Afraid even to walk past the library, fifteen years later

Responding to the posts about overdue library books, reader Gwenda Bond emailed this account of her dastardly book-stealing ways:

When I was 13, our academic team’s “problem-solving squad,” of which I was a somewhat bored member, had to check out books from the county’s public library on HIV/AIDS. This was to be the subject of our challenge question for the district competition. The problem solving squad would be given a detailed issue and have to generate a bunch of paperwork full of big words — whichever squad used the most big words was declared the winner by the adult judges, many of whom couldn’t have given you a definition of those words if the proverbial gun was against the proverbial skull. Anyway, this was an extremely small town (one stoplight) and an even smaller library; however, the required books were in stock. Now, my elementary school was full of really bright kids, but some of them were also poor and crime-prone and so our academic team was not full of goody even one shoes. Long story short, they checked out all the books, and a few others for pleasure, in my name because I was the only holder of an account at the library. These books were never returned. This is how I came to receive xerox copies of the check-out cards with wildly variant signatures of my name from the library on a yearly basis. The true shame is that one of these books was a book called The Hot Fudge Sundae Incident, or something like that (also, possibly a romantic choose your own adventure). Eventually, the library stopped sending these notices, as they met with my silence. I am still afraid to even walk past this library when visiting my hometown, fifteen years later.

In high school, one of my academic team buddies who had a giant leather coat and cut an imposing figure and I would rescue unread but good books from some of the schools we played. We would do so by stuffing them down his jacket and zipping it up — I feel guilty about this now, sure, but at the time was the proud owner of some nice hardbacks by Salman Rushdie. And I was afraid to use the library in college because of the whole persona non library thing and would spend long hours there rather than try and check out books.

It was only last year, when I moved downtown a block and a half from a great library, that I started using it. I still feel like I must read the books and get them back in the allotted time — even to the extent of feeling deviant when I recheck them — or my library privileges will be revoked. But truly, I live with the fear that I’ll walk in and they’ll look at the monitor, look back up at me and ask, “The Hot Fudge Sundae Incident? Could you return that to XXX library?”

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