I don't want to get up even though my legs are already going numb and I can hear my daughter asking my wife why it is taking me so long in the bathroom. I don't want to get up because I am prolonging my stay here in the salon of this Mexican whorehouse, seated beside John Grady as he furtively watches the petite girl through the cloudy bar mirror. Later he and Billy and Oren will sit around a campfire in the mountains while the dogs run a cougar but John Grady will not join the men in telling tall tales. He will lay in the dark puzzling out the petite girl and Eduardo the pimp and how it is possible to lie to people but not to a horse. And why can't people be more like horses?
Around me the clatter of keyboards and muted conversation in cubicles reminds me that my life is different now. My varied childhood spanned everything from weathered farmhouses built before Andrew Jackson to suburban malls and cable television. But always one period stands out. From the age of 14 to 16, I lived in a small country house notable for being the scene of the murder of its previous occupant, and oddly, also the house in which my grandfather was born. Its yard remained shaded throughout the summer by a single ancient oak. Red cattle gates connected the yard to both the gravel road leading back up the valley and to the pastures and forests that filled the view from the rear windows. Sometimes in the morning the farm's massive red bull stood in the barren path to the gate. Sometimes a pair of horses waited by the fence rail hoping we had sweet oats or a brush. But these weren't our horses, or our cows, or our farm.
In this place, living on the border between the expansive farms running upstream to the reservoir, and the miles of hill and forest downstream to the river, I lived in isolation. As Cormac McCarthy describes it in Cities of the Plain, I had a pretty good ration of myself. About three nights a week my dad would return from the river, shower and heat up some vegetables canned out of my grandmother's garden, on a good night play a game of chess with me, and then retire to his room to smoke his troubles away. The rest of the week I only saw him for the 15 minutes it took to drop the sun-bleached flat-bottom boat off before he continued on to his girlfriend's trailer.
Those nights I had all the time to myself I could want, and then some. On those nights I hiked for miles, gun in hand and always with an eye to the tree line or opposite bank, watching for coyotes. Occasionally the dogs circled back to check in or scatter a clutch of turkeys. At home, without television or CDs or neighbors, I had books. Gathered from the scattered shelves of now abandoned family houses, or as fill in credit when my dad traded in one pile of nudie mags for another at the secondhand bookstore, I would read anything I could find.
I rescued 1984 and Animal Farm from the 150-year-old cabin where my father was raised. I bought Foundation and Les Miserables from Red House Books where the implacable older lady at the counter slid my dad's pile of Cheri and Oui and Hustler into plain paper bags. I bought Gary Jennings' Aztec for a dime at a flea market; probably the best ten cents I spent my entire life.
At 15 years old, when I lost everything I had in my parents' custody dispute, my father gave me $100. The only clothes I owned were the shorts, tee, and sandals I wore and he told me to buy anything I would need to get through the school year. A friend of his drove me to an outlet mall in rural Mississippi. Two pair of pants, a pack of underwear and socks, a few shirts, and some cheap tennis shoes became my wardrobe. At the age where my friends were beginning to date and appearance became the world, I carried a worn game bag filled with Carlos Castaneda and James Clavell. I'll never forget one of the students making fun of the generic T-shirt I wore, or the cat pissing on my shoe just before the bus arrived. I had no other shoes to change into, and suffered one among many awkward days. But I always had a book in hand and the promise of another life.
Our school library used the cards inside book covers for checkouts. When I would carry my book to the counter the librarian would pull the card out, stamp its due date, and hand it back. Sometimes I was the first to check the book out in a year. Sometimes I was the first to check a book out in a decade. Sometimes I was the first to check the book out, ever.
One year I was placed in a Reading Enrichment class for the last period of the day. This was the class where the kids who did not have band or athletics or a club responsibility ended up. The roll read off like a rogues' list of bad apples. While they fought or threw things or shouted I read Journey to the Center of the Earth and Around the World in 80 Days. I don't remember ever taking a single test in class, and my final report card showed a grade of a D. That was the grade given to every member of the class, as far as I could tell, when they cut the cables to the security camera installed after the fire.
When I took the college entrance exam my math score came back decidedly average. Average enough that most "good" schools would require remedial credit before accepting me. But my reading comprehension score came back impressively perfect. So impressive that it pulled my overall score above the imaginary line that separated people into groups who pay for college and people who are paid by colleges to select their particular institution.
"Are you happy in your job?" the lady in the cubicle across from me asks.
"Of course not." I explain that I spend my day arguing with high-level government workers about multimillion dollar databases only to have "leaders" change direction every two weeks. At the end of the day what is there to be proud of when I go home?
"What would you do if you could do anything then?"
I pause. A common enough question, one that not only myself but everyone I know thinks about. In my case, it is the question I've been thinking about for weeks. iceowl inadvertently nudged me off the cliff and down that line of reasoning a while back. But I haven't yet had to articulate it out loud. I say the first thing that comes to mind, the first thing that feels natural.
"I would work in a library." It surprises even me a little. In the past year I had considered trying to pick up a library degree, but discarded it because the job market is so bad and the pay cut would be so severe from what I make now. But then I think about carrying a book with me everywhere for the last three decades. I think about how so many of my happiest moments have been spent in libraries or bookstores or websites dedicated to reading. And it feels so right. It feels like a path with heart.
In the days that follow I think about it more. Would the pay cut be so severe? I already put 50% of my income into savings. I find programs online. I discuss it with my wife.
Last Friday I became a volunteer at our library. We go two or three times a week already, but I had assumed they had the help they needed. The volunteer coordinator seems excited about my enthusiasm and my interest in things like the Raspberry Pi, which coincides with their Maker and science programs.
Yesterday, after a 10 year break from finishing my MA in history, I submitted an application for graduate school.
I am going to be a librarian.
“What is wrong with this story is that it is not a true story. Men have in their minds a picture of how the world will be. How they will be in that world. The world may be many different ways for them but there is one world that will never be and that is the world they dream of. Do you believe that?"
-- Eduardo, Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy