My Library

Map of Hunterdon County and new cement sidewalk
Hunterdon County Library, complete with map and new cement sidewalk.

Everyone has a favorite place, a spot they go when they need to remember how to breathe. Mine was two miles away. It smelled like dust and paper. The silence inside echoed with the occasional interruptions of crinkled pages or fingers tapping on a keyboard. It was my library.

But it’s not mine anymore.

My husband lost his job. He was a music teacher and the only one in his department not tenured, so when cutbacks came, it had to be him. In the surreal fallout of the crashing words, “I don’t have a job next year,” God took hold. The dust is settling now, and the change I’d craved has found my husband in seminary and us moved in with my in-laws.

I was surprised at first how little I cared about it all. I’d been aching and struggling for months leading up to this and the whole event released a lot of pent up anxiety about life. We majorly downsized, getting rid of excess clothing, furniture, and possessions. Even books! Can you believe that? We unloaded nearly 150 books to the free shelf at the library. I kept wondering if the librarians would say something to me. I went in once a week with a bag full of books and loaded up their shelves. It may have been my overly self conscious nature, but I swear they were eyeing me maliciously after the first four bag loads.

I brought good stuff though, not your typical 50 cent paperback romances. I brought Shakespeare and Dickens and poetry anthologies. The kind of stuff that I used to greedily snatch up and drool/gloat over on social media. Some of my favorite finds were “Stardust” by Neil Gaiman, “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau, and “Joyland” by Stephen King. I always stifled a joyous squeal when there were classics and, more often then not, they landed cosily into my bag.

My new library doesn’t have a paperback exchange. It doesn’t have a lot of things.

It doesn’t have the same librarians. The faces that I recognize, that recognize me and call me by my first name. I used to work with some of them. I used to shelve books there (600s, 800s, biographies, and occasionally fiction) which, let me tell you, is a book lovers dream job. The bottom shelf of my cart began empty, and by the time I left work would contain a hefty stack of books for me to check out and take home. They know me. They know what I read. They watched me take out all those wedding books and congratulated me when I came in and changed my last name in the system. I know them. I can tell when they’re having an off day, or tired, or sick. I know when they move the furniture from one day to the next.

I took my last trip there about a week ago. My last trip with my last bag full of books for the free shelf. They got a new lady about a month ago and she was the only one at the counter. She doesn’t know me, if she had, I would have said goodbye.

I had no more books to return, I could not justify taking anything out, so I just left. I walked out of the atrium, making sure to hold the door for strangers walking in, a habit I’d taken to over years of patronage. It always gives me a satisfying split second of interaction with other locals who I felt a natural kinship for because we were there for the same purpose.

My feet hit the new cement sidewalk. They just fixed it. The brick walkway they put in when they remodeled shimmied and settled into a barely navigable minefield, dangerous to both the handicapped and clumsy. I looked over at the outside seating area with its four backless benches. I could close my eyes and see it, just a few months ago, when I sat there with a child’s picture book. Spring had just blossomed and flower petals dripped over the pages while the tree above me read over my shoulder. I blew them off before I turned the page. The pink raindrops fluttered to the ground into the sea of their fallen brethren, covering the sidewalk until it was invisible.

I’m a sickeningly sentimental person, but honestly, it’s a short list of things I’ll miss about where I used to live. Perhaps the list is so short because this place looms so large on my heart. It has been my haven for over 20 years. Those were my books, my librarians, my children’s room, my corner desk beside the floor to ceiling windows, where I would sit and write for hours. My scents. My sounds. My memories.

As I pulled out, I took one last look back at the stone edifice, at the metal outline of Hunterdon County screwed into the side, at the trees, sidewalk, and parking lot. And, just between you and me, I cried.

View from my cubby
View from my cubby
Outside seating area
Outside seating area
Their garden
Their garden

© Rachel Svendsen 2015

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20 thoughts on “My Library”

  1. Rachel, I just wanted to comment on how beautifully this is written. I was compelled to read from your opening line on. Your use of description perfectly balances out the conveyance of information making this a very poetic piece of writing.
    I have no doubt that you will adjust to the changes – at 57 I have come to accept that change is usually good even though we can never see the whys or hows at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I mourn for the things that you have to leave behind and sympathize with you. I rejoice in your new beginnings and serving God and his people. May God make his face to always shine upon you both.

    Much Love Tom

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When I first came to San Angelo I entered a library much smaller than I used to, decorated in glaring shades of orange and turquoise. When my daughter came visit we ducked into the library to get out of the heat while shopping downtown. I found it strangely comfortable, the two of us adults perched on children’s chairs, talking about books we had read. Libraries have always been a refuge of sorts for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh Rachel. I knew something was up and down. I didn’t want to pry, and now, I have added to those tears of yours, reading this post. My heart goes out to you and your hubby. But loving books as you do, I could empathise somewhat, as once I had to move from a medium sized place, to something much, much smaller, there was no choice involved, and I too gave away a huge amount of items, (which ended up being quite freeing), but the books were indeed the hardest part. Time passes, and now I can have a large library again. Every step, no matter how hard, leads to a better place eventually. It was the loss of your ‘place’ that tipped me over the brink. There’s another one waiting for you out there.

    This was so well written, I was there with you. Keep a smile in your pocket and take it out as often as you can. ❤ X

    – sonmi upon the Cloud

    Liked by 1 person

  5. There is nothing sickening about being sentimental, but that is always the modifier we sentimental people use, isn’t it? I’m glad your husband found work that meets his passion, but I agree with Marissa that music teachers are essential.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All the arts are so essential! It’s very sad when the schools cut back on them. It doesn’t matter how many times they do a study that shows it helps keep kids engaged in school and keep their grades up, or how all these school boards and superintendents go home to their painting filled houses to listen to music or spend the evening out at the orchestra. They don’t even care how much it makes the students suffer.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Right, that is so sad. I don’t know what it’s like where you are, or what your husband is looking to do, but there are a lot of rock schools opening up all over the place. It’s like the hot new trend, and they are always looking for qualified teachers.

        Liked by 1 person

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