The first children’s book I received from Plough Publishing was Charlie the Tramp by Russell and Lillian Hoban. They sent it to me bundled up in a red bandana, as though the book itself had been a traveler and needed a place to stay. It was an adorable read about a little beaver named Charlie who wants to experience the beauty of the world by wandering the fields and forests as a tramp. I read it that night to my little brother-in-law, then tucked it safely onto my bookshelf. It hasn’t gone wandering since then, so I guess it’s still just as happy in my home as I was to welcome it. 😉
Around Christmas time, I was sent another children’s book. Andreas Steinhöfel’s If My Moon Was Your Sun didn’t come to me wrapped up in a red bandana, instead it came with a lovely audiobook version attached, which is exciting for a whole new set of reasons. Unfortunately, this time I didn’t sit down and read it right away, but even though I waited several months before I cracked the binding, I got the blessing of reading this book to my own child instead of someone else’s.
Yes, I know it was far beyond her level of understanding, but I am of the opinion that it’s important to start reading to your children early, and at 6 months old, the only books she’s shown a real interest in are the ones that have finger puppets attached. So as far as I’m concerned, so long as it has pictures I’m going to read it to her, and she liked the pictures in this as much as the ones in Goodnight Moon. Frankly, so did I.
It took a few days to get through it with her, because her attention span is limited, but it still felt so special to share it with her. The illustrations are warm and whimsical, and fit perfectly with this sweet story about a little boy who kidnaps his Grandfather from a nursing home so they can spend the day together in one of their favorite fields. If you read my book reviews at all, you know I’m a sucker for anyone who has the ability to take difficult subjects and translate them into language gentle enough for young readers to metabolize. Steinhöfel did this beautifully, and got me choked up a little as his prose sang about how love can remain through loss.
No, my 6 month old didn’t understand it, but one day she will, and I can’t wait to read it to her again when she does.
She was perfect. In my mind, then as much as now, we fit together in every conceivable way. She was a funny, kindhearted, blackbelt, dirty blonde who loved Weird Al, the Beatles, and goofy teeshirts. We were inseparable. We spent hours on the phone, making each other laugh so hard that we couldn’t breathe. I made her a stuffed carrot. She scotch taped angry eyes and a mouth on him and named him Sargon. We listened to each other cry about boys and pretended to fight like we hated each other until we would both collapse with laughter.
I blame myself for losing her. Her world grew and spread with maturity while mine was systematically shrinking because of my anxiety disorder. Then I got hurt over something stupid and I let her slip away. We grew up, grew apart, got married, stopped calling.
This is not a boo-hoo-poor-me-I-have-no-friends post. I am by no means friendless. In fact, I could even say I am lucky enough to have three best friends, two of which live in the same house as me. Friends I trust with my core (something I don’t easily hand over). I am not trying to downplay this blessing. I just miss her.
She was the one and only Christie. There will never be another one like her. And it makes my heart ache to think that, since she’s the only she, that I will probably never again have what we had together, that perfect symbiotic, we’re totally the same but totally different, mixture of salty and sweet. A girl that I could tell the hard stuff too, who would listen instead of judge. A girl that could see me make a fool of myself and turn it into an opportunity to make me feel real and beautiful and accepted.
This has been a hard season of life for me. I’m struggling. I’m not unhappy, but the harshness of day to day is making me more than usually nostalgic. I used to be able to look back on the past with more of a gentle sigh. Now, it’s heavier, almost a burden, to pick up the pieces of yesterday for a moment’s remembering.
I miss her.
Sunset is one of my favorite parts of the day. I love seeing the sky splashed with brilliance and color. Each one is individual, from the cloud formations, to their chosen shades of reds, purples, and yellows. I have a tendency to snap pictures of almost every sunset I see (my Instagram feed is FILLED with them). But like many things, the pictures I grab with my cell phone rarely do justice to the rich layers of color, or the golden glow of the clouds hugging the fading sun.
Christie is a sunset. I can’t get her back because that time in my life has faded and the pictures left in my heart will never do justice to the brilliant light she shed on my life when she was part of it. It hurts. Goodbye’s always do. But the nice thing is that sunset happens every night. So I’m just going to wait, with eyes open, for the next beautiful thing to come along and flood my heart with light.
The day’s fading fast now.
Your dreaming won’t keep.
I take hold of your hand as you’re falling asleep.
Since you can’t wait up for me, you go on upstairs,
And keep the covers warm darling,
I’ll join you there.
When we said I do I knew how it would be.
You’ve been awake twenty years more than me.
So I’ve saved a place for me, beside you in bed,
With a single shared pillow of stone for our head.
My day’s fading fast now,
And dreaming won’t keep.
This will be my last visit before I fall asleep.
I put my lips to cold stone and I kiss you goodnight.
“I’ll be with you soon lover. Until then, sleep tight.”
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.
A year ago I walked away
Far too nervous to look
Your father had tears in his eyes
Two pink lines
I was so nervous
I put my hands on you
Asleep inside me
The nightmare came too soon
My heart knew something was wrong
“Tell him not to leave us.”
Your father would put his lips against you
As close as he could
“We love you. You stay in there”
We came that day to see you grow
“We’re so sorry”
A year ago I walked away
Far too wretched to believe
Your father had tears in his eyes
Two grieving parents
I was so broken
I put my hands on you
Dead inside me
The nightmare wouldn’t end
Weeks dragged by relentlessly
“Why did God do this?”
Your father put his lips against my forehead
As close as he could
“I love you. We will be okay.”
Has it really been one year…
“Goodnight my Angel”