“Libraries: Safe Haven”
Last week’s oversharing post was pretty heavy handed, but that is what these posts are. I want to apologize for that, but at the same time I do not. I want you to realize that processing some of this stuff, in an open forum, is beneficial for me. I have been silent for a long time. I have been told not to share or express what happened to me, but that only has led to more issues. I won’t live in that type of life any more. That being said, I wanted to share a bit of a place that has become a safe place for me, even if the original reason was perhaps not the best. I want to share with you that libraries always felt like a safe spot for me. They were a safe haven in a very tumultuous life.
Libraries started off as a place I would go with a family member to check out different books. I would often go there to check out videocassettes as well. I remember my uncle taking me a lot there and we would get a few things to watch on Wednesday nights, when my grandmother would go bowling. It was the one night that she would leave us. That will probably be a discussion I have at another time, but this fact was the reason that I first started going to the library. During childhood, it continued though. I would go there as a place to escape the world. I would go upstairs to the children’s department and play on their computers. They had various computer games. I remember one of my favorites being “Pajama Sam.” This library provided me the means to escape from the abuse that I was receiving at home. It allowed me to have a moment where I could just not have to think about it and instead I could become totally enamored into this world of a computer game. I would also walk through the aisles, even though I had skimmed them the previous week for several years. I would act like the books were new to me. I would imagine finding new treasures. I would take out books that I knew I would probably never read in my lifetime, but they were my treasures that I had found that week. They allowed me to feel safe.
Libraries only took on a negative connotation once in my entire life. This was my school library in middle school. The books that I wanted to read usually were classified as “girl books”, but Cassie you are a girl! Yes, I know, but I was born a male. I am transgender remember? So it was deemed inappropriate by almost all of my peers that I wanted to read “The Babysitters Club” and “Sweet Valley High.” To the point that once when I had “The Ghost of Tricia Martin” (a “Sweet Valley High” book) checked out, one of my peers during a fire drill put it somewhere, I assume the trash, but I never found it. I didn’t feel comfortable telling the librarian the truth that a fellow student did something to it because she had gotten onto me about other things related to the library. She never seemed to understand what was going on with me, especially didn’t see me as the often scared child that was using books as an outlet to escape my realities that I was. She decided that I could not graduate from middle school unless that the book had been fully paid for, which my family was in abject poverty. We somehow paid for it and I moved on, but I always held a bit of a grudge against that librarian. I wanted to scream in her face, but she had no clue that I was not only dealing with abuse at home, but being constantly bullied at school. The issue though was that I was never sure she would have cared, even if she knew.
So that was the only negative library experience I had, but I had a weird other positive experience. The reason that I say it is weird is because it was during the time that I was in San Francisco when I was in homeless programs. The majority of homeless shelters, especially in San Francisco, require that you be out of the building from about 8 or 9 am to roughly 6 pm at night. During this time, they assume, you will be looking for work or doing one of their programs. I was unfamiliar with San Francisco when I first arrived, so I often would find myself going to the San Francisco Public Library. I would find myself sitting there and reading. It was a safe place, so that I didn’t have to be out with the homeless crowds that were using drugs on the streets. Yes, there were people literally doing drugs right in the open. Some were even using needles on the streets. That is another story though for another time. To avoid being part of that crowd I would sit in the library. There was a little room that was specifically an LGBT room during the time I was living in San Francisco and I would sit there. It felt like my own little world. I was able to feel that I was reading in a mystical land that would keep me away from all the truths that I didn’t want to look at. That library saved my life, I know this now. If it had no existed I would have been within crowds that I should not have been much sooner and I would have probably been very much dead right now. Public libraries are literal saviors without probably knowing it. Homeless people use them frequently to feel safe. I wish more of them recognized this and had homeless programming, even if it is not utilized every single day. It would be beneficial for the communities they are in. Again without them I would not be able to write this right now.
Flash forward to the last few years, I finally started processing a lot of painful and complex trauma. I have been diagnosed with PTSD as a result of these experiences. I constantly worry about what others are going to do to me. There are days my brain freaks out multiple times during the day. My brain when I would go into these freak outs would tell me to go to the library. As a result, the library has become the place to go to when I need a calming place. A place to recenter myself. I go in and look over those shelves that I have seen a million times again and again. This time it isn’t the ones from my youth, but these are new shelves. They serve the same purpose though. They keep my mind safe. They keep me safe. All these different safe haven’s that simply call themselves libraries. A place for books, but also a place for me to feel safe.