Last year, I had several library friends. We spent hours together in the oblong den that is the Saybrook College library, listening to the near-silent hum of the yellowish lamps, the soft, soothing rhythms of typing fingers, the occasional mysterious shriek from the courtyard. We listened to each other breathe, from quiet mid-paper sighs to huffs of relief at the end of a pset. We made eye contact once or twice, too.
For most of our time together, I referred to them, these fascinating individuals, by number — Library Friend #1, #2 and so on. No, no, I didn’t know their names. But I did know their word-per-minute typing skill and shaving habits. You just get used to that kind of stuff. Some drank coffee, others didn’t. Some fell asleep and drooled a little. One wore the same Yale sweatshirt almost all the time. It’s okay, Friend #3, so did I.
Everyone has library friends. Think about it. Everyone does. If you can recognize them better in sweatpants than in a dress, in stubble as well as no stubble, they are your library friends. You know the Snow White silhouette that clutches the Apple on their Macbook Pro, but not their name. Still, you are library friends.
There’s camaraderie in this. You see that they’ve made almost no progress in “The Aeneid” since they arrived approximately four hours ago. You feel slightly embarrassed that you have made almost no progress in “The Faerie Queene” since you arrived approximately four and a half hours ago, and they can clearly tell. You exchange a brief nod of resigned acknowledgment; you are library friends. Brief nods of resigned acknowledgment are to you what long walks on the beach are to honeymooning couples. They seal your bond. Forever.
Little-known fact: There are two rules about library friends. First, you may never actually speak to them at a normal volume. You may whisper, but only the following sentence, and in a desperate tone, “Could you watch my stuff for a sec?” Then rapidly scamper away as they nod blankly. Second, you may never under any circumstance learn their names. That ruins everything. Once they have actual identities, instead of sitting peacefully in the library with Library Friends #1 and #4, you’re sitting with Evan and Jonathan, who are not library friends. They are strangers. Suddenly you are not in a cozy library; you are in a work environment with potential lunatics. Library Friends #1 and #4 are sharing in your struggle, but Evan and Jonathan are probably texting about how awkward you are. They’ve become your rivals.
Of course, they could become your friends.
As I type this in the Saybrook library at a ridiculous hour, I am surrounded by former library friends. Yes, former. It’s sad. We are all here with our laptops, various books spread across tables and laps, various colors of headphones, music pulsing gently in our ears. It’s late enough that the evening crowd has trickled out; it’s just us night owls left.
We have spread out pretty well. There at the end of the table we have Patrick, formerly known as Library Friend #2; Nate is trying to finish composing a Spenserian stanza (he was Library Friend #8 for a split second before we realized we signed up for the same class and were forced to learn each other’s names and bond over dactylic hexameter). Library Friend #5 just waved goodbye before heading downstairs. This year, she’s my roommate.
I have one library friend left, though. If you’re reading this, you know who you are. You’re the one who saw me reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” that one time while you worked on your physics problem set. It was for a class, in case you were wondering. We were examining masochism in Shakespeare. Anyway, I thought you were going to graduate, but surprise! you didn’t. Frankly, I’m thrilled. See you in the library.