Libraries and my reinvention

My friend died that day. He was shot in the chest. My best friend might as well have died that day: He got jumped into a gang. A block away, a dark red spot i could see from my 2-step front porch was where a pizza man was killed. The police found him with the car running, all of the pizzas in the back seat, two pockets full of money, a cell phone, and dead. The only reason he was killed because it was fun. My mother had a terminal illness, and she might be gone in a year or five. My mom’s boyfriend broke things, screamed at us, hits us, and caused fights that went on for hours and hours. I listened to my mom yell for him to stop it, but it’s like he didn’t hear her. Thursday through Sunday I spent the evening at one of the neighbors’ till the porch light went on, which was the signal to go home because her boyfriend had gone to bed. As I laid in my bed, listening for him to wake up and trying to sleep, I counted the gunshots.  The only peace that existed in my house or neighborhood was when no one was there. I was 12 and I needed an escape.

The library, the books, the quiet…it was all an amazing adventure to me. It was like going to a foreign land. All the lawns were manicured, and they had doors instead of steel screens and then doors. They had shutters outside of their windows, and even planters attached to the window sill. I’d only ever seen bars on windows. (My room window however didn’t have bars. I removed the bars and screen so that I could get out of my house quickly when the fighting started.) There were trees to climb in front yards instead of at parks. Eucalyptus trees lined the front of the library, and the smell and leaves would blow by as you walked up to the building.

Inside, silence was mandatory and I welcomed it. Silence to listen; listen to the microfiche machines, the whispers, the librarians, the silence. When you are around yelling, shooting, banging, roaring, and slamming all the time – silence is Amazing! Suddenly, the library became my sanctuary and my haven. It was where all my questions about life and the world were answered, and where many adventures were waiting for me through the research as I strove for knowledge and understanding. These books, manuals, and volumes reached out to me to help me, inspire me, motivate me, and direct me.

They picked 1 day a week to corral all the under 18 patrons that summer into one of the back rooms. I had succeeded in getting away from these arts and craft days by hiding in the book stacks or busying myself at a microfiche machine. Each time they would announce it, books and research became my number 1 priority. By the time the head librarian has come see me I was knee deep in research about the Peloponnese war, the reality of the bible, or some other idea I had created to research.  There was no teen section, or tween camp…it was just the library. It had a kids section (7 and younger) with books where the main characters were bunnies or squirrels or bears, and everything rhymed. Then it had the rest…I was very content looking at the book stacks, looking at the magazines, and looking up books from random words I was interested in. But not that day….

That day the librarian hunted and searched me out. She found me in the far corner reading The Great Gatsby for the second time. I explained I would rather read, but she yanked me out of the chair and walked me to the back room. Inside the glass walls was a young Hispanic man who was setting up a projector. The librarian explained she was onto me and if I didn’t participate, I wouldn’t be allowed in the library unsupervised. I couldn’t believe it…I was up against a wall.

The man begin is “talk” by asking us to introduce ourselves. All sorts of well dressed happy kids were there to answer with a bright smile. I was wearing my vans, ripped jeans with patches, and a star wars shirt. My face was dirty from sweat from the 5 mile walk to the library, and I forget to brush my teeth. I answered quickly and looked to the door…she was standing right there. No escape!

The man explained about a violent place, a horrible place, a place where people were killed and raped and destroyed.

Was he my neighbor?

In fact, he was talking about where he was from. He explained his gang experiences, his jail time, and his drug time. I was listening. He was living my life, had lived my life…I got it.

I hadn’t done the things he did, but I was a lot younger. I was definitely on that road.  He asked us to answer a few questions (my answers are in parenthesis):

If a person touches you what do you do? (Hit them until they stop touching you)

If a person doesn’t agree with you, what do you do? (Yell at them, and then hurt them if they want to argue.)

If a person is hurting you, what do you do? (Kill them)

If you get angry what do you do? (Break things, throw things, and make the other person or people pay for angering you. Especially if they are talking about your property or family)

Whats the best way to change your life? (Make it happen and don’t take no for an answer. Get what you deserve any way you can.)

What does it mean to be a man/woman? (Don’t take shit from anyone. If they want a challenge, you are the person for it. Be tough…don’t cry)

When he came to me and I answered he laughed. I got mad. WTF – Why are you laughing at me?  I got up and walked towards the door….the librarian said, no more library. I sat down.

The man asked about the no more library thing, and I explained by yelling. He smiled and asked me to sit down. He explained that if it wasn’t worth it, he’d give me $5. Ok..I’ll listen.

He explained about choices….We all have choices in our life. We can choose to be like everyone else, or we can choose to be our own self. We can choose violence, or we can choose nonviolence and acceptance and peace. We have that choice. So when you are angry, you have a choice what to do.

He explained that we CAN be whomever we want to be. We just have to decide to do it. He showed us how violence solves nothing, and the world is not as violent as we think it is.

When he was done talking he offered me the $5. I took it, of course I did…I was a poor angry kid. Then he asked me a question:

What choice are you making?

I chose to give him back the $5.

I chose to change my life.

I don’t know who that man or that librarian was….but if they are reading this, I thank them.

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