How Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Saved My Life (For Real)
I must have been eleven or twelve. I had the kind of “childhood” one doesn’t discuss out of courtesy for the feelings of others. I was abused every day for years. I still have physical problems as a result, over twenty years later. Eventually here was a big trial, and I was small, and had to testify with the guilty party a few feet away. Before that, a year of hospitals, physical and mental. And after it. Then at fifteen, kicked out for being gay, homeless, on my own ever since.
What I had instead of parents were books. So many I slept on the edge of my bed, books piled up on the other half. I’d be feral, or worse, if I hadn’t loved to read. Everything I know about being a human that is any good at all, I learned from books.
I must have been eleven. I can’t remember the first Holmes story I read, because so quickly I read them all. Over and over. You see, this was a world that made sense. Where even the most dastardly, terrible crimes had solutions, and could become puzzles to study instead of nightmares to live. The Victorians enchanted me, this time and place I could slip towards and into at will, where I could follow Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson through London and into the countrysides, intrepidly at their heels, just a ragged Baker Street Irregular nobody saw or knew or minded.
My first copies fell to pieces quickly. One day I found a strange edition, and realized it was a rare printing, an early second edition of Adventures. Soon I was tracking down all the rare copies I could, trading two lessers for one better, doing odd jobs and spending every penny on Holmes. I discovered the Great Game, and William S. Baring-Gould’s first biography of the Consulting Detective, and his Annotated Holmes. Everywhere I went, Holmes and Watson came along. Whenever I had to escape, which was always, in my mind I began at 221B Baker Street.
Someone even gave me a deerstalker cap. Yes, I wore it, and I didn’t care, because I was already a freak, hated, bullied, so why not? Everyone knew about my past, and everyone could tell I was some kind of queer, which to me is still a slur, though I’m getting used to its reclamation. But at Baker Street, “queer” just meant “eccentric, perhaps slightly dangerous, but unusual, odd, yet with a place in the world. Holmes was *weird*. He was strange and difficult and yet Watson, who was not, who fit in his own world just fine, preferred his strangeness. And Watson was tough and loyal and brave, Holmes was fiercely all himself all the time. He could box AND play violin. He could be a man and yet adore the delicate and the arcane. He could be smart enough to scare people, but not scare them away.
He could catch the bad guys, and stop the crimes, and make justice work.
And because of what he could do, could prove, because he had worth, it was everyone else who had to adjust to Holmes, not he to them. And they made shows about him! Movies! They didn’t hate him, not even now. They didn’t understand him, but they loved him even more for that. Nobody ever took his books away and hit him for being a stuck-up know-it-all. Nobody put him in a basement for being bad. Nobody said the world would be better off if he were dead and lost and gone forever.
Yet he had suffered, too. He wasn’t a lie about the world. He wasn’t a cartoon where magic is possible and everyone is happy. He suffered, and still his Watson adored him, and tended to him, because he wasn’t unworthy of being loved even though he was a freak to most of the world.
So the first time I decided to die, when I was thirteen, I stopped before it was too late, and they found me and took me to the hospital again. I stopped because I was thinking about the Great Game. There’s so much left to work out, I thought. So many people, brilliant humans, writers and artists and bricklayers, all working together across time and space, believing in these men who were so much larger than life they truly came alive. I hadn’t met them yet, only read their studies, learned their names. But maybe I had a place there, after all.
Maybe I could matter there, I thought. I imagined my body in a room, my death as a puzzle to be solved. I didn’t want to be a body in a room. I wanted to be a detective, too. I decided not to die. I would wait, I thought, until I could somehow escape to Baker Street, where the world made sense yet was as wonderful and strange as it should be, too.
I brought the books to the hospital and read them yet again, and again. If I died, I couldn’t read them anymore. I couldn’t go there anymore. So I decided I’d stick around if only for that–not just what had been done, but what was still being done. I will grow up, I will move to the city, I will write about the Game and maybe one day do something in it that people would remember, just some small discovery, some connection, some tiny clue.
For the first time in my life I saw a path into the future that is now. And when I closed my eyes and let them whisper “I love you” to each other, it wasn’t bad or wrong. It was just right. I wasn’t bad or wrong. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And I couldn’t really go there, so I’d just have to find the right here and now.
Thank you, Mark Gatiss. For the boy or girl or other who finds Baker Street again because of you. For all the queer ones, not just the gay ones, but every odd duck, every tired old tiger in a rusty cage, everyone with the heart of a boxer, the soul of a poet, the mind of a human who sees and understands other humans but has to live behind a kind of glass wall, alone–until he meets his Watson, and decides even death is insufficient to keep him from being a part of the world.
Don’t talk to me about “queerbaiting”. Just don’t, okay? Don’t tell us we are too weird, too foolish, too human to believe our own brilliant minds. Don’t mess with those of us in this Game, keeping it alive for the future, and making it even more real for kids like I was to discover a place they belong. Don’t hate joy. Joy saves lives. Wherever it is found.
This is not finished yet, I still need a comfy reading chair and some more shelves as there is a whole pile of cook books hanging out in the corner unloved. And of course I can’t control book buying so I will need more shelves as my collection grows. I have also set up a table and chairs in there so it’s also a Tea Parlour so when I have guests over we have a nice place to sit and have a cup of tea out of the main living area.
Hey, look! Book 4s! The first two tall rows nearest us are Book 3s, and the mostly-obscured much shorter piles are Book 2s with 1s around the corner. It looks like I have way more Book 3s than Book 2s, but they’re stacked wider than Book 3s. I had to make that room over in the corner for Book 4s last night by stacking 3s higher in the middle.
oh and what’s on the other side, oh, just neverending stacks of shortpacked!s and roomies!es that never diminish
i might just start throwing them away, don’t tell my wife OH HI WIFE sssshhh i didn’t mean it
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