During the week of New Year’s I didn’t pop the cork on a bottle of Asti in the refrigerator, nor did I write a blog post. The bottle of sweet fizz had been stuffed behind the expired salad dressing to the far back of the borderline freezing bottom shelf for weeks.
“I wanted you to have it in case there was something to celebrate,” my dad had explained after I began another, unnumbered round of submitting query letters to agents.
“We should probably drink it. I don’t know how long that lasts. We can always buy another later,” he offered with an upturned tone in his voice a couple of days after Christmas.
I let it sit there. I knew I shouldn’t, but I let it sit there. Like all the talk shows recommended, I attempted to find “THE” reason as to why I should celebrate with its bubbles on New Year’s or any other day. I considered beginning the jar of positive thoughts so that next New Year’s finding a reason wouldn’t be so hard. Midnight on January 1, 2017 came and went. The bottle of Asti didn’t.
“It’ll just make my stomach hurt at the gym the next day,” had I justified, “Like any other day.” I went to bed pulling my dog in tight.
At the end of the first week in 2017 I received an e-mail from Steve, a former donor for my now officially closed library project in my former Peace Corps village. Steve is a librarian from California introduced to me by my boss at the literacy nonprofit in Guatemala. Steve had been the first major donor who was not a direct family member, longtime friend, nor a purchaser of traditional Mayan weavings. After spending almost a month with the librarian at the community library in Santa Catarina Palopó, Steve interacted with me like a colleague who was genuinely interested and also appreciative of the content and the framework I was working so hard to develop.
My affiliation with that community library ended, as many projects in which we are emotionally invested do, not as it should have. Communication with individuals formerly involved in the library has been near nonexistent. Steve’s e-mail was a response to the last e-mail I addressed to my supporters over two years ago. It began, “I know you have moved on.” It had been almost two years since I had moved back to Wisconsin and I had to admit that like most ill-fated, passionate love affairs, most signs pointed to no. I am in fact working in a library currently, and Facebook posts from the librarian make the barely healed scar, of what felt like her betrayal, itch. I skimmed the article in which my professional position in Guatemala, the library and my work in general was featured. Half an hour later in the car on the way to the gym, I wanted the wine. Why?
I never made the choices nor the sacrifices for the library project for recognition. Why did seeing my name, the librarian’s name, the town’s name, my now closed nonprofit’s name, in print affect me so? Simple, actually, like popping a cork. That text, Steve’s text, made everything not only real, but permanent. In too many ways, I spent my years in Guatemala as a shadow, so much so that I almost disappeared, maybe not to others, but to myself. I have spent the past two years trying to convince myself that the quality and sometimes brilliance of my work ever existed at all, because for all intents and purposes in my life here, especially professionally, it doesn’t.
But it was real. It did happen. Steve saw it. Today, a week after New Year’s, I feel ready for a toast. I’m sure the glass in the bottle my dad bought will be recycled, but even if it doesn’t, its time with me will end. That’s the only way, I can really start something new. Cheers!
And also, cheers and congratulations to Steve. For anyone with further interest in librarianship across borders check out the book with chapters featured from experiences around the globe: http://www.sunypress.edu/p-6336-international-librarianship.aspx