I think it is the knowing of that feeling that makes us human, and makes this all relatable.
Sometimes I struggle with memory. I don't struggle to recall things, but I recall them too well and get lost in reminiscence and fear loss of appreciation for the present moment. I am immediately drawn to the 'Staff Picks/Staff Favorites' sections of bookstores. Though I appreciate wandering about alone, I love to know what other people are reading and why they feel a certain way about a book. On sabbatical I went to a bookstore (if not multiple) in every town I was in, and I noticed that the Staff Recommendations have a lot in common, as do the contemporary fiction display tables. I picked up All The Light We Cannot See because the title was so familiar. After starting to read the synopsis on the inside of the front cover, I transported to where I had read it before: The Last Bookstore in LA. And as the murmurs of people around me drowned out, I remembered the high ceilings, the separate 'Art' room, and the artist studios lining the second floor and the tunnel they had created out of books. I remembered what it was like to be lost in a bookstore and not feel pressured by the person you're with to 'hurry up and decide', but to know that the time in a bookstore is often not a matter of decision but a length of awe. I recalled the coffee table book I had picked up in LA, Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores. I wished I had bought it. And I thought of the artist on the second floor of that bookstore that I now follow on Instagram and have exchanged heartfelt messages with. I remembered the book I actually left The Last Bookstore with for $4, and the conversation Giselle and I had in the car immediately after.
"We should get gas."
"Eh, we can probably make it to Venice."
"It says '0 miles to empty'."
"Oh. ...Yeah. Ugh, dammit Tina."
And for a moment the coat that I was wearing in Denver was replaced with California sun beating down on my bare shoulders.
And as I stood in Tattered Cover on 16th Street in Denver, I closed the copy I was holding of All The Light We Cannot See and the memory quieted as I placed the book back on the shelf. I turned my head and my ponytail rested to the left of my neck, and half-expected Giselle to come around the corner with a book, telling me to "Look at this!" in the exclamatory yet hushed voice that advocates use in bookstores. Not everyone appreciates bookstores, and that's fine. I have a friend that is visiting LA right now, and when we had brunch before he left Denver I told him, with a rush of excitement, that he had to visit The Last Bookstore. I realized immediately that it was a waste of a recommendation, and was disappointed in myself. Maybe a record store is a bookstore for him. Or maybe he doesn't have a bookstore. Either is fine.
(it's fine, i'm fine, everything is fine.)
I walked around corner and came upon a tiny booth that was unoccupied. I slid in, bookless, just to sit. I tried to listen to every voice around me, but they blended together and became one with the buzzing of coffee beans being ground behind the counter to my left. I put my headphones in, searching for a song for my moment. Spotify chose "Late Night (It's Okay)" by VHS Collection for me, which is from an eight and a half hour playlist labeled '4KG', created by Andrew Wisniewski. This playlist played an important part on sabbatical for me, and as my eyes let the grain of the table defocus I went back to the beach on Highway 1 just north of Big Sur, which was the last time I had listened really listened to this song.
My drive down Highway 1 was all cloud and drizzle, and it was somewhere around the first "It's okay," line that I found tears streaming down my face as I stared out at the ocean through my windshield. I rested my forehead on the top of the steering wheel and watched as drops of tears slid down the silver VW logo and wondered why I was crying. I clenched my jaw and tried to stop, to no avail. I felt completely alone in that moment, and tried to completely feel. This is something I'd been chasing, been fearing, been ignoring and am [(un)fortunately] still staggering in and out of. When the song ended I got out of my car and dragged my toes in the sand, feeling the humidity curl my hair and letting the smell of salty water create a memory. I'd tell you how long I did that for, but time wasn't a measure to keep track of when I lived out of my car.
"Late Night (It's Okay)" came to a close and I yanked my headphones out of my ears and slid out of the booth because that was enough of that. I walked through every section in Tattered Cover, gazing up often to get lost with the high ceilings and beautiful pillars, the options of being in countless different worlds wrapping themselves around me. I bought a book and waited in line to pay for it. I walked down 16th Street with the book held tightly to my chest partly because it was cold, partly because I was excited: because I had a new book, because 16th Street is lined with Christmas lights, because there was a horse-drawn carriage, because it's the holidays, because I get to see my family soon, because I have memories. I shuffled along with my eyes down, and with a small, simple smile, because bookstores bring humanity two-fold: by being a bookstore and the enormity that entails, and by giving you the experience you're about to live while reading a book.