Dear J.K Rowling,
I’ve thought about writing this letter for a long, long time. I’ve dreaded it. I knew in October when we lost Grams I was going to have write this sooner than I wanted or hoped. I knew this letter was coming since March 2nd, 2015. On March 2nd, 2015 my life changed. My Papa J had a stroke. The first of a couple of strokes actually. Strokes that would eventually leave my tall, handsome, grandpa a shell of his former, stubborn self. You see, my Papa J was the strongest man I knew. Very active around his home, a natural builder, and one hell fencer in his prime. I mean fencer as in a person who fights with swords. He was in the Navy and got in trouble once for doing something wrong on the ship. He LOVED tabasco sauce, which I still hate to this day, but I followed suit and hung on to his salt obsession. To this day I salt everything. Even watermelon. My Papa was larger than life. He was pretty tall too. Like damn near 6’4″, but I could have swore he was at least 8 feet tall when I was a little kid.
Papa J was a teacher with a Masters in Chinese history. Which I find hilarious because I was the one who went and lived in China for a year. He was a builder and a tinkerer and he loved to drink diet Pepsi from a giant 7up mug that was always on the right side of the “ice box” door. I only know this because I would sneak sips throughout the day. I peed on his shoulders once when I was a child on halloween. Whenever I called the house to talk to my Grandma, who had dementia, he would always pick up the phone with the same booming, “WELL HELLO JESSIE!”. My Papa J was a special man. He was kind. He lived the definition of tough love and he raised a cadre of strong women between two daughters, three granddaughters, and one great granddaughter.
You’re probably sitting there, reading this, wondering why I am writing this letter to you and not him. But you, J.K., are an integral part of this story because it has been your story, well Harry’s actually, that has been my light in the darkest of times.
I was 10. And I only remember that because I was devastated on my 11th birthday when my owl to Hogwarts neglected to arrive in the morning. I know my letter was destroyed with the rest of the Muggleborns born from 1985-1998. I get it. It’s ok. I’m not bitter anymore. (this is a lie).
My grandparent’s had a gold Buick at the time and my Papa J handed me a book to read on the drive from my home to my Grandparent’s house. A book that, over the years, would become family to me. My Papa, on that sunny Oregon day, handed me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I opened the first page of Harry’s story in the back seat of that gold Buick and haven’t closed it since thank you very much.
From that day, I grew up with Harry. I devoured the first four books within weeks. Never had a book consumed me quite like Harry Potter. The Half-Blood Prince came out on my golden birthday, July 16, 2005. My parents had secretly set me up and told me I had a family event that day so I couldn’t wait in line to get my book at midnight. I had to go out to my cousin’s house in the country the night before. My dad waited in line instead and I woke up on the morning of my 16th birthday with the book waiting for me on the bedside table.
I vividly remember my two best friends and I waiting for the release of The Deathly Hallows at the only bookstore in our tiny hometown. My friend and I cried and read the first page of Hallows together, in my car, wiping tears out of our eyes at 1 in the morning. We knew that moment was the last time we’d open a brand new story about three best friends (or so we thought).
I left Disneyland early (unheard of in my family) on my honeymoon to stand in line for the midnight premiere of the second half of the 7th movie at a random theatre in Anaheim. We called and reserved tickets from Oregon (where I am from) at least a month before to make sure we could see the midnight premiere. My husband even surprised me with tickets he’d waited in virtual line for to see The Cursed Child in October 2015. I cried in a Starbucks parking lot for nearly 30 minutes before I had to go to work.
I did all those things (and so, so many more) because of a story I love, given to me by one of the most incredible people I knew.
That Sorcerer’s Stone book Papa gave me? I still have her, but she’s in pieces. I spent so much time reading and re-reading about my second home…. I read so often about Voldemort and Harry and Hogwarts that I completely demolished my first copy.
Some people would say my obsession with Harry Potter is a little overboard. I wholeheartedly disagree and I am actually quite fond of my Deathly Hallows tattoo and Harry Potter themed decor in my grown-up 28 year old bedroom. I still mentally sort people when we meet. In fact, just a few days ago I saw a girl with a Hallows tattoo on a train. I guessed her house within 30 seconds of talking.
I am a die-hard Slytherin and I am nearly positive my Papa was too (my Grams, his wife, was the most Huffly of Hufflepuffs). He never took a sorting quiz, but I know a fellow Slytherin when I see one. What I don’t think many people realize is that my obsession with Harry stems directly from the deep love of my family, particularly my Papa, because he invited me into Harry’s world. A world that captured my heart for almost 2/3’s of my life. Harry has become a part of my family. Even when I lost Papa a couple weeks ago, I knew that Harry would be there to remind me to just turn. on. the. light.
So this is why I addressed this letter to you, J.K., to tell you thank you. Thank you for creating a world that I can call home. A place where I can still find my Papa and his stubborn larger-than-life self. Thank you for creating something so special and unique that my Papa would want to share it with me. There are so many things I wish I could tell you, but for now, thank you.
Harry has helped me deal with two huge losses in a way I didn’t know a book could. I know my Papa may no longer physically be with me, and that is okay, because death is the next great adventure. Dumbledore taught me that. You taught me that.
Your story has made my life, and I am sure many others, much better. Your words are a great comfort to me in this time of pain. Harry is important to me because Harry is so ingrained in the memories of my Papa now. He’s a huge part of my Papa’s memory. He’s a world I can escape to when I need and Pop’s is there.
I don’t know if you realize how much of an impact you’ve made on my life, but I just want you to know that I have found so much comfort in knowing that Hogwarts is truly home and I always have an invitation back.
Jessica C. Laurence
“But know this; the ones that love us never really leave us.”
-Siruis Black. Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azakaban