I do think of those things, though, I hope that someone is enjoying them.

Maybe someone was gifted a piece of my jewelry.

Maybe one of my costumes was a perfect fit.

Perhaps a reader fell in love with The Little Prince. Perhaps someone was able to immerse themselves in my annotated copy of Little Women.

I think of both Jordan and my missing things more often than I would like to admit. Almost every day.

I miss these things. I wish they were still mine. But since I’ll never find them again, I hope that someone out there is enjoying them.

“So,” Eddie messaged me about a month after purchasing my copy of Harry Potter, “I found another copy of HP 1 today if you’d like yours back. Kind of cool that it would make a full circle.”

I almost burst into tears.

When Eddie told me he had my book, I was so glad that it had found its way to a loving home. That someone I could trust was giving one of my well-loved volumes a safe place to be. A place it would be appreciated.

I would never have told him what happened with Jordan and my vanishing library. I wouldn’t let him know how much it meant to hear that he had my precious book.

A book that I had loved. A book that had kept me company through some of the best and some of the worst parts of my life.

And now. Now, he offered it back to me.

The mailman knocks on the front door and I rush from my desk to answer. Pleasantries are exchanged as I sign for the package, then I hurry back to my room.

The handwriting looks very precise, and I wonder if it’s Eddie’s or his wife’s. It’s addressed to a “Meg ‘Jo’ Masterson.” I smile.

I unwrap the package. The paper crinkles as I pull it away. A somewhat battered cover greets me like an old friend. The familiar gilt letters on the cover gleam in the afternoon sun, and I carefully turn to the first page.

“Meg Masterson” it says in my proud sixth-grade scrawl.

I close the cover, hold the book to my chest, and cry.


One thought on “Provenance

  1. Oh Meg. This is so powerful. I had no idea. I am so sorry you went through this, but so proud of the woman you’ve become. I am honored to know you. And I’m so glad one of your books found it’s way home to you!


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