Category: libraries

Twenty-Five Years Ago Today

Five years ago today, I posted this. I’m reposting it now because reasons. Mainly that I was thinking about it this morning and so I shared it with my English classes. I cried when I read it to them – not for sadness, but because my heart was leaking love for all the people in the story. All of them.

I’m sure it must have been embarrassing for my class to see me lose it a little – that’s not an everyday occurrence. I apologized, but honestly I’m not that sorry. It’s okay for them to see me feeling things. There are worse things than feeling too much.

___

Standing at the circulation desk, filing cards grown soft at the corners, I heard the phone ring. Eager for a change of pace, even if it meant I’d be doing someone’s research over the phone, I grabbed up the receiver.

“Batesville Public Library, can I help you?”
It was my dad. Calling from the hospital room in Chicago where my mom had been admitted during their getaway weekend. He just wanted to check in on me – he’d missed me when he called home to talk to the boys.
“I’m good. Work is fine. I’m excited to go to Cincinnati this afternoon. Can I talk to Mom?”
Pause.
Now, I should explain that pauses in telephone conversations with my dad are not unusual. There is always… a great deal… of… white space… in talking with him. So why was I suddenly hot around my eyes, and tight in the back of my throat?
“Dad?”
Throat-clearing. “No. You can’t. Mom’s in a coma, Bec.”
Did I know that? Was there some conversation in the past few days where this information was given to me, and did I somehow forget about it? Is that even possible? But if not, how could he have neglected to mention such a vital fact to me?
The library, quiet anyway, went fuzzy like cotton around me. Even the whispers were muffled, and I felt wrapped up in the familiar. I didn’t even sit down. I tipped my chin to roll the tears back into my head, and finished the conversation like a well-bred teenager. Which I was.
Maybe years of living with a mom who spent a week every year in the hospital calloused me. Maybe the idea of her in the ICU was just part of my childhood. I’d lived with it my whole life, you know. So maybe you won’t find me a completely unfeeling ingrate when I tell you that the rest of the day was more than fine – it was fun.
After a rowdy drive into Cincinnati, Missy and I got dropped off downtown, scoured a few ballet supply stores (for her) and a bookstore (for me). We ate at Taco Bell. For a skinny person, Missy could really eat. She ordered no less than five menu items, and I watched, impressed, as she downed every bite. We met at the rendezvous point to get picked up for the dance.
The dance.
Here was where I belonged, in this under-decorated church-building-turned-social-hall. With these kids, from towns and cities an hour from my home — this was where I felt like me. Good kids, and all so different. Different from what I saw every day at school, and different from each other. I felt loved there, not judged, not watched, not weird. This was a place for a great deal of hugging.
Dance, dance, dance. Cute boys and happy girls and jokes and laughter and music. Forgive me for forgetting, for a couple of hours, what was going on a few hundred miles to the northwest.
After the dance, Pizza. As ever. Mr. G’s pizza, breadsticks, and root beer. More laughing. More talk. More teasing. Gentle teasing from the others, and more pointed teasing from my brother. I shook it off, like I’d learned to do (not like the years and years that I would scream and yell and then get in trouble for overreacting).
Somehow on the long drive home, I didn’t know. I had no premonitions. The earth didn’t shift. Air wasn’t sucked from the atmosphere. I just rode home, laughing and not sleepy and not afraid.
I checked on Marc. He was sleeping in the parent’s big bed, elbows and knees everywhere. Good. Wash face. Brush teeth. Change into jammies. Lights off. Climb into bed.
Knock at the door.
Blood runs cold.
Ignore it. It will go away. My fear of the dark, fueled by far too many Stephen King novels that first year I worked at the library, overtook all logic.
More knocking. Monsters. Axe murderers. Doorbell. Vampires. Psychotic animals. More knocking. Another doorbell.
I picked up the phone in my room and called our own number. I don’t know if this works anymore, technologically speaking, but that night, I hung up quickly and the phone began to ring. Once, twice, three times. It stopped. I grabbed the receiver.
“Nathan?”
“What?”
“There’s someone at the door.”
Only the intervention of a benevolent God prevented him from reminding me that axe murderers do not ring doorbells.
“Okay. Coming.” The bravest words of a brave big brother.
I stood, shivering at my bedroom door. Saw him walk from the basement stairs across the small family room. He turned and I heard the door open. Heard the Rockwoods’ voices, hushed appropriately for the time of night and the delicacy of their mission.
I didn’t wonder if we’d left something in their car. I didn’t wonder if anything terrible had happened to their kids between dropping us off and getting themselves home. I didn’t wonder anything. Because I knew.
I knew.
I walked to the front door. They’d come in, but only just. Their backs were pressed against the door, and I knew again. There were no jokes, and if the Rockwoods weren’t telling jokes, this was more serious than anything I’d ever experienced with them. Jolene, tall and stricken, held her arms out to me. I shook my head, not because I didn’t want her comfort, not because I didn’t believe, but because my head would shake. Back and forth as I was folded into her arms.
Whispered words: “Your mom…” Head shake, back and forth.
“… dad called…” Head shake.
“Come home with us, sleep at our house…” And then I could nod. Yes. Your house. That is the right thing to do. Because we shouldn’t be here alone. And we should give you the thing you need, too. We should allow you to do the only thing to do when there is nothing, nothing anyone can do.
 
Before getting in the car, I did the only thing I could do when there was nothing else to do. I went back into my room, picked up the phone again, and listened as the buttons sang Jorja’s song – the eleven-note jingle that meant I could reconnect with my far-far-away best friend.
Her mom told me she was asleep.
“Please.”
“I need her.”
“My mom died.”
Gasp. “Oh, Becca.” A quick waking, and there it was. The comfort I needed, across a thousand miles. The words, just right.
Will you be shocked, or will you understand when I tell you we laughed? Will you know what it is to share a heart, and to realize that there is a time for tears, and a time for laughter? And, sometimes, will you understand the need for both at once? Will you know that both, in equal measure, are required in order to heal?

The Eggs Are In the Basket

And once again, I have delivered a manuscript.

Breathe with me, friends.

Ahhhh.

We shall see what Agent Meredith thinks of it (if she finds it ready to submit to editors), but meanwhile, I can think about other things for a few minutes. Yay! Other things! (See how glad I am?)

Okay. So. Things.

Um, what do normal people think about in June? Oh, I remember. Okay. So yesterday was the last day of school. Summer, bring it on. Anniversary is Monday, and we decided to (wait for it) buy a GIFT for each other. I know. Revolutionary. He knows what it is. I know what it is. But the kids don’t, so I’ll tell you later. And then. We’re looking for a little summertime family getaway. Do you know VRBO? Vacation rental houses. Yes. please.

I’m teaching some writing classes at the local library this summer. Teen Writers’ Classes, June 28th and July 12th – both Thursdays, both 11-2 at the Wasatch County Library in Heber, UT. Also, the librarians don’t want us to wither and die, so … PIZZA. Not kidding. And moms who have asked me about precocious 9 and 10 year olds, HEY, GOOD NEWS. I’ll do a class for 8-12s. Because I love your kids. I do. And I want to give them some encouragement and some tips. But I don’t want to throw too wide a net for my teen class. It’s a big difference, a 9 year-old and an 18 year-old. It takes a magician to communicate well for both of those kids at the same time, and despite all evidence to the contrary, I am not a magician. I’ll check dates with the librarians and let you know. But maybe a Saturday. Or maybe not. (And probably no pizza. Sorry. I’ll tell you where you can go pick up some lunch, though, if you need ideas.)

So, recap: Summer is here. My manuscript is delivered (again). My brain circuits are shredded and I have nothing resembling rational thoughts.

And what’s new with you?

Books Read in June

Oh, friends. I read some of the most excellent  books, mostly courtesy of my public library. Want to hear? Well, of course you do. Here you go, with pictures all courtesy of Amazon, because it’s so, so easy:

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley: If you’re looking for a witty British 11-year-old scientist who will either solve your mysteries or poison you in your sleep, look no farther than Miss Flavia de Luce. Loved it.

Countdown by Deborah Wiles: I think this is the first of Wiles’s books I’ve read that didn’t make me do the ugly cry. This is a wonderful family story about the Cuban Missile Crisis, of all things. I wonder how over-the-heads of my Kids it might be, as I am no good at discussing things like McCarthyism and such… but there is probably enough pop culture to hold any kid’s imagination. This is almost a graphic novel, with images from 60s advertisements, “duck and cover” propaganda, and photos of the Kennedy family. If you have a kid hovering on the brink of “recent historical fiction” urges, throw this one on.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith: Where, oh where have I been all my life? If you have not read this book, and you possess any sort of glimmer of romance in your soul, read it. Go. Now. You will want to start writing with a pen in your own personal invented shorthand, in a series of progressively more awesome notebooks. I bought it (the book, not  the notebook) as soon as I finished reading. Call me if you want to borrow my copy.[1]

True (…sort of) by Katherine Hannigan: Did you read Ida B? This feels similar, mainly because of the cover, and the rural aspect, and the adorability. Delly. Oh, Delly. She knows she’s so bad, but her heart is so big. There is a very delicate dance around an abused child — probably a good introduction to a tender-hearted kid. Nothing graphic, but frightening enough to “get” the reality. Happy ending. (*whew*)

Unwind by Neal Shusterman: My favorite scary book. In the future US, after the second Civil War, abortion is outlawed, but as a concession to the pro-choice factions, there’s this: Parents can have a child aged 13-18 “unwound” — a scientifically perfect transplant technology, where 99.44% of the unwound person is recycled and reused in other people. From skin grafts to brain transplants and everything in between. I have shiver-arms just thinking about how much this book creeps me out. In the best way. This is a re-read, because I had to buy this one a couple of years ago as soon as I read it.

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr: This is a re-read, too. I love this book. And Ms. Zarr generously gave me this copy when I commented on one of her brilliant blog posts (I do so like her blog). Sam’s questions way outweigh any answers she’s gotten lately when her life starts to fall apart in this exploration of doubt and faith. I think what I love best about this book is that it is hopeful and faith-filled without being a perfect package — everyone still has problems in the end, but you feel like they’re probably going to be all right. It’s just not cheesy, you get me?

And you? Read anything great lately?

[1]Only, not if you’re a stranger. That would be creepy.

Libraries

I’ve just been looking over Justine Larbalestier’s post about libraries. She asks her readers for library stories and I immediately thought of one. One completely inappropriate to share with Justine and her fans. But, you know, okay to share with you.

My first real job was in the Batesville Public Library. I was in high school, and had no earthly idea how lucky I was to be offered a job I never applied for. In the 2 years I worked there, the building doubled in size and classiness. When I was a freshman, hot senior boys would lean over the desk to seek my guidance – you know, if someone wiser was unavailable. They often smelled very nice and occasionally offered me rides home after work*.
One Saturday afternoon in November I got a call at work. This was very rare. It was from my Dad. Even more rare, as he’s always been a guy in favor of the Appropriate. Hanging out on the phone at work never fit into that category.
He was calling from Chicago. He and my mom had taken a trip there for a short getaway, and she ended up hospitalized at Northwestern University. He called at work because he’d just checked on my brothers, and wanted to be sure I was fine, not worried, all that.
I asked to speak to my mom.
Loud, loud pause.
My dad then told me what he had assumed I’d known: My mom was in a coma.**
Standing there in the center of the quiet, wood-paneled, windowed library, I had the first real intimations that I would lose my mother. Soon.
And somehow, I drew comfort from my surroundings. I felt hugged by those walls, those stacks, those chairs and tables I knew so well. I quickly ended the call, and by so doing, managed not to cry. I stood, hand on the phone, breathing in the familiar quiet, regaining composure to finish my day at work. After a few minutes, I made it back to pulling overdue check-out cards, filing, reshelving VHS cassettes.
The calm of the library surrounded me that afternoon, as it had before, as it would again, but in a different way. I felt like life would carry on. The world would continue to spin. I would survive whatever was heading my way.
A good library *** still gives me that feeling of comfort, of eternity.
*I took them, you betcha.

**I’m still not sure, these 20 years later, how I could possibly have known that if he hadn’t told me, but that isn’t the point. I think.

***No offense to my current, not-so-much library