In the Library
Have you ever experienced an overwhelming desire to spend a quiet night at alone? Well, it happened and then there you were: at the library, alone, on a Saturday night. For some reason you just didn’t feel like participating in life and once immersed in books, you didn’t have to. You weren’t completely alone. All the greats were there: Dickens, Hemmingway, Conrad and Tolstoy. They understood. But the sad part was that everyone around you acted as though they did too. It wasn’t as if they were without reason. It was Saturday night and you were in your pajamas, not to mention the only person under the age of forty. And you were walking between rows of books with purpose and a casual, cynical smile. They looked at you like they knew you.
There was the old woman with the thinning white hair, covered in wrinkles, looking at you as if to say, ‘I was once like you.
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’ There is an old man sitting at a table in his bathrobe, reading yesterday’s news. There is an overweight middle-aged woman buried in a copy of Roots. Next to her is another, slightly older, woman wearing a tacky Halloween sweater, holding Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. The middle-aged men seemed to have formed some sort of club and are bonding over Stephen King and mysteries. The others just glanced up from their books to give you a nod of acceptance and then went right back to their reading. You finally found the book you were looking for and after gingerly removing it from the shelf; you headed back to a chair in the corner.
The silence was deafening. You wanted to yell at them”I’m not like you! This isn’t really me!’ But you knew, perhaps a little to well, the power of words in such a place. And you also knew the power of lies. You were here weren’t you? Therefore you were one of them. You’ve read all the books they have. You know the classics like the back of your hand and you speak of the Golden Age as if you had been born in it. Yet all the while you couldn’t help but feel as though you were too young to be this old. You continued the trek towards the lonely corner in silence, with Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man tucked under your arm.
As you sit down, the most pathetic man in the world walks by and smiles at you. It’s one of those rare, genuine smiles that you only come across a few times in your life. His shoes are scuffed and worn out and the already ratty bottoms of his pants drag along on the ground. His shirt, like the rest of his outfit, is brown and ordinary. It looks a little too large for his slim, slouching frame. His hair hasn’t been cut in quite sometime and as he smiles you notice that he is missing a tooth. Yet it’s his eyes that nag you. They are that same shade of brown, only they are filled with warmth and they sparkle, as if to suggest that the two of you are kindred spirits. He seems to exude the scent of the old, yellowing pages that fill his arms; making it clear that this is not the first Saturday night he has spent here. You look away quickly, avoiding eye contact and trying not to appear pathetic. But by his simple, knowing smile, you realize that you already are.
Despite feigned ignorance, this is who you are. Understanding that is difficult at seventeen. You don’t have any of the labels assigned to the typical high school student. You used to regret this, but here it is different. You aren’t pathetic in the library. You are respected for having read War and Peace and for understanding that Anna Karenina is the greatest love story ever written. You love it here, for this is the place where labels are cast aside and the elite few in possession of a library card know that the written word is sacred. You walk out the door hoping that your words, too, will one day make a difference. And right before the door shuts, you find the man and return the smile.