I want to cry.
Back in Georgia, after five long months walking across the country. I want to cry.
I want to cry, not because my knee is hurting, or because my heart is not here, but in another place. Not for any of those reasons.
I want to shed a tear for Kathy.
She was my librarian, and my friend.
This is the story of Kathy M, and is also the story of how people can be so…callous, so unfeeling, that they generate an aura of pure pettiness.
Before I left on my walk, I walked to the library, back in mid March. My purpose: to meet Kathy there, for there were clandestine activities afoot. She was going to “fix” my library card.
A couple of years ago my car caught on fire, just like in the movies. It burned completely, leaving a frame and a Hershey’s Kiss shaped piece of aluminum sitting in the dirt. With a swipe of a rubber boot from a firefighter, it went sailing into the woods. Also gone, via inferno: my four new library books, just checked out that morning. Total fees due: 137 bucks. I couldn’t see paying that much for something that was not my fault, so I let it go. And with it my right to take books out of the library.
That didn’t stop me from going to the library, though, and browsing, chatting with the librarians there, and buying a zillion used books. While they were all professional, there were two, Billye and Kathy , who were really friendly, and who you really wanted to deal with at the counter when checking out books. They were both in their early 60’s, both very liberal in their politics, and very willing to spend a few minutes chatting away. Kathy was especially so, and we formed a kind of bond. She told me that she was going through a rough divorce from an abusive husband, and she needed to move. She told me she was an alcoholic, trying hard to stay sober, and for the most part I think she did, because I never once felt like she was inebriated to even the smallest degree.
When I was getting ready to leave on my walk, I asked for her address so I could send her a postcard from the road. She insisted I send it to all five librarians, and even went to the trouble of writing all their names down. She even included the name of one librarian, Diane, that she could not stand because she was always trying to get people in trouble.
She asked me why I never checked out any books, and I told her the story of the fire and the lost books. She told me to come back on a certain day, at a certain time, and she would fix my situation. The head librarian might not exactly approve, but he would be gone later. I promised to return. And, as promised, she did fix up my card so it would work again, no questions asked. A lovely gesture from a very nice woman.
So today, just back from the long adventure, I went to the library. I found a used book to purchase, and approached the desk. A young librarian, recognizing me, welcomed me back, and in hushed tones, asked me if I had heard what had happened to Kathy. I replied that I had not, and she was almost crying when she told me that Kathy had passed away. When I asked how, she told me that Kathy had gotten very drunk, back in April. She had then taken a bunch of pills, and had then put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger. I was stunned and very upset at this news, and paid for my book while in the spinning thoughts haze of bad news that enveloped me. The librarian was very very sorry she told me so much detail but felt that since Kathy and I were friends, I ought to know.
I walked around. I saw another book that piqued my interest—a library book this time---and decided to test out my new card, courtesy of Kathy. I approached the desk, and instead of the young and friendly gal it was…the dreaded Diane who stepped forward.
We spoke of Kathy, and her decision. Diane completely blew my mind when she told me that the library had brought in a counselor to talk to everyone. She added that the counselor had recommended a book for the rest of them to read, called, and I could not believe my ears, “The Sociopath Next Door.” She smiled and said it really helped her to understand the nature of sociopaths. I replied that Kathy was not a sociopath at all, just an alcoholic. She stood firm in her belief that Kathy, who had gone out of her way to help me, and who had made sure I sent a postcard to ALL of them so as not to hurt feelings, was an uncaring and devious lunatic. And she made it a point to be as jolly as she could be whe reiterating how much the book had helped her. And she made me see exactly why Kathy couldnt stand her.
Rather than debate the psychological aspects of a woman who had obviously had a lot of problems, and who had applied a drastic, permanent solution to them, with a cold and spiteful human being, I thanked her and walked out of the library, my checked out book in hand. Checked out thanks to a friend who took a few minutes to help me.
So, Kathy M, you ought not to have done that. But you did, and I’m sorry for your pain, and that the new apartment you took across the street from the library, did not bring you the peace you so longed for. And I am sorry you had to work with someone so unfeeling and so cold. She must have recognised herself in a book recently……