yesterday i sat my seventeen-year-old-self down on my bedroom floor in front of that one shelf bursting with books i’ve refused to give away, bursting with you: four rows of titles and authors and yellowed, dog-eared pages that i see in my peripheral vision each time i get up in the morning and dress for school or fret over math homework late at night. i don’t know what, but something made me stop and gaze, yank a small paperback from one of your tightly packed rows, and an hour later the floor was flooded with titles and memories and characters, crystalized out of the blur of childhood with dizzying clarity.
i pulled each of you from the shelf like opening the little doors of an Advent calendar, childlike anticipation pulsing through my body as i pressed each cover back and ate up the words it hid, the memories it bore. i was greeted enthusiastically by forgotten friends and it felt like a school reunion, where time goes backward and stays there for a moment.
some of your pages were ripped or stained or smudged, and as i sat there i could feel my little brother grabbing Charlotte’s Web from me and tearing a page, see my m&ms melting onto page 62 of Little Women after i left them in my book bag on a sticky summer day, watch my sister spilling kids shampoo onto the cover of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. i had forgotten how i used to sneak m&ms into my school bag, how i would fall asleep to the syrupy smell of strawberry shampoo.
i sat there a while, breathing in a thousand different plotlines and memories, characters and emotions, smiles and tears, as rain tapped loudly against my window and my friend texted me asking if i wanted to go see a movie and my mom called up the stairs to ask if i had done my homework yet. i meditated on these little pockets of words that had animated my childhood, friends that had taken me to times and places i could never have imagined, paragraphs that had thrust at me ideas and concepts that would become scaffolding for my later thoughts and opinions.
in that moment no time had passed. i was in the third grade, buried deep in the aisles of my school's library, absorbed in an old book i’d found tucked away in the edges of its meandering shelves. i was lying in the scratchy grass of my backyard, tearing through The Penderwicks after finally getting it for my birthday. i was reading Wonder with a flashlight under my bug-spray-scented sheets at summer camp. there was no global pandemic.
my legs eventually growing numb from the wood floor, i got up. my vision was clouded over with darkness from sitting for too long and it took me a second to see straight. i was seventeen again, in my seventeen-year-old room, with seventeen-year-old homework to do, and so i started to pack you back into that old bookshelf, one by one. but for some reason, and i’m not sure how it’s physically possible, you didn’t all fit. for the life of me i couldn’t get you all in there again. how i had fit you in those small shelves in the first place is beyond me. so before i left my room, i placed the last few of you on my nightstand, figuring maybe i could save a small glimpse of the past for the future.