I grew up rural, so rural that it’s hard for some people to believe when I first tell them: family of farmers on the same land for a century. Sixteen people in my high school class. First-generation (community) college student. Only master’s degree in the family.
The nearest town to where my family lived was half an hour away, and there were two grocery stores, a Walmart, and a hybrid fast-food restaurant or three. The unincorporated community where I grew up held no less than twelve evangelical churches, and no more than 700 people.
All of this to say that, as a goth-lite wannabe poet who listened almost exclusively to Tori Amos and Metallica, I always felt a bit out of place. A granddaughter of farming stock who hates outside? UNHEARD OF. A girl in my family who didn’t play a sport? CLEARLY A WITCH (but, I mean, yeah).
A few times a year, though, I entertained a fantasy, the one in which I was well-read and cute and boys in bookstores would want to long-distance date me and like, come to my school and take me to dances. (I came of age watching ’90s teen movies.) Anytime we went shopping, I ended up spending most of my time in the Entertainment Superstore Formerly Known As Hastings, a chain that is going out of business due to bankruptcy. I have to mourn.
If you’ve been to a Hastings but have access to better chains or (lucky you) indie bookstores, you’re probably wondering why the hell I care so much. The answer is because it was all I had.
Sure, over the past ten years or so, it began to reek of incense, started stocking cheap electric guitars and overpriced (not to mention highly questionable) adult board games. The book section shrank, but then the comics section grew. It relied far too much on movie rentals to get by, even though sometimes you would get a DVD home that would have a congealed Dr. Pepper ring on it that you were scared to clean off lest you scratch the disc and get charged for it. (Looking at you, Gilmore Girls season seven, disc two.)
That’s all irrelevant though, at least to my memory of the place as a safe haven where I just knew there were parts of myself (my self) waiting to be discovered.
I still have the store phone number memorized from the days when I had to call to find out if certain artists’ rare import CD singles had arrived yet, or if the alt-rock magazines that thrived in those days had come in for the month, and if they had, who was on the covers? I had to call because I lived over an hour away and couldn’t just wander in. This damn store was an event.
I struggled a lot with depression and anxiety (masked as angst, and missed as such), and when my parents sensed it, they knew where to take me to distract me for a day. My copy of The Bell Jar still has my receipt (from Valentine’s Day 1999) tucked inside. I bought that book, an Ani DiFranco CD, and a Reese’s for just under $20. I remember so clearly the feeling that combination gave me: empowered, understood, and slightly nauseated. That may not seem like much to anyone but me, but it’s a perfect summary of the girl I was at sixteen.
What I’m saying is, back then I felt that there were pieces of me lurking on the overflowing bookshelves, buried somewhere between the CD slots for Bush and Kate Bush ones. Somewhere in the pages of a copy of Wuthering Heights I somehow didn’t own yet. Somewhere, somewhere I couldn’t even guess. Before the internet, and when the local library wasn’t so local, this was the world a rural girl didn’t get access to every day. It was people-watching and hoping to meet like-minded cuties; seemingly unlimited fiction to peruse and CDs that would be worth real money now if I could part with them. It was escape and the education my English teachers couldn’t give me because they didn’t know how, exactly, to engage me—I made sure I was hard to figure out, but I never learned how to be so mysterious to myself that the bookstore cure wouldn’t fix what I thought ailed me.
Now that it’s closing, it’s pieces of me left behind. The smell is different, thanks to the incense they stock too fucking much of, but the feeling of loss is as powerful as the sense of searching and finding was all those years ago. It’s like losing a friend who knew me almost as well as I know myself.