I always have a glut of romance paperbacks in the library, which are automatically sent to us through the delivery – to disperse new material throughout the system of branches. They sit on the bottom rack of a book spinner, until I’m forced to move them along to another branch where they might be more popular. And it’s the same case for any romance novels that get donated to us for the book giveaway. They languish on the table, and then I recycle them.
I had one patron at the giveaway with a tattooed teardrop try to convince his buddy to take a romance novel. He explained that when he was in prison, he read them for the sex scenes. He did elaborate that he read more than just romance. He devoured everything! I asked if there was a prison librarian, but it turned out that it was trust-based and the guys who were in there the longest simply distributed the books out. They had read everything, and could recommend books to their fellow inmates based on personal interests. It sounded pretty cool!
In general, the romance novels are not popular and I suspect it’s because the scenarios trigger feelings of loneliness or bitterness on the streets. So, I was pretty surprised when an older woman shared her story of love found, last Friday during the giveaway. She had picked up a book of historical fiction for her husband “Trevor.” She was in a chatty mood, admittedly because she had had a few beers, but wanted us to know that her husband was ten years younger than her, and she had just turned 60!
They had met at the Carnegie Centre playing cribbage. Their fingers had accidentally brushed against each other, and she heard music in her ears! The feeling was electric. From there they started dating, and have now been married twelve years. She was proud of Trevor, who had found a job cleaning the streets. She was also feeling on cloud 9 because friends had actually shown up for her birthday this year, and she had prepared a big meal with her new convection oven, and everything was eaten. This was in comparison to other years, when no one bothered to come over. It was fun to share in her joy.
Back in the library after wrapping up the giveaway, I noticed that the young woman I had spoken with earlier was still there. She was pouring over the binder featuring photocopies of all 122 quilt panels from the Downtown Eastside Women’s Memorial March Quilt, brought out for the annual DTES Women’s Memorial March every February 14th – Valentine’s Day. Most of the panels displayed a name of a Missing or Murdered woman from the DTES, and it was made by either a friend or family member.
“Julie” had inquired about the binder having noticed a display we had up about the March, and about the history of the Missing & Murdered women (including some heart-breaking and horrific articles about the terrible treatment of the family members of these women by the police, and their initial indifference to pursue Pickton). I told her that I would provide colour photocopies of any of the quilt panels, and she was delighted. Julie lives at Atira’s housing complex for women called “The Bridge,” and she wanted to decorate the 7th floor, which included a hospice for street women (the Sue Bujold floor). We copied about twenty panels.
Julie then shared that at age 14 she was pimped out, and how she remembered scouring the newspaper clippings, looking for the faces of her friends, and just weeping out of fear for her life. In a way, she wondered if having a pimp meant she was shielded from some of this violence, but I couldn’t comment either way. I can’t even pretend to understand that world.
Instead, I did what I know best… I was the librarian. I welcomed her, cleared her old fines, set her up with a new library card, tracked down novels by James Michener and Edward Rutherfurd, showed her gentleness and good conversation. I also encouraged her to come back on Tuesdays, because for the next three weeks we’re having Story-sharing sessions for the friends and family of the Missing & Murdered women to contribute their memories, poems, and photos to add to the website that hosts digital copies of the quilt panels. Carnegie’s Elder in Residence, Les Nelson is also going to be there to offer smudging and words of healing prayer, if it’s desired during the Story-sharing.
I’m both excited and frightened to welcome the wounded. I am not a counselor or social worker, but this project feels very important. I think of Julie and other girls and women like her, who for whatever reason found themselves in prostitution. The concept of romance must seem laughable to them, but I must act upon my belief that they are deeply loved. While they may not experience romance in this life on earth, and perhaps their lives are cut short by violence, there is a Creator – the true lover of the universe, who waits for them and will electrify them with love, bringing music to their ears.