July 21, 2015
The brick-faced library of my childhood takes up a lot of room in my memory.
It’s mostly because of the books, but it isn’t only because of the books. As a girl, I was always on the lookout for the solace of hiding places and found it nestled among the titles on the library shelves. More than once, the library saved me from sinking into self-pity, the enormous blue globe in its lobby spinning with the possibility of better things to come.
Though I went on to log untold hours in the libraries at university and graduate school, I never took comfort in them the way I did in the library growing up. And it was with guilt, as if I were betraying a lover, that I left the library behind as an adult, becoming a serial buyer of books instead.
I did make a brief return to library life when my sons were little. We would sit together cross-legged on the children’s room floor, reading until our toes tingled and it was time for dinner. Yet, as soon as they aged out of story hour, our visits turned into hasty pop-ins in search of a title they required for school and nothing more.
Once, I considered showing the boys the library I remembered, but courage failed me in the end. I feared the view through my adult eyes would tarnish the nostalgic vision of my youth. I worried, too, that my sons would shrug, unimpressed, and mumble, “It’s just a library,” wounding me in a way they would not understand.
This summer, we hardly speak the same language. My eldest is preparing to leave the nest, my middle is asserting his adolescence, and my youngest is regrouping after a rough year of school by building electronic devices I can’t pronounce. The emotional charge of this trifecta has drained me spiritually and physically, choking my ability to get much of anything done. I meet deadlines by keeping bat hours, writing late into the night. My days, however, are spent adrift in thought, with little to show for my exhaustion.
At first, I cleaned my way through the house as a distraction. I decluttered closets in an attempt to clear my mind. For a brief spell, I even kept ahead of the laundry curve.
But as a person who measures her value by how much she produces in a given day, I was at a loss. Housekeeping did not fill the void. No matter how hard I tried to adjust, to love what is, I fell into a funk. When my husband, not unkindly, told me to get over it, it dawned on me that the library might once again offer salvation.
I began visiting several mornings a week, planting myself at a table with a pile of books, and returning in the evenings with my laptop to write. These visits carved out purposeful islands of time, and I knew they were working their magic because the laundry was piling up and I didn’t care. I crocheted something for the first time all summer, wrote a bit, weeded the backyard garden, and to my husband’s delight, smiled.
Our library isn’t the library of my memory, and I’m no longer looking for a place to hide. Like I did when I was young, though, I keep coming back for the books. But not only for the books, because on the shelves, among the graphic novels and the trade fiction, I have tracked down a part of myself that had been missing for a while.
Turns out you can go home again. The library will be waiting.