“The past is obdurate”

The house I used to live in—the one I shared with my now-ex boyfriend, a boss, and a former instructor—had a second-floor landing, one with built-in bookshelves. It remains vivid, that January day: P. and I were desperate for a new house (the landlady had just sold the apartment complex and waited until the very last minute to tell us), and here was one with walls just repainted, with this generous space inviting quietness and the consolation of reading. Three bedroom doors opened to the landing, letting in the sunlight—and P. and I had looked at each other, not daring to hope—and P. and I had looked at each other, and I know now that we’d had the same thought: This could work, babe. In the room we would share, a long plank of heavy wood had been drilled to the wall. We would share that too: My novels in neat arrangement (in a system that made sense only to me, I’d assume) keeping space with his art books, art magazines, and issues of National Geographic from the 1970s that P. liked to mine for photographs he could re-render.

[Token acknowledgment of elephant in the room: There’s been a lot of uprooting, yes. A lot of crazy changes. A lot navel-gazing, too, regarding decisions made in the past couple of months—but I suppose that’s really not unusual for me. In the early days—well, a little over a month ago—I’d pause before the mess of books and tell myself the only truth I knew then: That this was a new life, and here were my old friends, and hot damn we were going to make it. These days, though, I am mostly temperate, even if it’s through sheer willpower and not a little effort.]

My new condo—I call it my little shoebox, or when I’m feeling rather expansive: The Fortress of Solitude—has no built-in shelving to speak of. I’d had to lug in my own: Two tall, white Ikea shelves, though only one (for now) is standing—the other is still cocooned in the box it came in, and every day I ask myself why I hadn’t shelled out that extra fee to have the Ikea guys assemble the damn thing. The rest of my books are piled on the floor, at the foot of the mattress that’s one of the few things keeping me sane these days. One blip from an earthquake will most probably propel me to death’s door, as the stacking is rather precarious and, most importantly, I live at the 34th floor now. Some books have migrated to the tops of two shelves—one of three furnishings I’d brought with me (the other is this gorgeous hardwood chair)—displaced, one may say, as I have nowhere to put the clothes that I’ve fished out of the trash bags my possessions had come in. A book or two’s at the kitchen counter, well away from the sink. I spy the memoir of a poker player on top of the refrigerator. The annotated and uncensored edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray is nestled in the bright red reading chair I’d bought and assembled myself.

There are nights, weary from work, that I curl up in that very chair—I look around my little shoebox and smile to myself, my eyes wander to these books—my gaze drawn to touchstones, it sometimes feels—and I think of how few I have. Should I not be suffocated by books? Wouldn’t this be fair thing, dear Universe? If these volumes—some still in their shrink wrap, others thumbed and festooned with Post-It flags—are now all I have in the world (as I like to think in more morose days), then why the hell do I have so few of them?

Save the contents of that one tall bookshelf, my walls remain an unrelenting white. I’ll get there, this image I have in my head of what home ought to be (at least physically). In the meantime, I forge on, (a little tugboat against the current?), and I’ll rail at life and I’ll examine my life choices, and I’ll eat some cheese and drink some wine, and I’ll go through this exceedingly modest library one book at a time.

Just yesterday, early evening, I’d finished reading 11/22/63, Stephen King’s sprawling and goddamned thick novel about a man who goes through a fissure in time in an attempt to prevent the Kennedy assassination. It kept me company the past week, in the rare pockets of time I could hoard for myself—and it did truly feel like coming home, reading. King himself, well, he’s this old friend. It’s a reunion with the guy who’d kept you company during many a childhood night, beneath covers and with a flashlight. And the book—well, at the very least, its heft was a welcome comfort.

Now, I’ve got Alain de Botton’s How to Think More About Sex in my bag. It’s sleek and clever, although there are too many passages that hit too close to home, and brutally at that. But this will do—after all, it’s one book at a time, these days, isn’t it? And that will do, I reckon, and very nicely so, for quite some time.

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3 comments

  1. Well, hello! This post feels very hopeful despite some sadness. I like this mantra: “That this IS a new life, and here ARE my old friends, and hot damn we ARE going to make it.”, may it work splendidly for you, though ‘one book at a time’ is good, too.

    I have been on some kind of King journey that started with 11/22/63, then The Stand. We are participating in a readalong of IT, if you care to join us.

  2. Hello Sasha – your post is absolutely beautiful though tinged with sadness. I am glad to see you posting, and I hope you find a place for everything in your new apartment soon. Like Care, I like your mantra of: “That this IS a new life, and here ARE my old friends, and hot damn we ARE going to make it.”

  3. Sorry to hear about your relationship bust-up. Yeah, books are constant companions. One book, one day, one step at a time. xx

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