San Diego State University, located in beautiful southern California, like most other big universities, has a giant library. It sits at the center of their campus, only accessible to the normal person by foot, right near the central food court. As you enter, you pass through glass doors before seeing a set of elevators that can take you up to any of its many floors. If you’re ever in the area, I suggest you stop by and give it a look for yourself. If you do, let me know what your favorite part is. Mine is on the third floor.
When I was 19 and 20, I would sleep there during the day. You see; I couldn’t sleep at night, not with how cold it was outside. I had to keep moving, keep walking, just continually smoking cigarettes. I would ask for change from strangers to get a 99¢ tall-can of Steel Reserve to help take off the edge and give me a bit of warmth. The cigarettes, most of them would be half smoked ‘re-fried’ ones that I would pull out of ashtrays I’d found in businesses smoking areas. I had my entire routine, in both the night and the day.
I would make my way to the back corner on the third floor, grabbing a few big books as I walked through the aisles headed toward the desks they had tucked in the back. I’d pull the books from the same section, that way it would be easy for any passerby to instantly recognize what I was ‘cramming’ for. As I got to the desk, I would open the books to similar chapters as if that was the exact part I was studying; it had to be self-explanatory. It had to be. I couldn’t risk losing the safest place I had to sleep. It was the only spot I had where I could disappear for a few hours in total safety.
After opening the books, and laying them out just right, I would then take a few of the chairs and push them next to each other, this way I could tip over on my side and get comfortable so I could partially lie down. Then, when I had the scene set up perfectly, I would softly close my eyes and drift off to sleep. If anyone asked, I would say I was cramming for a big test all-night and just dozed off. I couldn’t help it I’d say; I was just another college kid working hard to pass the big test.
I did this off and on for over a year, and it must’ve worked, because no one ever bothered me, questioned me, or woke me up. I like to think it was because I had them fooled, but for all I know, there was a librarian there who knew exactly what I was – a homeless kid who wanted nothing more than a little space to sleep, and the safety to do it. I didn’t go to the university, but I kept my few pieces of clothing – and the canned food I got from the church down the street – tucked away behind a dumpster a few blocks from the campus. On some nights, I would lie behind that same dumpster, with a shirt wrapped around a rock I used as a pillow, and just sleep there. But, I would never get the good safety type of sleep behind the dumpster, it wasn’t anywhere near the feeling of those desks in that back corner.
I think about that library often. One day I will go back there and see if the same desks, and the same chairs are in the same spot – next to the same books. I wonder; is there another abandoned kid who finds shelter in there today? Is there another broken soul that a librarian looks after without anyone ever knowing? I hope not. I hope the kid can find a real home to sleep in, a real place to be safe to be. That would be so much better.