Fort Vancouver Regional Library is the first place that made Vancouver feel like "home" to me. It sits at the corner of Mill Plain Blvd and Fort Vancouver Way. The high school I sort-of attended is a half-mile down the street to the east; the community college where I take courses is a couple blocks to the north. South of the library, on Evergreen Blvd, is the Fort Vancouver barracks and Officer's Row. I don't know much about our military fort and I've never really cared, but I've always loved the area between the Fort and Clark College. Officer's Row is the old officer's housing, of course; the homes have been remodeled now and are monuments of a sort. Turned into shoppes, restaurants, and flats, they rent for outrageous amounts and cater to very snooty people.
The street is long and narrow, lined with large, old trees. Officer's Row is in perpetual shade. A large park runs the length of the barracks, so that the park is a buffer between the barracks and the road. People jog with their dogs, or push babies in strollers and have picnics at the park.
Colin and I lived in an apartment just down the street from the barracks. The fire-works show at the Fort every July Fourth was visible from our balcony. A couple blocks to the west is a Mexican food restaurant where my family celebrated all our birthdays and special events when I was young.
In 1996 this area had a severe wind storm. School let us out early so we could go home and be all safe, but I walked down Officer's Row instead, hoping one of those big, big trees would be blown over and crush me, but that never happened.
I was a little troubled as a kid, angry and withdrawn and stupid. I wanted to be left alone and I only ever got that freedom at the library. You don't get into trouble there for loitering; you can plop down on a couch and read all damn day and nobody hassled you. So I spent a lot of time there. The library was my haven from an angry mother, from a mean step-father, from my drug-addicted father, from my boyfriend who pressured me into sex, and my girlfriend who didn't understand my moodiness and need for alone-time, from my shallow class-mates, from my creepy math teacher who wanted me to stay after school. The library didn't judge me or hate me or put its hand up my skirt. The library didn't make demands on me; it loved me, sheltered me, and swallowed me whole when everyone else wanted to eat away pieces of me.
There are large rose-bushes planted out front. A long ramp leads to the main level; administrative offices are in the basement. There's also an auditorium in the basement where guest speakers come to talk to the community, and where computer classes are held by volunteer professors for impoverished people.
The main room is very large, and is separated into areas by the stacks. There is only one hard-wall on the main floor, separating the children's section from the rest of the building. Most of the occult books are in the reference section and are not available for check-out. I can usually be found there.
The card catalogue has been gone a long time, replaced by banks of computers with access to the web-hosted catalogue. It's much faster that way, but I really miss that old card catalogue. It was beautiful, stained a lovely chestnut colour, and it smelled like every book in the world. The cards would vibrate with the energy of the books imprinted on them, and with the energy of the generations of people who touched them before me, as if they had their own stories to tell.
I have access to a much bigger library in Portland, but I think I'll miss my old library. I love the old building, the small, high windows that let in the barest amount of light in the fiction section; the reference section with its dark wood shelves that absorb all sound and sight and taste, taking all distractions from the world around me; the old woman who works the information desk, who never grows impatient with my vague help requests and always calls me "darling child". I love the volunteers, the worn carpet, the faded chairs, and the transient men who smile big and toothless at me when I say 'hello'.
I'll miss the circle and the trees out front and the rose-bush path and that corner of the parking lot under the giant fir tree where I park my car and eat sandwiches and listen to C.J. Critt.