Library Days were the best part of summer. This wasn’t just because I loved to read and the excursion to the city library resulted in six (the maximum number allowed) new books. It was more than this. It was my own version of therapy that was necessitated due to the heaviness of my mother’s depression. As much as it made me uncomfortable to not be home and potentially not be there for the disaster my little brain had come to expect, it was a chance every few days to be on my own. I had a day to myself, to breathe, to feel some freedom and independence.
These were elementary school years. I was very young, so young that I didn’t even go to the ‘adult’ library. Instead, I’d park my little stingray bicycle outside the front of the tiny building and excitedly dump the six books I was returning on the front desk and head off to where my favorite authors’ works were displayed. Henry Huggins, The Three Investigators, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona, Encyclopedia Brown. They were often mysteries, or books about boys playing baseball or football, or getting paper routes, or any of a number of mundane, ordinary things that kids do. For some strange reason I didn’t like to read about girls…always boys. They were all books about happy kids doing happy things. None of the stories had sick characters, or mothers who cried all day. I lapped these stories up for hours and hours every day, which was why library days occurred quite frequently.
I would languish in that room that smelled of paper and old building for as long as my little heart desired, leaving only when my growling stomach demanded I continue on the ritual path. Six news books in tow, the next stop was the downtown Woolworth’s, where I would sidle up to the lunch counter and confidently order my hot beef sandwich and vanilla coke, casually flipping through one of my new prized possessions as I waited. When I had soaked up every drop of gravy with my last piece of Wonder Bread, I’d pay and be on my way.
Without fail, I would first go browse the record store, to see if David Cassidy, the Monkeys, or Bread had a new album, and then head next door to the sporting goods store, where I might buy a new baseball cap or shirt. Did I mention that I was a tomboy?
With all my new purchases and borrowed books, I’d finally head home, having managed a healthy several hours away from sadness. The route I took was the same every time, the order of stores to visit, the meal, the path home, all of it. This was very much a ritual that my soul required to stay alive. In it, I located for at least a few hours a tenuous sense of control. If I had to be away from my mother, at least I did it exactly on my own terms.
Sometimes, by the time I arrived home, she would have pulled herself together enough to get dressed and look okay enough for me to retreat to my room and read. But other times, it was clear that she needed company, and so I would sit by her and try to convey, somehow, that everything was going to be fine. I was not feeling sick, and that Kathy was not currently sick, and that Tom was at work at Dad’s company, so really, she didn’t need to worry. Oh, if it were so simple! There was no convincing a mother of three kids with a fatal diagnosis that ‘everything was going to be fine.’
Later, when I would be required to sit on the toilet for seemingly hours dealing with the consequences of undigested hot beef sandwich, I would take the toilet paper roll off the roller and press it against my aching belly as I hunched over it and wonder what it would be like if I could just cut out my torso between my bottom ribs and hips and replace it with one from one of my happy fictional characters. Did they do belly transplants? I didn’t have many ‘poor me’ thoughts about the belly pain. It seemed justified somehow. If my being in this family could justify my mother’s sadness, then surely I deserved to have stomach aches.