“Container Store is having their shelving sale again,” my husband said, tossing the Container Store catalog onto the table in front of me.
He kept his voice and facial expression carefully neutral, but I could feel the tension in the room as I, ever so slowly, reached out to touch the glossy, colorful pages. It was as if the room around us held its breath, waiting to see which way this would go. Would there be rejoicing at all the varied and glorious shelving choices available to me? Or would there be wailing, gnashing of teeth, and tearing of clothing as the utter despair that comes with knowing one will never, ever, ever have enough shelf space washed over me? It could go either way, really. Shelving is not a topic to be bandied about lightly. At least, not in our house.
Because my name is Pish. And I am both a shelving addict and a shelving failure.
My tale of storage woe has to start with the books, I suppose. This is only sensible, as most everything in my house and my world (both real and imaginary) starts with books, somehow. You see, my house is short on storage space and long on books. They congregate on my nightstand. They hang out on the kitchen table, the coffee tables on my first and second floors, and the space under the bed. They cram into the empty spots on my shoe rack. They lie in wait under the television, in that spot where the DVD cases are supposed to go. They spill happily over onto the floor, where they form orderly stacks. When we moved into our house, it quickly became apparent that there wasn’t nearly enough closet space to go around, as my husband is something of a clotheshorse. So he bought me a lovely, large armoire. We put it on the second floor, and he told me I could store all my clothes in there. I made the mistake, shortly after it arrived, of stashing some books in there. “It’s just a couple,” I reasoned to myself, “What possible harm could it do?” Well, let me tell you this: Apparently, books breed if left to their own devices in a cozy, dark space. I now have to stack my clothes on top of the shoe rack in my room because my armoire is full of books. And this is after I’ve gone through and done my yearly “culling” — a painful process full of reflection, self-doubt, and many tears of regret.
Truthfully, it’s a sad state of affairs. I feel, somewhere deep inside myself, that I should be ashamed. No one needs this many books. Plus, I can never find that one volume that I need when I need or want it. It’s like looking for a pin in a stack of pins. The thing is, I’m not ashamed. Not really. I love my books. Even if I can never know exactly what I have or where it might be stored, I can honestly say I love each and every volume with a devotion that I like to think is “cute and quirky”, but which, really, borders on full-out insanity.
I was a lonely child. Oh, I didn’t realize this at the time. While traversing my childhood and teenage years, I never gave it much thought, but, if I had, I wouldn’t have said I was lonely. Looking back on it now, though, with the adult-sized knowledge that comes from piling on the years, I can honestly say I was a lonely and fairly misunderstood kid. I didn’t have friends — not really. I went to a small school and I wasn’t a particularly obnoxious or intrusive person, so people were friendly enough to me. No one bullied me or gave me a hard time. And there were lots of schoolmates who were my “friends” as long as they needed something: help with schoolwork, to borrow something from my locker, etc. But friendship ended there. I wasn’t the kid who got invited to sleep overs or parties. I never had a “best friend”. Ever. There wasn’t anyone with whom I could whisper secrets and share private jokes. I wasn’t included in weekend plans. I dated a little, but not very much. I might have enjoyed hanging out with the other kids my age, especially as a teenager, but no one thought to invite me. Really, no one much cared. I don’t say that to garner sympathy or to indicate that life was miserable and awful for me. I say it because it’s the truth. Kids are self-centered jerks, in general. I think it’s kind of part of growing up, and the best the universe can hope for is that most of those self-centered, jerky kids grow out of it and turn into fairly responsible, kind adults.
Books were my friends. If I wandered into the pages of a book, I could lose myself. I could forget I had opinions and thoughts and feelings no one cared about. I could forget that no one really liked me. I could forget I was lonely. I could forget I didn’t have any friends. I could forget that I didn’t matter. Even more than that, I could follow along on the hero’s adventures and, for that small span of time, really BE somebody. I could be more than I was. I could be exciting and creative and fun. In short, for a little while, I could be “not me”. It was a grand thing.
As an adult, I think I’m more comfortable with myself. I’m not there yet, but I’ve worked really hard over the last three years to feel like I belong in my own skin. To feel like I am a real person and that I matter and have worth in the world. I have a couple of friends, even. It’s not a lot, but I’m okay with that, too. I’ve come to realize that not everyone is cut out to have hundreds of friends — and that’s okay. The best part is that I have a wonderful husband who loves me, and an even more wonderful, amazing daughter. I am blessed in so many ways. I can finally see that, when I take a deep breath and look around at my life. Maybe I don’t even need the books any more. Maybe I don’t need to disappear inside them or pretend to be someone I’m not.
But there’s still a little bit of that lonely kid, deep down inside of me. And she loves her books. Who am I to tell her she’s wrong? She’s heard that, often enough, from the world outside. I would rather leave her in peace, even if that means living surrounded by piles and stacks of books. There are worse things in the universe. Fire ants, for instance. Fire ants are much worse than living among stacks of books.
And so, that brings me back full-circle, to my kitchen on that sunny morning a few days ago when my husband tossed the Container Store catalog in front of me. I’ve long entertained the dream of living in a house where every room holds walls and walls of shelved books. It’s a wonderful dream, even though I know it can never come true. There will never be enough space for the books. There probably aren’t enough shelves in the universe to hold them all, because, once I have new shelf space, I will just fill it up to overflowing with more books.
“Just walk away,” I whispered to myself, staring down at the catalog. “Don’t get sucked in again. It’ll never work.”
And I know this is true. I can feel it, in the very marrow of my bones. I feel it even as I reach out and, tentatively, flip the first page. I know it even as I look at the shelving pictures and feel my heart soar in hope and anticipation. Oh yeah … here we go again.