Home Away From Home

This was a post I wrote yesterday, but didn’t get the chance to publish. I will, I hope, write a little bit about today’s trip down to Word on the Street at some point soon.

 

I am having a day. I’ve been having a day since yesterday, but yesterday was so filled with running around that I didn’t have the option of turning off my phone, shutting out the world and curling up on the couch with my cat, a blanket, a cup of tea and season two of Babylon 5. (Yes, I’m a geek, I find it comforting.)

One piece of the running around was that second date, a first in my online dating career. And for the length of the date, I was able to shut down the voices in my head. Today, though, it’s all back – I’m still caught in the guilt and recrimination of a friend’s passive-aggressive spin cycle.

When I couldn’t take sitting inside anymore I headed out for a walk in the rain. I browsed the local bookstore, but eventually found myself at the library, sitting on the floor between shelves, scanning the thick hardcover titles of the science fiction section, looking for a world to bring home with me. A place I could hide.

Each book had a thin plastic protector taped over its dust jacket, scratched and ragged around the edges. The rustle each book made as I pulled it off the shelf to read its blurb, the sweet, dusty smell, the warm quiet shared by scattered people – it was an atmosphere so familiar, so comforting, I settled right into a sense of peace. The first I’ve found in two days.

I felt a link, all the way back to my teenage self, when I lived in rural Ontario, in a blue house surrounded by trees, off a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. On Saturdays, we drove in to the nearest town – 5,000 people and twenty minutes away by car – to buy groceries and rent videos. I went into the small, split-level library, down the half flight of stairs to the science fiction section in the basement. I sat cross-legged on the floor there, too, and found a stack of books to bring home to keep me company during the week. Sometimes old favourites, sometimes something new. There was a book called Oath of the Renunciates that I loved. There are books you read when you’re 14 that are powerful to you, that shape you, in a way no other books you read in your life can. That was one for me. The check-out card in the back had my name on it over and over again. No one else ever checked it out. I probably never gave them the chance.

Years later, when I was working the Edinburgh fringe festival and having a miserable time – in seven weeks of 12+ hour days, I got exactly three days off – and working for a company that was largely incompetent, I escaped to the local library on my break. Like all the other buildings in Edinburgh, it was built of grey stone. Inside, if you were standing to see above the shelves, there was a view of the castle through grimy windows set in deep window wells. Again, though, I sat on the floor in the science fiction section, full of the names and titles that were so familiar to me, surrounded by the smells and sounds of every library, everywhere, and I felt at home.

I haven’t been to my local library in ages, but I’m now determined to go back. Everyone needs a home away from home sometimes.

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