I didn’t expect my first Step to be all that eventful. I mean… it’s a book store, for god’s sake. I’ve done it before. It’s kind of akin to making a big deal about going to Target without my kids. While this is undeniably much less of a train wreck than going to Target WITH my kids, that’s beside the point. What I’m getting at here is that I didn’t expect my trip to Barnes and Noble to be life changing.
However, I also didn’t expect it to be totally depressing. I thought it would be an easy one, you know? It should have been, for all intents and purposes. There were so many people there alone, there were comfy chairs to sit in and linger.
First and foremost you should know that when I pulled into my parking spot, there was a man two rows down that was standing outside of his car, with his trunk open, taking off his shirt. He was not an attractive man. He took his shirt off, unleashing a lot of really pasty white skin on my eyeballs, then used the removed shirt to swab off his armpits and then wipe off his head and face. I might have gone face THEN armpits, but I’m a bit of a renaissance parking-lot-whore’s-bather. He then pulled a new shirt out of his trunk, put it on, and put deodorant on from his trunk too. I almost had sex with him, but I controlled myself somehow.
But I digress. My first mistake once I got inside was going down the self improvement aisle. I don’t know what I was thinking. I think I was imagining I’d find some great, quirky little book on going it alone that would be just perfect. Instead I spent about 5 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back browsing through Suze Orman, Dr. Phil and titles that actually included “How to Make ANYONE Fall in Love With You”. At one point I thought, “What man am I going to attract from this aisle?”, but I just as quickly reminded myself that wasn’t why I was there. As a final jab from life, I had to walk through the “Sexuality” aisle to get to where I was headed. Not a concern, life. Evidently I’ll be taking a break from sexuality. Pretty excited about it.
I got to Fiction eventually. This was my element, this was more within the boundaries of my comfort zone. I walked through aisle after aisle, running my fingers along the spines of carefully crafted stories of life and loss and love. After an hour, I hadn’t found what I was looking for. Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult came and went, Nicholas Sparks haunted my footsteps. Soooo many novels are about love; finding it, losing it, needing it, wanting it. What about me? Where are all the novels where people are okay on their own? Where they are their own happy ending? Blech. I had reached a certain level of bitterness and mild desperation when the poor employee approached me. The conversation went a little bit like this:
Her: Can I help you find anything?
Me: Um… I’m not really sure.
Her: Well, is there something in particular that you’re looking for?
Me: Well… I’m looking for a love story, but it can’t be too happy because I just got dumped, but it can’t be sad because that will be too depressing and I’m already depressed. So maybe not a love story… but nothing with somebody dying, or having some horrible tragic life, or about people that are just horrible human beings.
Her: …Okay… so maybe something funny?
Me: Oh, no, I want it to have some substance. Something profound.
Her: …So… something profound that isn’t sad or romantic or tragic?
Me: …I think I’m just browsing.
Her: (as she’s walking away from me really fast) Okay, well let me know if I can help you find anything!
It was about then that the Lonely started to set in. It snuck in like smoke. It began with my mind wandering to Ben. I considered that wherever he was, he was not having to fight this so fiercely as I was. I wondered what it was that made me so easy to leave. I pulled book after book off the shelf whose back covers gave brief tales of a person finding love, a person who never thought they’d love again loving, a person loving against all odds. I felt my shoulders droop and my brave heart began to sink. I was Lonely. I considered calling it a night, I had been there 45 minutes already, surely 45 minutes would prove the point, right?
When I stumbled upon the (much too small) section of Tom Robbins books accidentally, I immediately sat down in the middle of the aisle. There were so many I had wanted to read over the years: Skinny Legs and All, Still Life with Woodpecker, Jitterbug Perfume, on and on. I sat cross legged on the floor and poured over page after page from each book I was considering – weighing the typeface and the prose. I realized somewhere in the midst of all those books that I didn’t have any reason to leave just then. I don’t have anyone to come home to tonight, I’m not expecting a call or a text that I’ll need to take. I am alone, but I am also untethered. I have no dinner time – I choose my own schedule. I can sit in this aisle, pouring over these books until this store closes if I want to. Or I can buy them all, hurry home and open one right this very moment and I won’t have to hear about anyone’s day before I do it. I won’t have to make anyone laugh or feel better or be comfortable before I can read them. There were people passing by me in the aisles, but I was alone.
I reminded myself, with gentle prodding, that ending up with someone is not just a matter of Who, but of When, and that this is not my When with Ben. I need this time and space, every minute of it. I am still a mess, my life and mind and heart are still riddled with chaos. I am still unable to stand without leaning. I can do better than this.
I grabbed a Harry Potter book, too. As much as I love the movies, I’ve never read any of the books. I took my two new treasures and found a chair in a corner and tucking my knees up toward my chest I opened one and began to read it. I spent almost 3 hours at the book store, alone. I took perhaps the smallest of steps, but I took it on my own, and that made all the difference.