In August of 2001, I started my freshman year of college at Brandeis University, a small liberal arts school located 9 miles outside of Boston in the small town of Waltham, Massachusetts. On move-in day, unpacking was the first order of business. I opened suitcases, helped my mom make my bed, and, once my parents left campus, organized my stacks of romance novels onto the shelves that lined the wall over my desk.
I remember my randomly-assigned roommate gawking at my shelves and sweetly remarking, “you don’t have any room for your textbooks.” Undeterred, I continued stacking my books - nothing would do but that they comply with my personal bookshelf organizational system - and replied, just as sweetly, “I’ll just pile my textbooks on the floor.” With that, I grabbed my current book, stuck it in my bag, and headed off to the welcome barbecue.
I left the barbecue early that night because I had the flu on move-in day, and promised my mom I would rest. When I opened the door to my dorm room - sick, missing home, and terrified that leaving the first-night-of-college festivities early would label me a loser for the next 4 years - I saw my books. And I felt better. I had a fever, and there were parties right outside my window that I was too sick to attend, but spending that first night of college ensconced in a romance novel, with all the rest of my favorite books lined up on the shelf next to me made me feel better. It made me feel like me.
My subsequent three Brandeis move-in days were far less stressful than that anxiety-provoking first experience - you really have to be a Brandeis grad to understand the frenzied mystique of Freshman Move-In Day - but my routine rarely varied. My books were always the first things out of my suitcase. Only when my romance novel collection was smiling down at me from the shelves did the room start to feel like mine.
This unusual habit followed me through one year in the law school dorms, and into my very first grown-up New York City apartment, and the two that followed. Though a brand-new apartment always felt a little strange and unfamiliar at first, once I lined up my books, I felt like I had made my mark.
In what was perhaps the most lengthy transition of my adult life, shortly before I got married, I started moving my things into the apartment I currently share with my husband David. Anyone who has been through the transition of dating-to-engaged-to-married will understand what I mean. For 2 months I was living in one apartment (mine), had most of my things in another apartment (his), and had wedding presents scattered at various locations between Pittsburgh and Manhattan.
One day, about 6 weeks before our wedding, I found myself pondering whether I would ever again in this lifetime have all my stuff in one single location. Never one to brood for too long, I decided the time had come to move my books. It took two suitcases and two 25-block trips to move them all, but an hour later I was sitting on the floor of the apartment we would share, surrounded by 2-foot high stacks of books, and nowhere to put them.
Focused, driven, and determined to succeed, I proceeded to clear off every single bookshelf in the living room, and replace the contents with my book collection; 3 rows deep on every shelf, and ruthlessly organized. When I was finished I stepped back, admired my romance novel collection that had grown considerably since my freshman year of college, and started to feel at home in the apartment that would soon be mine. I knew before that day, of course, that I was marrying an amazing man - my soul mate and most cherished friend - but when he came in the door that night, found my books taking up absolutely all available living room shelf space in his tiny Manhattan apartment, and said only “what should we watch first on TV?” I fell in love all over again.
That was a year and a half ago, and my books still live on (ALL of) our living room shelves. They are the first thing I see when I walk in to our apartment, and they have been the happy catalyst for many a dinner conversation where friends of ours have wondered how many there are (I’ve never counted), why there seem to only be 2 authors represented (there are more than 2, but any books by Nora Roberts or Susan Elizabeth Phillips get the honor of the first row; the other authors are farther back), and whether I could offer a suggestion (PLEASE read the Brides Quartet by Nora Roberts).
My books offer comfort during transition, give solace in times of distress, and are endlessly entertaining. I have learned from them to be comfortable with who I am, and, strangely enough, how to be my very best self, and I am incredibly lucky to have married someone who lets me be exactly me. As we continue building a life together, there is much about the future that we don’t know, but no matter what happens, I know I am going to be just fine because home is where David is. And where my books are.