Searching for Little Free Libraries As a Way to Say Goodbye

Lydia holds a number of titles I decided against packing up and bringing with me to my new apartment. She slides an underwhelming modern collection of poetry into the row of books, and takes out one inspired by an alien invasion video game.

“What? Dan will love it,” she says defensively, referring to one of our brothers, “We’ve got to take something out of it, too, anyways.”

My sister and I have spent the last two hours combing the streets of Coventry and West Greenwich, Rhode Island, for Little Free Libraries. It is my last night at home, sharing a living space with my younger sister, brother, and parents, and I decided I simply could not move all of my books with me.

We set out in a light drizzle to give each novel a chance at a second life.

I prepared myself for the many goodbyes over the last few months. My siblings and I counted down the last times I’d do things while living in the woods—run on the shaded bike path, play Nintendo very badly as it was nearing midnight, cry-laugh deep into the night with recollections of things we’d done during the day. 

But leaving each book in the tiny roofed structures still feels strange. Final. Something I have not prepared for. What will happen when we no longer share a room? When the dust has stopped collecting on boxed spines?

This night, this is not the only question on our minds. 

“Should we jump out? Keep driving? What should we do?”

“No, no—it’s too close to their house! Their car is here.”

I’m driving slowly through a neighborhood as we gauge whether or not we should drop off books in a particular library. The previous drop-offs were easy and impersonal; one adjacent to a playground and a public library, the other bright blue against the cream of the community recreational building. We didn’t see a soul other than cars passing, but we were laughing enough to sound like a crowd.

Our bravery does not extend to getting out of the car, walking up to a house in a row that barely has room for a parked vehicle between each home, and putting obscure self-help or lightly read children’s stories inside.

“I just feel weird pulling the car over and dropping the books while the owners are home and looking out of their windows,” I tell Lydia as we idle at the end of the road, fumbling with the clunky Little Free Library location map on my phone. I’m not even thinking about our exceptional COVID-19 work-from-home pairings of flannel and athletic shorts, rubber red shoes and floral running bottoms. 

I’m more worried about that elderly woman judging us as we park while she walks her small flustered dog across the way. Did she look at us twice? 

“Let’s just pick another location, just one more to round out the night,” I say.

It is easy to put the car in drive, setting the GPS on a new location instead of taking a risk where we are. 

This is not the first time my sister and I have embarked on some strange, spontaneous mission together. As children, I’d rouse her after we’d convinced our mother we were fast asleep and we’d lip sync to Broadway soundtracks with flashlights. I acted in her original spy films that featured an excellent amount of imaginative technology, but very little plot. We unleashed hell on our oldest sister’s now-husband when we found out he was going to become part of our family. Even a few weeks ago, when we were deep in our COVID-19 isolation, we paired up to bring spooky story tellings, games, and karaoke nights to our family members via video calls. 

Original image taken by Abigail Clarkin
Photo by Abigail Clarkin

She is the perfect partner, with sass, wit, and unforgettable facial expressions. And we’ve always started our adventures while roommates. Perhaps we had different visions as to how we’d go about certain things (somehow she wasn’t always pleased with being woken by a flashlight being shoved in her face so she could duet with me). Indeed our passions in life are not the same, mine words and running, hers film and biking. But the love has been shared between us; our books have sat next to each other on the shelf for many years, after all.

We try our best to find another library that does not test our nerves so much. But after going a few miles down the wrong road, executing a 28-point-turn, and mistaking a shoddy, bulky, tin-covered regular mailbox for an elaborate Little Free Library, we read the fine print.

“The site says something about ‘coming in the spring’ or something,” Lydia says, as the rain beads up on the glass of my windshield, “Maybe it’s not here yet.”

Apparently we arrived too early. If we give it time, perhaps the structure will be there blossoming amongst the tall grasses and wildflowers soon.

This final Little Free Library we visit is a beacon. Glossed with rain, it stands stately at the end of a driveway, surrounded by trimmed grass. A warm, welcoming interior light clicks on when the doors are opened. It can be found not far from our own house, only a town over, and yet this is the first time we find out it even exists.

Somehow leaving something behind has led to discovering many things I did not realize were so close.

We close the tiny latched door. The books are acquainting themselves to a new set of walls, settling into new addresses. This change is welcome, I’m sure, but uncomfortable at first in the sticky heat as Lydia and I buckle ourselves in and drive off towards moonlight and the road home—my home for one more night.

A few weeks later, I return from a run. I live in the city now, on a sweet street with flowering trees and potted tomato plants on porches. My feet are tired from stumbling as I often misjudge steps between segments of sidewalk, scrambling for balance on unfamiliar roads. But as I approach my house, I stop. There, to my left, is a Little Free Library with a neat row of titles inside.

It’s my turn to take out a book. And I cannot wait to tell Lydia what I’ve found.