One of the first things I do when I travel to any new town, is go to the library.
I love libraries, I always have. When I was eight or so, I obtained my first library card, holding it between my hands as if I were Charlie holding the golden ticket. Which I kind of was. My library card opened doors to the creepy world of R.L. Stine, twisted the handle on the wardrobe to Narnia, and placed me on a broomstick to Hogwarts. The maximum amount I was allowed to check out was twelve, TWELVE books! I couldn’t believe my luck.
My mom would drive me to the library, helping me carry in the tottering stack of books to be returned, then wait patiently as I chose twelve new stories, twelve new worlds, twelve new escapes. The librarian would chuckle as I proudly handed her my library card like a millionaire would his platinum card, the kind with no limit. I balanced the stack on my arms, my hands sometimes at my waist, the top book touching the bottom of my chin. On the way home, I’d break one open, smelling that rich scent of a library book, and the world around me would cease to exist.
As I grew up, this passion turned to trouble for me because I couldn’t stand to be interrupted. How would I discover the secret behind an Animorphs’ transition if my teachers kept demanding my attention? The Rats of NIMH had no time for homework, why should I? I would find enjoyment in the rare social interactions I engaged in but if given the choice to go to a friends house or continue the book I was reading, my book was given top priority.
I continued to grow, slowly breaking out of my introverted shell, the process taking only sixteen years. The credit being due to my first job waiting tables. I was forced to talk to people, make eye contact, and charm them into giving me their money. I realized if I tried, I was pretty good at it. I began to read less and less, working after school instead and became what some would describe as outgoing.
Then came junior year of high school; a position had opened up in the schools library. It was considered an elective and looked great on college applications supposedly. I signed up immediately and from my early years of avoiding the crippling anxiety of lunch time and choosing the library instead, the librarian recognized my name.
Thus began my favorite job I have ever had regardless of the fact it didn’t pay anything. That year, honestly, I read a book a day. I fulfilled my duties of re-shelving books, organizing new arrival displays, and checking out books for students all at a record pace in order to return to reading. My thoughts were not that of a typical sixteen year old and could only be traced back to the pages of the book I held in my hand at the time.
Senior year rolled around and majority of my friends had graduated, the only remaining one took classes at another school half the day. I was chosen again for the honorable title of Library Assistant, accepting it graciously with great relief I wouldn’t be subjected to Home Ec or the still stressful task of choosing a table to sit at during lunch. The year went on much like the previous year with college still at the back burner of my mind, focusing on more mature novels, the rereading of Tolkien, and a whirlwind of eye opening non-fiction.
Upon graduation, I received a $200 check for reading the most books in the school, the total amounting to 484. I had read others but those were the ones I took the obligatory Accelerated Reading tests on (eye roll.) My reaction when the librarian presented it to me on stage consisted of a deep blush starting at my collarbone working its way up until I resembled an attractive shade of maroon. I quietly accepted it, internally chastising myself for not having read 16 more to come to an even 500.
For a long time I considered becoming a librarian or at least working in a bookstore. I pictured sweeping my hands dramatically, my wrist gently clattering with the sound of a dozen bangles, to a section of the store when a customer needed direction. Despite the fact I have never worn or owned bangles, I like to imagine Bookseller Reese does, in fact, wear and own them. When I read books in school, I chose ones I didn’t have any particular interest in, solely for the purpose of recommending books to anyone who walked through the doors of my favorite place.
It was part of my secret plan at one point to seduce the quarterback of our football team during all two of his trips he made to the library. He came in whenever the deadline arose to take an AR test and he was forced to do so. I may have been well read in books but when it came to my taste in boys, I was hopeless. He would seek out the thinnest book that still met the requirements for our grade, check to see if it involved sports, and come to the desk where I would quickly look away, pretending I hadn’t watched the entire process.
Admittedly, I read a lot of books on athletes written in large font in the hopes of one day upon handing it to him, our hands would touch. I’d say something like, “That sports game the other day was a real nail biter.” And he would have no choice but to look up for the first time and take notice of the face behind the wide frames belonging to a girl. The time I spent when not reading involved a lot of imaginary scenarios such as this.
I still see libraries as a wondrous building full of opportunities just as eight year old me did, flashing my card with an authority that said, “Put it on the card please, I’m very busy. I’ve got Tallahassee Higgins at 6 and do you think A Wrinkle In Time can wait? I don’t think so.”
My most recent experience in a library was right here, discovering the new land of Oregon. I felt the same excitement as I do anytime I go to a library, the familiar smell hitting me as I open the doors. In the nomadic lifestyle I live now, I appreciate them even more. There is running water, free wifi, books, and my absolute favorite- comfy chairs. Sometimes I feel as if my life is spent transitioning from one comfortable seat to another, always in pursuit of a broken in armchair.
I spotted a corner filled with the kind of chairs you’re sinking into before you’ve even sat down. I didn’t think much of the arch I walked through with the painted words Teen Corner and I sunk into an armchair with ease. I had already unpacked my belongings and began writing when I heard the clearing of a throat. I looked up into the face of a middle aged woman who I imagined had always possessed the appearance of a librarian. I saw her as a six year old with the ability to look down her nose at you while pursing her lips, a chain connected to the glasses delicately balanced on the bridge of her nose.
She asked, in a voice suggesting her grandchildren were only allowed one cookie and only after asking permission,
“Excuse me, do you consider yourself a teen?”
Heat rose to my cheeks and under her scrutiny, I felt like a teen again. A teen with enough indignation to ignore the sign clearly marked Teens Only but filled with enough inner angst, this undesired attention from an adult made me shrink into my seat. She stood above me as I anxiously considered her question.
Well, I technically still don’t know what credit is…
But I did just get my first gray hair the other day…(I quickly silenced this thought, afraid she would hear it.)
My face breaks out like a teen despite all assurances I would grow out of it after high school…
I am a homeowner but my home is a van parked outside…
I didn’t vocalize any of this internal back and forth dialogue instead answering, “Um, no. I’m sorry.” I asked if there were other sitting areas like this and her eyebrows raised as if I was asking if she knew where I could get books from. She pointed to the many stiff, wooden tables paired with equally stiff, wooden chairs with straight backs. I ducked my head as I carried my things over to one of the “grown up” sections of the library.
I placed my things down and took a seat thinking, if this is what it felt like to be an adult, I didn’t want to be one. Is this why adults are constantly complaining of how much their body hurts? Because they are cast out to the uncomfortable but more mature seating options? Is this how hemorrhoids develop? I pondered this as I switched back and forth, cheek to cheek, trying to find a semblance of comfort on the unforgiving seat.
I eventually gave up, moving my things back out to my van and re-parking it to still be within range of the WiFi signal. It hit me then I had subconsciously converted my van into a library throughout the build out process. Every van conversion article I had read had firmly suggested the purchase and benefits of a Kindle but I could never bring myself to abstain from the physical pleasure of flipping the pages of a book.
My bed is a bench seat with a comfortable mattress and backing when it isn’t pulled out. When it is pulled out, it stretches almost the extent of my van and faces two cabinets overflowing with books. Sometimes I roll over in bed and land on a book with pages of writing stuffed in between the chapters. I find myself minimizing more and more, trying to create space but my fingers never touch the spine of Jack London’s short stories or the cover of Pablo Neruda’s poetry.
I think back to young Reese holding her stack of books seeking solace in each story and to teenage Reese feeling helplessly awkward anywhere outside of the pages of a novel. I still feel a lot of those same feelings and I find myself lost trying to find my place in an uncomfortable, “adult” world. I reassure myself with the thought of current Reese who despite those feelings can retreat back to a small home that fits like a favorite sweater. Greeted by the familiar voices of Neil Gaiman and Ken Ilgunas, for a second at least, I feel like I found my place in the world and it’s no surprise really, that it resembles a library.