One science class, years ago, I learned that things are not as they appear. We were being taught about light. I was told, or I believe I was told, that objects absorb some frequencies of light and reflect (or is that refract?) others. An orange, for example, absorbs all frequencies except the one we identify as orange. That frequency is reflected into our eyes and is the only one we see. We say the fruit is orange when, in essence, it is every colour except that one. We define things by what they are not.
Rejection teaches us who we can’t be. It classifies us. In the swirl of who we are and who we want to be it’s easier to identify the things we are opposed to. It’s so much simpler to say “She’s not my girlfriend!” than try to define the relationship. It’s less confusing to discard what we don’t understand than to try to accept it.
The books on my shelves are mostly the ones I’ve never read and never intend to, or the novels I’ve read once and am desperate to give away. The ones I love are lost or borrowed or returned. They don’t describe me. My favourite books are buried in shelves of others, far away from my bedroom. Look for them some time.
I confess, although I adore books and read voraciously, I do not treat them well. I have given up dog-earing pages, mercifully, but expect to find novels left in my care with bent covers, stained pages and other unspeakable conditions. I can’t help it. They are stuffed in a backpack, read during dinner, flipped through in the rain. They are tossed onto pillows, hid amongst laundry and generally abused. If there are books in pristine condition near me, I haven’t gotten to them yet. I don’t respect books, they are only the vessel. I respect stories.
I wasn’t surprised when the library called about a missing book. The librarian was kind: it was a paperback, they couldn’t track it, might as well delete it from my account. Success.
When searching under my bed for a stray shoe (organization is not my strong suit), I found it. If you’ve ever had this happen to you, you’ll know the delicious power of being able to read a library book at leisure. I am the type who hauls home as many books as I can carry when I visit the library, and this usually only leaves me a day or two for each one. Instead of devouring the pages, I was able to slowly absorb it, tasting each paragraph separately. If it wasn’t irresponsible, I’d recommend it. (Don’t lose any sleep over this, I did return it eventually.)
Losing or letting go of books means that sooner or later they condense themselves in my mind. Key sentences or plot points are all that remain, and eventually even those will shorten to a few words. If that certain sentence or phrasing was extraordinary, the rest of the book doesn’t matter, because I’ll apply that rating to it. It transforms books, too, identifying them as entirely different things. Of my last batch of library books, I only remember one. All those books, condensed to a single novel. And that story is reduced further, to one sentence that lodged into my mind, though the exact wording escapes me. “She was one of those big girls common to colleges now, stomach spilling unapologetically over her waistband.” “Unapologetically”. I liked that.
I dreamt of rejection and lost library books.
In that way dreams always go, it just sort of flowed and didn’t bother with logic. But there you were (beautiful as always) as I stood on thin ice and when I fell through, you turned away.
And my local library called every day and soon they yelled even louder than you had.
And the cat was hungry and the bills were overdue and the friendly librarian with her hair in a bun was right by my side, screaming ever so gently. And you were always just out of reach, just out of focus, and never, ever smiling.