In my house there is a library. It used to be called the playroom, back when I was very small and very young and learned what _Don Quixote_ was by watching the _Wishbone_ episode. It was a library then, too, but I didn’t really notice. It has shelves for walls all stuffed with books, generally hard covers, on architecture and photography, mostly. Some of the books have inscriptions to my parents. Some of them have plastic wrappings on them, to keep them safe. Some of them have stories of their own. When my parents talk about inheritance it always starts with the library. They say, “there are a lot of things here worth a lot of money,” as though that was all they cared about when assembling it, or think I care about now, at twenty years old.
In the library there is a carpet, navy blue. It has had on it stains from every year of my life—some scrubbed clean, but some have remained. For a few years after my prime toy-playing period I would unearth individual Legos or the arm of some action figure hidden under the radiator or under a shelf, proof that at one time I totally owned this realm and my parents would have to ask permission to look at their books. I think the carpet is finally about to be thrown out.
Behind one of the shelves is a series of crayon drawings I made on the wall when I was six. One of them is a family portrait. There are three ovals with scribbled facial features to signify my father, my mother, and me. There is also a fourth scribbled shape, though I cannot discern whom it describes. There has never been a fourth in our family.
When I finally grew up my parents would occasionally take a book down and then call me over, show me some shapes and images and words and talk about how they fit into their own life’s narrative. I listened to them vaguely. I can now associate my father’s time in architecture school with a book of drawings by Carlo Scarpa, one of my father’s favorites, or a collection of Garry Winogrand photographs and its intersection with my mother’s own. Sometimes I tell them about an idea I have and they pull down a book and give it to me, as though they have been keeping this knowledge for a long time, just waiting for me to ask for it, to call it by its name. Sometimes I read them all the way through, and sometimes not.
At Princeton there are a few libraries I go to—recently though, only one. The further I go towards growing up the more sentimental I get, which I suppose is hard to believe—I’ve always known myself to be so. This library has the books that remind me of home, and an old gray carpet too. It always has copies of Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino on reserve, one of my father’s favorite books. Its furniture is worn in and comfortable. There is a chalkboard on a wall, where one could draw the silhouettes of one’s family. I guess it all feels sort of familiar, is what I’m saying.
I can do school by feel now. I’ve been here long enough to know how everything works, where everything is. But few things feel truly natural—perhaps they never will. Perhaps that’s part of only child syndrome, and being nauseatingly attached to memories of home. But sometimes I can go somewhere and pull down a book my parents would have offered me, to explain some phenomena in the world, and sit in a chair too soft and a carpet washed out and think that things have hardly changed at all.