Last night I took the kids to the library. You have no idea how monumental that last statement is. Let me say it again: Last night I took the kids to the library. Holy crap, I’ve got goosebumps.
I told Max it was the bookstore called “The Library” and he was thrilled when I stacked four Thomas the Tank Engine books in his arms. He must have been wondering what came over me. Usually we have a rough time negotiating over one item at the other bookstore.
You see, my journey back to the library has been a long one. For years I’ve been worried that The Library Police would wait for me to come back and then handcuff me when I tried to check something out. Years ago, as a nineteen-year-old, I checked a book out of the local library for a class I was taking. It was a collection of short stories by Willa Cather and it had a plain orange, hardbound cover that was at least twenty years old at the time. In between the time that I checked it out and the time that it was due, Ryan’s dad unexpectedly died and apparently the part of my brain that deals with grief and supporting a loved one through a crisis is also the part of my brain that is responsible for returning borrowed items. I guess it was a little too busy during that time. That’s right, I’m using my husband’s father’s death as my excuse for not returning my library book.
So months passed.
Then, I couldn’t even remember where the book was.
I stopped going to the library completely and ducked down in the car any time I had to drive past.
Then one day I found it, and spent the next three months working up the courage to take it back. I went late at night, wore dark glasses and an overcoat, and slipped it into the return bin after hours.
And yet, I still didn’t think I could show my face in the library. Even though the book was returned, I had racked up a phenomenal fee in late charges. With compounded interest, I owed the county library system 1.2 million dollars. I think. Something like that. I’m not really sure, because every time I received something in the mail from the library, I shuddered and cried and burned it without opening it. (Aren’t you glad I spend so much time with a psychologist?)
A few years later I was talking to my neighbor, Mary, and found out that she worked at one of the county libraries. She was telling me about her life-long love affair with libraries and how much she enjoyed working there. I pretty much kept quiet, agreeing with her love of books and trying to suppress my nervous tick every time she mentioned the word “library”, when suddenly she said something that would change my world:
“Plus, I can go in and erase the late fees of all of my friends.”
“ARE YOU SERIOUS?” I asked.
“Sure. Why, do you have a late fee?”
I told her all about the Willa Cather book, the premature death of my boyfriend’s father, the loss of the book, the resurfacing of the book, the eventual return of the book, and the fretting and frenzy-ing that happens every time I drive by the library.
She gave me her e-mail address and asked me to send her a note with my information to remind her, and she would take care of it the next time she was at work. I sent the e-mail, including my formal apology to the Salt Lake County Library System, and a request that she let me know when this was taken care of. Because I wanted to know when I could let go of the belief that I was secretly being followed by angry librarians.
Well, she never responded to the e-mail. Nor did she mention it again in any of our future conversations. Of course, I was too chicken to ask (especially as time passed) if my name had been cleared. So, I’ve never really known. Did she take care of it? Did she forget? Did she try to take care of it, then realize that the fee was too outrageous and that I was one of the library system’s ten most wanted?
Not knowing if the problem had been taken care of was almost worse than knowing the problem existed for sure. Talk about anxiety.
So, yesterday Christian was asking if he could get a book when we were at the grocery store. The kid devours books, and especially with school being out, he could go through one a day. I could see the dollar signs in my head racking up. So the mature person who lives inside of me and occasionally takes over my senses said, “We should go to the library. I am not going to live in fear anymore. I’ll be damned if I let my children suffer for my sins.”
Christian looked at me with a quizzical frown. “Sooo, we’re going to go to the library? Do we even have a library around here?”
So we went. And the semi-ornery librarian, who peered at me above her wire-rimmed glasses, entered my information into the computer without calling for security. My heart was pounding. My brow was sweating. I kept Max within arm’s reach in case we had to make a run for it. She scanned a new card and handed it to me with a few papers, and then we walked hand in hand into the free book and media resources universe once again.
But I know in my heart that if the librarians have anything to do with it, there will be a special place in hell for me filled with Willa Cather books. Very hot, orange hardbound books. And I will spend eternity gathering them up and taking them to the check-in counter of Hell’s Library, only to return to my fiery dwelling to find more of them, waiting for me, smoldering from the heat, with “PAST DUE” stamped on their covers in flames.