I unpack my books, piling them in stacks according to size. My room is littered with them. I trip over a pile and send them flying, skittering across the hardwood. I gather them in my arms like flowers or children, laying them delicately across my bed. My books; the map of my life. Characters I have fallen in love with and hated and envied. When my life was broken, when I had run out of hope, there was always a family here. My literary refuge.
My favourite are the used books. The old covers held on by tape and sheer will. The musty scent of age and life that filters up from the flipped pages. Fingerprints of history smudged lightly on the spine and someone else’s notes in the margins. I have rescued them from high shelves and low shelves, garbage bins, negligent owners, roadsides, and from tumbling down into anonymous dumps. I’ve gotten dirty for these books. I like to read the messages inked on the first page proclaiming love, faith, hope, or forgiveness. I imagine the stories behind these novels; what brought them here, finally, to my open arms and crowded shelves. I like to think they are happy here.
I used to hide my treasures between their pages stuffing them full with pressed flowers, note paper, and pictures of faces I have long since forgotten. But, now I just pile them on every available surface and admire them from afar. My “to be read” pile is overflowing because I can’t stop bringing home strays. They stare at me from behind the glass with their puppy dog eyes and I can’t pass by without saving one or two or five.
I have friends who don’t keep a collection. They borrow what they want or buy them and then give them away. I can’t do the same. I am a rare breed, I suppose. I am whole-heartedly committed to my library. I don’t use them, abuse them, or part with them easily. I find room.
He surprised me once by taking my picture. I was sorting through a stack of paperbacks, much the way I am now. In jeans and a white tank top, hair piled on the top of my head, glasses sliding down my nose. He said I was beautiful, there, in my element. I shook my head laughing but he insisted, looking at me long, unwavering, and hard. Memorizing me. I have never felt so vulnerable or so loved.
If I cross his mind now, I hope that’s how he remembers me. In the beginning, beautiful, full of hope and sorting through books.