I’m not sure how it started, exactly. One day I must have been walking to school and instead of turning left toward the tall gray concrete building, climbing the stairs to sit in Mr. Lokken’s Algebra II class, I turned right toward the public library.
I spent the first few hours browsing. First flipping through cards filed alphabetically, kept in long pull-out drawers that sighed when you opened, then closed them. Next, walking up and down the aisles, pulling books off to browse because the title or a familiar author or the color of the spine.
I must have checked out five or six books that day, one was Rukeyser’s selected poems, which I carried around in my backpack way past the due date. Returning books to the library on time is not a skill I ever mastered. Messenger bag heavy with books, I walked out into the cold, quiet, empty streets of downtown Aberdeen to the new, hopefully to stay this time, cafe. I ordered a bagel with sun-dried tomato cream cheese and a cappuccino, found a table with a windowed view. I wrote through the afternoon with my new roller-ball blue pen–poems, snippets of stories, quotes from the books I browsed through. I jotted down pieces of conversation overheard at other tables.
“You wont’ believe what she said, Grace.”
“Well, you tell her she can go to hell for all I care.”
Not unusual for any day in Aberdeen, rain drummed the sidewalk. The tables were all different, but all varnished wood. Probably picked up at the consignment shop down the road, the one whose storefront took up an entire block. On my table a small faceted glass vase held a bouquet of fake pansies. I used most of the surface of the table to stack all the books from by bag, lay down my open notebook, set out some pens, a pencil, a highlighter, plus a corner for my coffee and my empty bagel plate.
An hour after I would have been getting out of school for the day, I stepped out onto the sidewalk, green umbrella popped open. I walked the entire eight miles home.
When my mom asked, “How was your day today?” I said, “It was okay”, then took a bite of the peanut butter honey sandwich I’d just made and went upstairs.
I believe that this is how it started, with this day. A whim. A trip to the library. An afternoon at the coffee shop. A long walk home. After that, I couldn’t stop skipping class. I skipped school so that I could haunt downtown Aberdeen: the library, the coffee shop, one of three thrift stores. No stranger seemed to notice or care and my mom didn’t figure it out for months.
I suppose there were lots of reasons I started skipping class. A better day for an introvert. A day spent pursuing my own curiosity, reading the books I wanted to read. The compulsion to find some solitude to write. That compulsion that continues even to this day. At least once per week, sometimes more, I find myself walking to work so tempted to turn left toward downtown.