Last Saturday I stopped by the local library to pick up a book on reserve – Nathan Englander’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank (a beautiful short story collection). Digging in my wallet for my library card while checking out, I came up empty. No library card. What – it was just here, it’s always here, it’s always been here…
“You have a $2.38 fine,” the librarian said, to add insult to injury.
“Wait,” I said, “Can I tell you my barcode number to check out?”
She nodded, glasses glinting. She typed while I rattled it off, but didn’t seem impressed. “I know mine by heart too,” she said, and we smiled at each other.
I asked her how much a new library card was, and she surprised me when she said it was only a dollar. Of course, I thought after a moment, this is the public library – who would be so heartless as to charge a boatload for a library card? I had no cash, so I slowly wrote her a check for $3.38, eyes smarting. I dropped my pen twice. The librarian smiled kindly during this emotional process, which took me, like, ten minutes.
My first library card lasted me 17 years. I was a proud four-year old when I wrote “Brooke McDonald” in slanting, block-letter four-year-old handwriting with a permanent marker. For 17 years, that card lived constantly in my purse or wallet – beginning with my puffy aqua Aladdin wallet as a little girl and ending in my fancy schmancy Vera Bradley wallet that I now carry. My card allowed me thousands of happy hours of reading.
That is, until sometime in the last few weeks when it went missing.
Nowadays I’m a typical American with a wallet full of plastic – credit and debit cards, TJMaxx and Starbucks gift cards, a Red Cross blood donor card, a driver’s license, a health insurance card. Plastic is plentiful.
Except, that first plastic library card marked my first adult venture, my first ownership. I remember accidentally leaving the card in my library books when I returned them, a few times, and a librarian would page me over the intercom, interrupting the library stillness: “Will Brooke McDonald please come to the desk?” I left it in my jeans pocket once, and the card got a crease in the plastic. It went through the wash. My name started to wear off.
That card linked me with the old Maple Grove library, an ugly building with tall shelves and a strange pointed mountain range roof, a place I spent hours of my becoming, my youth. The new library is a place of windows and air. It is unfamiliar to me.
These days, childhood is a fading dream as life becomes increasingly more adult. The ways I use my plastic cards reflect this. I use my cards to prove my age, build my credit score, fill up my car at the pump.
Still, I slide a precious plastic library card across a slick counter, so I can hold a book in my arms and take it home to love.
The new card – I am grateful to have it. It’s suspiciously stiff, but I’ve marked it with my grown-up signature and allotted it a spot next to its new plastic friends. (Also, the librarian gave me a mini card for my keychain – nifty).
The new card marks a new beginning, but it also links me to myself. It is a symbol of who I am – a comfort in the midst of change. I am still me, books are still books, and come what may, I will always love them.