These Shelves, This Life, by Natalie Hernandez
Junot tells me how to lose her. He skins a mango I light with Chile. You won't like this. Otravida. Otravez. Those "you" keep me awake. Like a past I've kept to compare all our futures to. Sylvia says not even the bones will do. Girl, I know. I know. Plath understands me before I see myself. I don’t think I have daddy issues until I’m sitting in that tree, in the backyard of a house too quiet, too hungry, too measured in rules, too violent and her words remind me that sometimes I do. I leave that word out. A blank spot like the last thing you gave to me, a vein, a name, a why I stopped trying to understand, there’s nothing left. I am not. Not like you.
That first quarter at UC Irvine hits me hard. My stepdad asks Frieda Hughes what to do. And I still have that box on my bookshelf she mails from England that held number 154 of the Crystal Gazer (Plath). I sit with Manfred and if I could pray or meditate maybe we'd both forget. Byron takes the cake of all the romantics I study again and again. The world hasn’t changed since then.
I browse the 4th floor of Moe's. Looking for Oz books, the old rare kind. These are the birthday presents I give myself. I read them as a kid in the Richmond library because the librarian won’t let me check out more than one. I find first editions at Powell's. I give them their own space. Summer is for Antigone in a room of engineering students and pre-meds. Neither speaks. Our professor lectures us, she refuses only humanities student’s hands. I read it every summer because I hate the silence we were taught to be.
I read Kafka at dogwood, at that table in the back while I wait for you. And you ask me what they're about, you take interest in the things I am, the way I have a knack to mispronounce the words you learned in prep school, the novels I leave half read because short stories distract me just like you. Chuck Palahniuk brings invisible monsters I so desperately want to be. Brandy Alexander. I want your name. Give me fucked up. Flash. Give me insane. Flash. Give me Chuck's words. Flash.
Saunders we find in high school. My sister and I trade him in homeroom, on the bus, and on summer swings. Our favorite band sings about the stories he gives and it is our kismet. Our connection then, our connection now. We trade lists of books by minorities. The kind that make us feel connected to what our peers said we should pretend not to be. Cisneros comforts us in English, in Spanish, in the pages that widen our eyes. On the streets like ours.
I devour Hemingway's shorts. His novels I stop midway through. I was never good at reading novels. I need poems. Novellas. All those short stories. Ava is my Gertrude. We're in our twenties. Drinking wine and reciting our favorite Neil labutte lines. Reasons to be Pretty explains our lives, the things we thought were only ours to live, the words that formed on the back of our tongues, the sweaters that got caught on doorknobs, the chapstick that melted in your purse. Kristen, his ex isn't unlike us we think even though we want her to be.
I impulsively read Persepolis on the plane home. It won't make things better between us. You won't know how I try. And just like you, I give it away after a few reads. I hate the way it looks at me on that shelf. The way it feels like you. Worlds we'd both rather not know as well as we do. You knew me then the way I only learned to know you after we called what little we were quits.
Barthes' Mourning Diary walks me through the pain of losing too early. The Pleasure of the Text haunts my academic life as I get lost in literary theories I slowly learn to love.
Summers at our grandmother's we read Harry Potter in the dark. I don't know how to understand the problems she sees. Our mother didn't build us in that way. Grandma closes her mind because she thinks that's what holy is supposed to be. We give up pushing back. We open our minds to other things.Study breaks are a French press, Neruda, Paz, Bukowski, Lahiri, Mary Shelley, and the Brontes too. I read slowly the first half of novels and Tina shames me, Alex laughs when another box arrives, and Jordan swears this one is so good I’ll finish it.
· Umami, by Laia Jufresa
· The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
· The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware
· In the Woods, by Tana French
· Mother Night, by Kurt Vonnegut
· S/Z, by Roland Barthes
· Madness and Civilization, by Michel Foucault
Bets on those I'll finish?
Those I've almost proudly avoided as an English major, but will give in someday and read:
· Pride and Prejudice (I know. I know.)
· Macbeth, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Let's be real, all but two plays, and I might own his entire collection
· Every Faulkner novel except As I Lay Dying
· The Canterbury Tales
They sit on shelves, they crowd my nightstand, and fill the corners of my room. Somedays. Someday I’ll pick them up and understand the hype. I read on good days, on other ones, on weekend mornings while you sleep. Brushing my fingers over coffee stained words. Leaning into another life.
Natalie Hernandez graduated from the University of California, Irvine with a BA in English. While there, she participated in creative writing workshops and hella missed the bay area. Her writing has been featured in 805 Lit + Art and Best Small Fictions 2019. She's currently pursuing a Master's degree in Library and Information Science at San Jose State (yes librarians need masters degrees).
This post is part of 805 Lit + Art’s “My Home Library” blog series that features writers and artists enjoying their home libraries during the COVID-19 pandemic. 805 is proudly published by the Manatee County Public Library System, and we hope this series will help people show off their home libraries, find comfort in books, and feel a connection to the library during this difficult time.