She borrowed my only copy of Essex Hemphill’s “Ceremonies,” a poetry collection, selling for $250, out of print. The cover, with two shirtless black men, had a slight white slanted crease from left to right. Otherwise, the pages were intact.
Six months later, I asked for my book to be returned and she claimed I never lent it. I didn’t debate. I simply said, “Okay”. But inside I was burning with rage and I wanted her to die. I clearly recall saying to myself: she needs to die. I imagined breaking into her house, and searching her bookshelves for it, finding it, waiting for her to return home as I sat on her couch reading “Ceremonies” and eating her leftovers from her refrigerator while watching Days of Our Lives on her TV; and, as she opened her door and saw me sitting there with all of my audacity I would clearly say, “You know damn well you were lying. Here’s the book!” And throw it at her.
But I didn’t say that. I didn’t do that. I said nothing.
I was angry at her and angrier at myself . I should have never trusted a fellow writer, a lover of words, and wisdom–they steal books, we steal books.
I found “Ceremonies”, along with a few other gems, at a free book giveaway in my hometown around 1994. Because of its perceived provocative language and topics, I kept it hidden under the floor mats of my car’s backseat where no where would even think of finding it.
“Ceremonies” graduated high school with me; traveled to college with me; then went to graduate school with me. It moved from West Virginia to Jersey City, New Jersey; Jamaica, Queens; Back to Jersey City, New Jersey; and then the Bronx, in 2008–where she stole it. That book had been through some shit. That book had seen some shit along our travels together.
“You never lent it to me. . .” I kept track of my books–I knew she was lying. Hell, my mother was a librarian–I was raised to know the importance of books and keep track of them.
I prayed for seven nights, before bed, she’d be punished for stealing and lying about it. I prayed that she’d be punished for gas-lighting me, making me think I was hallucinating and never lent it to her, when I knew damn well she asked for it, I traveled from the Bronx into Manhattan, handed it to her over coffee–coffee I paid for and I wasn’t even a coffee drinker.
I stopped searching and re-searching my apartment, knowing she had it; knowing she had lied to me for no reason; knowing I was wasting my time searching for something that wasn’t in my possession.
Less than one year later, her hair began to fall out; her body shrunk tremendously and rejected food. She phoned me and said she was sick, and I regrettably feigned sympathy because I wanted my book back. She continued to go for testing and diagnosis after diagnosis but doctors had no clue what was wrong, except it was some type of autoimmune disease they couldn’t pinpoint. She quit going to doctors and tried a holistic approach.
One morning, the sun came through her bedroom window while she read a book, an aged book, out of print, and stole her breath.