By Nancy King
Long before I pack my suitcases, before I think about what clothes to take, I choose the books that will keep me company on my trip. I almost never leave home without a book. When I decided to move from Delaware to New Mexico, after thirty-five years of teaching at a university, with both a home and school office, I gave away or sold many dozens of cartons of books. The books I brought with me to Santa Fe were all hand chosen. All important to me. They fill eight bookcases, seven feet high, lining the walls of my five-sided study. Being surrounded by books from my childhood—folk tales, Jewish stories, novels, autobiographies and memoirs, essays, poetry, short stories, philosophy, books about women, theatre, movement, spirituality, and books with no clear category—enhances my sense of wellbeing. I’ve read all of some of them and some of all of them. I have a personal connection with every book.
Books have always mattered to me. From the time I found a way to read at three, they filled a hole in my heart. They took the place of the friends I didn’t have. From an early age people appeared and disappeared from my life with no warning, without a goodbye. I learned that I couldn’t count on people to be caring. Unlike my experiences with people, books have always been a reliable source of comfort, a balm for my soul. Perhaps it’s silly to compare books to people, but this is the way I feel. Some part of me expects people I care about to disappear or leave. Even though I may be sad about this, only once in my life did a person’s leaving affect me deeply for a long period of time. Ironically it was an abusive relationship I had tried to end.
Last Sunday evening, around 8:15, I was in my book-lined study, talking on the phone with a friend, and heard an extended bout of thunder followed by a hard deluge of rain. It wasn’t thunder. It wasn’t rain. Much to my horror and disbelief, water began pouring in through the windows and doors of my study on a mad rampage that took my breath away. I called my contractor. Within thirty-five minutes all the water had been turned off and the valve that exploded in the upstairs toilet, which caused the noise and flood, had been capped. For the next few hours my contractor and I mopped floors and walls and ceilings. He hoisted soaked rugs out to the deck to drip onto earth instead of wood floors. I learned how few towels I had as we put wet ones into the dryer so they could absorb more water. My wrists ached from twisting water out of heavy towels. Downstairs, I covered my bookcases with plastic sheeting to save my books from the unending river of water. We poked holes in the puddling ceiling of my study so water could flow into pots. After he had gone, for the next few hours, as water continued to flow, I kept poking holes into ceiling puddles, putting pots under the dripping to catch the water.
The next day the contractor came with a crew. I had to leave. I couldn’t bear to see the men put my books into boxes. Easy enough to put books into boxes. Not so easy to take them out of boxes and put them into any semblance of the order in which they had once lived. I lost my sense of self, my spiritual compass, my deepest source of comfort.
My garage is now filled with boxes and boxes and boxes of books and bookcases and furniture. My study has no walls, no ceiling, no carpet—just studs and a concrete floor.
I know that one day my study will once again have walls, a carpet, and bookcases filled with my books. But for now I am bookless. I am without comfort. I am bereft.
Santa Fe-based Nancy King’s newest novel is Opening Gates. On www.nancykingstories.com you can read excerpts of her five novels and learn about her books of nonfiction that focus on the power of stories, imagination, and creativity. Nancy leads workshops on creative writing, memoir, exploring imagination, the healing power of stories, and discovering our inner stories. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org