My hands were shoved deep into my pockets as I scanned the spines lined up along the shelves in your kitchen. Your apartment was hardly large enough to say these rooms were at all separate, the demarcation just a dresser and a wood-stove. Between them you stood, changing your shirt and insisting that I occupy myself in ways other than watching.
Books, everywhere. Books like a stripe along the wall, books stacked in some places floor to ceiling. You’d taken me in that night as my world fell apart. Earlier that day we’d flirted on my lunch break:
”You’ve got critterish, glittering, state-fair eyes.” I’d said.
You nodded and smiled knowingly.
”I’ll be seeing more of you.”
That afternoon we met in the library and between the shelves conducted ourselves like a business meeting, an interview. We discussed past lovers and quirks, we spoke of dreams and favorite everythings. I was waiting for you after your class that night and explained the meltdown I’d just sat through.
“I have wine, but you have to take me to the store for groceries and make me a salad.” I thought it was a reasonable deal. I accused you of suggesting salad as a means of appearing feminine. You accused me of being an asshole, but did so without venom. You went to shower after dinner and instructed that when done, you were to find me on your bed with a stack of my favorite books off of your shelves. I grinned, as lopsidedly as I could force myself, in what I was sure was my most charming manner:
”And what if I don’t take well to orders, and just leave?” Your shirt fell to the floor.
”Then you’re an idiot.”, and you disappeared into the bathroom.
Once you returned we sat cross legged, reading each other Neruda & Baudelaire, Joyce and Bob Dylan. We soon grew physical, and between kisses I murmured:
”I bet you’ve got a lot of skin…” You were silent, but not appalled.
”I’d like to get to know all of it, is all.” I said, wine and poetry making me unafraid.
When the world stopped spinning, when my breath returned to me, still in the afterglow, still sweaty and tangled, we chewed on our names and how good they’d look on dust jackets. Eventually- how could we not?- we turned to mergers of your name and mine, decided it was too good to pass up. Before long, my books crammed your shelves already full. I took special care to mingle them so there would be no line of yours and mine, no stacks to know which hers, which his.
I gave you a ring. You tried on vintage wedding dresses.
Before winter thawed the mountains we sat in your car, in the rain. We were outside the library parking lot, I’d sheltered there in the stacks like you’d sheltered me that first night. But you called me away and when the car didn’t start, I thought a new shelf was about to filled.
Little did I know, you were emptying it. After tears, a Neruda poem, and a return of that ring, I affably left, a forced smile, an insistence that I would be ok, that I would always be ready for you to return to me. Later I’d pick meticulously through our shelves, and god knows some of mine were left behind, though none of yours came with me.
But that day, in the storm, I walked into the library, and among those foreign public stacks, so different from our own, more impressive, yet colder, I sought comfort. Those stacks full of words and wisdom but vacant and unfamiliar gave me Salinger, and gave me Nims. They gave me back the tears withheld as I had tried to be brave in the face of your leaving.
But they did not give me back you.