Thursday, July 30, 2015

2015 Summer Library Series: This Book: One Week by Emilia Rodriguez

Thanks for returning to the 2015 Summer Library Series, in which writers share their childhood memories of the library every Thursday, all summer long here at What She Might Think.  Our July travels began in Philadelphia and end in the hot sun of Texas with this week's featured writer, Emilia Rodriguez. Please enjoy!

A photograph in gray tones is taken up close to a chainlink fence overlooking an empty public pool. A red brick building is to the left, in the distance.
"What is it about Empty Swimming Pools?" photo by Peter Shelk,
Used under CC license
This Book: One Week
Emilia Rodriguez

Photograph shows a girl with long dark hair, her back to the left side of the picture. She wears a green and red plaid shirt. She has a hesitant expression.
Emilia Rodriguez as a child,
Used with author's permission
We didn’t stay in places very long when I was young.  My parents were born in Mexico.  My father was not a U.S. citizen.  We moved to Fort Worth, TX when I was in the first grade.  Until then, all of my classes had been bilingual.  Spanish was my first language.  My English was shaky.  I could read a little and watch cartoons, but holding a conversation was difficult. 
            On my first day of school, I had a migraine.  I watched the teacher become more and more frustrated as I struggled to tell her I needed to see the nurse.  My lacking vocabulary, and the anxiety of being in a roomful of strangers didn't make it any easier.
            "She needs to go to the bathroom!" one of the girls offered.  I nodded and the teacher pointed to the clock.  She explained that I should be back by the time the red hand went around the clock three times.  I nodded again and left to find the nurse's office.  I made it halfway down the hall before I saw the library.
            The library was big, colorful, a toy store I’d never been to before.  It made me forget I had a headache or even a head.  From behind the glass doors, I saw a book with a picture of a coconut palm tree and words like music on the cover, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.
            I knew I wasn’t supposed to be in the library, so I took the book and crawled under a table.  I didn’t care that it was dark or that I’d be in trouble if I was caught.  I felt happy because I wasn't struggling to communicate or keep up.  Eventually, the girl who’d sent me to the bathroom found me.  She said the teacher was upset and wanted me to come back, but all I wanted was to stay. 
            We moved again when I was in second grade, to a border town called Roma, Texas.  Roma is located in Starr County, the poorest county in Texas, so you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that its library was a trailer hitched by the public pool.  My aunt used to take me there on weekends. I loved it.  I got my first library card there. Blue card stock, typewriter ink, and the feeling of belonging. I remember walking around knowing it was in my pocket and feeling like a grown-up.  I had all these new responsibilities.  I had to meet the reading deadlines and make sure I didn’t lose the borrowed books.  It was a promise.
            I felt like I broke that promise when my aunt drove me to a library in Mcallen, TX.  It was the biggest library I’d ever seen, complete with spiral staircases and more children's books than I had remaining days of childhood to read them.  At first I was happy just to be there, but that feeling soured when I remembered my promise to belong to the other library.  When I asked my aunt about it, she explained that I could borrow books here, too.  She explained that this library was Public.  It belonged to everyone.
            That day I remember bringing home a book about Ramona Quimby.  In it, Ramona squeezed out an entire tube of toothpaste into the sink.  It was something I had always wanted to do.  As I read it, I felt my hands squeeze at the tube of paste, making a twisted rope of red, white, and blue mint.  Afterward, Ramona’s wastefulness was discovered, and she was severely scolded by her mother.  I felt Ramona’s joy turn into regret.  She was punished by having to scoop the toothpaste into a plastic bag and use it every day.  The toothpaste fiasco was meant to be a lesson for me, and children everywhere.  Our parents have worked hard for the American Dream, so don't squander your privilege, however small it may feel.  It was a good first choice of book, because each time I returned for a new one, it was done with the bewilderment of someone having survived the Great Depression.   I had the awareness of owning something in excess and having the responsibility to ration. This toothpaste: one month.  This book: one week.

Black and white photograph of a woman with dark hair, long. Her bangs are pulled sharply down and across her forehead and tucked behind her ear. Her eyes look straight out, her mouth is in a half-grin.
Emilia Rodriguez, used with author's permission
Emilia Rodriguez is a native Texan and a graduate of Texas State University where she is now an MFA candidate in Fiction.  She has previously been published in Cleaver Magazine and Hypertrophic Literary.  She currently lives in San Marcos, Texas with her husband, and is working on her first novel.  

If this is your first time travelling with the Summer Library Series, you can catch up by visiting all the places we've been this July: Philadelphia, Washington, Switzerland, and Iowa. Past seasons of the series are housed here. The series will continue through August, so please check back next Thursday, and share with friends and strangers until then.