Library Days: On Natural Disasters.

“We’ve gotta hurry, the librarians are going to miss me!” I say to my someone, cramming my To Return Books and my To Renew Books in the same bag. “And I don’t want to miss him!  He leaves by 10:30, usually,” I add with urgency.

My Someone laughs, but he knows I’m not kidding.  In fact, today my Someone is going to escort me in to fact check my ritual.  He’s not disappointed.  My guy is there, in his regular attire, clicking video after video.

I knew you’d be here! I thought.  I smiled at my Someone, pleased with my accuracy.

Consistency makes the heart grow fonder.

It’s Library Season, which usually means logging my calendar full of due dates and renewals, with a stack of books beside by borrowed room’s bed that dwindles slowly as the time for us to hit the road again approaches.  But this winter is different.  I am not only in a borrowed room, but also with a borrowed library card.  The stack of books is still the same, but the town is different.  I am taking Library Season to a new level of stillness, and have been spending every Tuesday morning here, in a small central California town’s library.  I sit at the same table in the same chair at the same time each week.

I’m not the only regular, though.  Aside from my friendly local librarians, there’s a man in a green track suit with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle backpack who beats me here every Tuesday.  The first week, from my deliberately chosen chair, I had a full view of his public computer screen.  At first, I went about my business.  Public library time is sacred time, I believe, and everyone has a right to explore in the peace of 1970’s carpet and thick wooden chairs without snoops over your shoulder.

Except that he was murmuring to himself.  And then he was laughing.  I glanced up.  This man was watching natural disasters on Youtube.  Landslides.  Earthquakes.  River floods.  Tsunamis.  Again and again, the man clicked, watched, and then murmured.  Back to landslides, and he laughed.

I froze.  I felt sick.  I made involuntary associations with his skin color and terrorism.  And then, I realized, the only act of terror this man was watching was Mother Nature’s.  God’s.  Climate Change’s (ours).  I felt sick again.  You racist asshole, I murmured to myself.  I went back to writing.  Then, with my presumptions out of the way, my curiosity was pure.  I couldn’t resist.

Why does he only laugh at the landslides?

“I can’t believe you two like reading the same things,” my librarian said.  “I’ve been married for 43 years, and we don’t read anything alike.”

My Someone helped me load up my bag of Renewals.  We delighted in the perceived compliment, agreeably.

“And music,” she continued, “you have the music that you share!  All he listens to is classical, and that’s a no go.  I’m really a rock’n’roll gal, sometimes folk– always stuck in the 60’s.”

“That’s a good place to be stuck,” my Someone and I said in unison.  You can’t make this cute shit up.  We all laughed.

While my new Hold books were being located, I nodded my Someone across the room.  My Natural Disasters Guy was finishing up his free hour on the computer.  I was disappointed to not see actual natural disasters on the screen, but instead a close second of horror movie previews, one after another.

I like your friends, my Someone texted me a few minutes after he left me here.

“I try to exercise every day,” my librarian said.  I stopped my pen to listen.  “He hasn’t exercised except after his heart surgery, but then he stopped.  I just think, well, that’s your problem, then.  I can’t make him do what I do.  We are just different, and now he’s paying for it– or at least he will.”

That’s a toughie, I thought, stretching my legs under the table.  My Someone and I walk every morning together, sometimes in the afternoon, too.  We take hikes and sometimes he’ll do yoga with me when he complains too much about an ache in his neck or shoulder.  I kept listening, feeling smug, feeling better, and feeling disappointed when she finished talking to her friend and went to recategorize the New Books section.

Truthfully, my Someone and I have had a tough couple of weeks.  I’ve been slopping through my grief and self medicating with working too much, while he has been haggardly aware, darting, and stressing to deal with his own and mine.  Only in the last couple days have we settled into some sort of lovebird normalcy.  But even in the worst of it, we’ve walked side-by-side every morning, throwing sticks for our pup and taking note of the progress of fruit rotting into the ground in the orchards.

How fortunate.  How lucky.  How much better I have it.

This is crazy, I realized.

These are my natural disaster videos.  These are my replays.  These are my sensors that sit on alert, craving someone else’s story of a life I don’t want so I can appreciate the one I have.  It’s a fear in the brain, a lift from the drudgery of the usual mountains I am climbing to watch the mountain next to mine shake with an avalanche.  I sit and I watch and I am taken somewhere I’m not.  Then I sit back to see my own mountain.  Still a climb, but at least it’s sturdy.  And I laugh.  Maybe it’s relief or maybe it’s malice.  With something of that scale, so unexpected, I don’t know how to distinguish fear from empathy from joy.  I do know that at any minute, though, my Someone is coming to pick me up again.  He’ll see me looking like a normal person, typing at my own computer with a few new books to take home.  But I’m actually just a guy in a green track suit who sits here every week at the same time in the same chair, hitting replay on a two minute clip of an earthquake in a Central California library.

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