I am at the Watertown Free Library, which has been closed for two years for renovations and has finally reopened (www.watertownlib.org). At 1pm the crowds were thick and excited, full of kids (not quite screaming yet), elderly folk, couples, pregnant women, dignitaries, TV cameras, town officials.
Let me apologize for my absence over the past couple of weeks. I’ve had two trips to the emergency room within ten days. The first was by ambulance because I injured my back and it turned out to be nothing. The second time was for my blood pressure. Something struck me that second time. In the waiting room, I noticed I was the only one who was by myself. Every patient there was with a husband, a parent, a trusted friend, and I was entirely alone. I had come alone, in a goddam cab, I didn’t even have anyone to drive me, no one to stay with me in the waiting room. I waited two hours, listening to my MP3 player, alone. What is wrong with this picture?
I feel, on this historic library reopening day, that too many chapters of my life are ending and not enough are beginning. My body is falling to pieces and no one is there to catch them. I walk too fast, then I stop, and my blood pressure drops so low I fear that I will faint. Who will rescue me now? I imagine myself the only single person on a ship; the ship capsizes; everyone’s found his buddy and I’ve been forgotten. Lost in the stacks, I suppose.
The library is lovely. Don’t get me wrong. I have waited for this for two years and I’m sure this facility will be well worth the wait. I’ve already found some nice places to hang out and avoid other human beings (do I sense a contradiction here?). I am sitting near a collection of books about gardening and house plants, a few shelves of manuals on auto repair and curiously enough, in between, books about lunar landings.
It took me a while to get up the courage to come inside. It seemed that there were so many people that I would suffocate if I tried to follow the crowds. So I waited. I sat outside and pretended I wasn’t alone. Yes, it’s a lovely day. Suddenly, I had a feeling of disgust. I trekked over to a nearby drugstore to get something to drink, and then came back. Diet Vanilla Pepsi. Better than nothing, I suppose.
The library’s first floor was packed with people, especially in the children’s section, kids of all sizes, and the library’s little café was also a popular spot. I found the ladies’ room and was pleasantly surprised to find it nearly empty. Because of my blood pressure woes I’ve been avoiding stairs, but the elevator, too, was empty. Up to the second floor. Reference section. Study areas. Comfy chairs. Desks. A row of desks by the windows. The corner desk. I sat down.
It’s at this moment, as I write these words, that I finally notice the smell of this place, the unmistakable new library smell, quite unlike the old library smell I remember from childhood, the smell of old books, old floors, old schools, chalk boards, mimeograph machines, and ancient school librarians. The old Watertown library smelled like that. The new has replaced the old.
But in life, we cannot replace the old, the tired, the worn out with new parts. Our bodies wear out but we cannot get new bodies. We must make do with what we have. We lose brain cells, our skin dries out, our tissues lose elasticity. We are slowly dying, our parents die, our friends die, slowly each facet of life stops working. Chapters close, books close, we struggle with arthritic hands to open a new book, gripping the cover, we feel the spine, the jacket, the pages, we hold the corners of the book in our hands and we try to pull it open, try, try, but the pages turn to dust, the cover falls, we are covered with dust, dust, dust….
And so it happens, between gardens and moon landings. I think that I will feel at home here.