"Excuse me?" I approach the clean-cut young man at the library's circulation desk. He looks up and greets me with casual formality. "I'm looking for. . . " I pause, pull a slip of paper out of my pocket. "Would you be so kind as to direct me to--" I show him the paper.
He looks down at the number written on the paper, then looks up at me, and smiles warmly. "Of course." Suddenly, his entire manner is easier, less professional. I shift nervously on my feet. "That's on the second floor, so you need to take the main stairs." I nod, listening closely as he gives me directions. He pulls out a diagram of the library and shows it to me. I study it closely, trying very hard to ignore the way he has leaned closer to me and is looking up at my face through his eyelashes.
"Thank you kindly, son," I say, when he is done. I turn away and follow his directions, ignoring the weight of his eyes on my back as I ascend the stairs.
Once I am enveloped in the silence of the library stacks, concealed between tall rows of neatly cataloged books, my heartbeat slows. I breathe in the scent of dust and aging paper, run a hand along the spines of the bound books and allow myself to seek the comfort of my youth. Libraries have always been places of safety to me. The irony, that I should now return to one to complete the education my grandparents left unfinished, is not lost on me. How might my life have been different, if I had always known?
I take a detour to a section that is more familiar to me. 821.3 SHA. I pull a copy of the Sonnets from the shelf. Metaphor, my grandmother had said. Perhaps now I will read them with new eyes. Further down the shelf, I also claim Leaves of Grass and, more daring, Ginsburg. No place for shame, now.
I have had enough shame. It was a bitter taste in my mouth for all the desolate years of my adolescence. Shame without a source, without a face, without a name. I never examined it, never questioned it, and never tried to escape it. Shame was a constant ache at the bottom of my heart all my life, until I found her. What was it about Victoria, my dearest mistake, that had finally freed me of shame? By rights, she should have added to it.
My shame had frozen on the side of the mountain, frozen with my memories of her like the scene in one of those snow-globes that tourists carry back from northern vacations. And if my heart had frozen a little as well, then that was all to the better. Frozen, numb, unmovable, safe. Her return, and the resulting thaw, had left me aching. Her departure, and the return of shame so long ignored, almost paralyzed me. She was gone, she was gone, and I could not return to the frozen mountainside and change our destines. She was gone, and I found I had lost the skill of living with shame.
So, enough. If I cannot merely live with it, I must embrace it. But when I turned to ask its name, I found that it bore a the face of a friend, and it was not cold, but hot like a fire to burn. Its name was spelled out in letters of flame on my soul. Beyond the shame was fear and beyond the fear. . . a solid certainty at the center of me, that demanded understanding.
And so, I came here, retreating to the comforts of my childhood as if to reclaim them in the name of my true self. My understanding of the world was shaped by a library, by the emptiness of the frozen north, and by loneliness. The silence of the tundra is lost to me, the silence of loneliness overwhelmed by the closeness of an unsought friendship, so I turn to the silence of the library. Here I will find understanding, even salvation. I know where to look, now.
I arrive at 306.76, select a title from the shelf, and begin to read.