Chapin City Blues

Writing is writing whether done for duty, profit, or fun.

Photo by Janko Ferlic from Pexels

I grew up with the public library just walking distance from my home. I remember my first library card, and the man who gave it to me. I’d checked out the same two books on constant rotation – dilapidated copies of King Kong and Godzilla books. Memories come rushing back, flooding my mind with the scent of the card catalog, the crack in my voice when I asked for assistance, and the moments spent looking out the window to the small atrium – if you could call it an atrium – within the children’s department. Part of me wanted to live in a library – and, in some sense, I do – or at least work within one.

When the Edinburg Public Library closed its doors, the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library opened. The library was named after a boy I knew in high school who was killed in the Iraq conflict three years prior.

The switch between libraries happened in my final year of college – I went to one library in the winter of 2006 and the other in the spring of 2007. I remember the confusion from the change, and wondered if the library card I held would still be valid. (It was.)

My days of unemployment, working odd gigs and contractual jobs, were spent hanging out at the library during poetry readings, performing my works, and borrowing books. When Jeanna got pregnant with Shaun, I knew that my days of just getting by were over.

In November 2011, I attended a job fair hosted at the library. One of the booths was for the City of Edinburg, and one of the positions was for the library. Because he was present, I asked the assistant library director – whom I met during my stint as a local poet – about the position. Of course, the job required an MLS degree, however, he did let me in on some information. One of their children’s staff members was retiring and a position would soon be open. Adding, that I should keep up with the city’s website and talk with the library director.

I did both.

On December 12, 2011, I started my job at the Dustin Michael Sekla Memorial Library. I started as a part-time shelver in the children’s department before moving to a full-time position in tech services in 2015. After two years of cataloging and processing, I returned to children’s in order to assist the new supervisor. And I’ve been there since.

Before the library closed its doors due to the Covid pandemic, a young lady approached me. She was sixteen at the very least. I was assisting her younger sister pick out some books when she asked, “You’re Guillermo, right?”

Had she been a friend of my niece, she would have called me by a nickname. So her familiarity was unexpected. While she told me her name, it didn’t ring any bells. At least, not until she added, “I used to come here all the time and always hung around [redacted] while she read to the kids.”

[redacted], our resident high schooler, used to spend her summer days in the library. She was a beacon for the younger children, who sat around her as she read. She wasn’t an employee, but she was a godsend during our busiest days. I would call her the child whisperer, finding ways to settle down unruly children with her voice. This girl who recognized me was now around same age [redacted] was when I first started.

I used to tell people that you really don’t know how old you’re getting until children are introduced into your life – be it your own children, those of friends, or those of your siblings, cousins, etc.

Three of our former regulars are well into their twenties now, and message me from time to time on Facebook. One recently suggested that we host library activities teaching tweens and teens how to code for video games.

These children and their parents – no matter how many boundaries you put into place – become family. As Doris told me, you hope for their success. No matter the trouble made or the constant reminding of the rules.

In the time of Covid, the library – the children’s department = felt empty. As we opened our doors, the children’s department remained closed for almost a year. We continued to host our activities through Zoom, watched the children grow on a screen. But nothing could replace the live audience and in=person assistance. I missed the book suggestions, reading to them and watching their reactions. It felt like we would never come back from this.

It wasn’t until the Texas freeze that the security gate was lifted and people came back. Albeit a bleak time for Texas, the sounds of children in the department was welcomed. We held off on letting them into the department fully – they couldn’t browse the shelves, but they could interact with us.

We have since reopened our department a bit more. The media, nonfiction, fiction, and Spanish sections are open fully to our young patrons. The picture books remain closed in the meanwhile. We reinstated an in=person toddler storytime, registering a limited amount of families in order to stay within CDC suggestions.

But things weren’t so good for my anymore.

In December 2020, on Christmas day, I showed symptoms of Covid-19. On the 28th, I tested positive. Out of work for two weeks, I was ready to get back.

It seemed that the year of Covid brought on a wave of departures. Several friends left the library for various reasons. But I think the one that hurt the most was Doris in November. Getting that information second hand didn’t help.

Much like Doris, I also felt that my time in the library was coming to an end. While they tried to get me to seek out “the new cheese,” it began to feel more like GLaDOS taunting me with cake.

As I sat in the meeting detailing my year’s goals, I knew that it didn’t matter. That I’d be gone by September when my yearly review was to be concluded. The Edinburg City Manager had placed a new system of performance reviews. One that I happily welcomed until it became clear that our goals were next to impossible to accomplish. In a sense, it began to feel like we were all being set up for failure. Another way for the city to continue to underpay the hardest working department. I nodded, but I didn’t sign. I asked for permission to have someone review it instead before I made any decision.

As you read in my last post, things never got better. All we have is a promise that it would get better. And a person can’t live or function on promises alone.

Thursday felt like a haze. Even M – the newest character in this life, who will remain an initial for the time being – noticed my particularly bleak mood. More so than usual. After a refresher for the Summer Reading Program app, I slinked off to shelve until my food arrived. Out of habit, I kept checking my phone for an update. An email, or a change in status on my application for a job I applied and interviewed for. Throughout the day, nothing new appeared. Nothing of value – a Best Buy ad here, a reminder to pay my credit card bill there.

But just as I grabbed a cart to shelve, a new email had appeared.

Earlier in the day, I told M that sometimes I can see something – even read something – but the information isn’t sent to my brain. And while I recognized the words “congratulations,” “job opportunity,” and “offer letter,” their meanings were lost on me.

“M…,” I managed, “can you read this?” And I offered my phone for her input. Her reaction was all I needed to cement my uncertainty.

My supervisor was next. And I called my mom. I texted Jeanna. I sent a message on Teams to V. I told my Facebook group chat. I told old coworkers. I told my aunt. I told my friends at work.

I turned in my resignation letter. Four times!

As I write this post, I am on the verge of starting my final week at the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library. As you’re reading it, my final day has ended.

Life is nothing without its regrets. And while every regret is a lesson learned, it cannot erase the sense of failure. I am sad that the play/Makerspace area Doris and I dreamed of never came to fruition. I never got to teach the children poetry or created a creative writing program for them.

But I don’t regret the time I spent there. The lessons learned, memories made, and friendships that will last beyond this job’s expiration date.

And I say that’s a triumph.

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