Friday, January 17, 2014

The Magic Door

A vivid childhood memory of an encounter with the unknown

When I was quite young, maybe four-years old, I made a miraculous discovery... I discovered a magic door!

My mom and I were in downtown Stockton, California, on the second floor of the main branch of the San Joaquin County Public Library (I believe it's now called the "Cesar Chavez Memorial Library"). It was a huge building inside, at least from the perspective of a four-year old, with cavernous ceilings, tall counters that could barely be reached, giant barrel-shaped light fixtures hanging high above, and aisles and aisles of books that went on for as far as my young eyes could see.

A housewife with an insatiable appetite for reading but no money to actually buy books, mom spent quite a bit of time in libraries. She would check out as many books as she could at one time, devour their contents within days, then head back for more. Still being too young for school, I often accompanied my mom on these 'foraging expeditions,' exploring the quiet, mysterious confines of our local libraries.

The large downtown branch was the most mysterious to me as a child, partially due to its size, but more because we seldom went there. Fair Oaks Library was our local branch, located on the east-side of town, in a neighborhood we called "Okieville". It was a small, single-story, wooden-framed building, white with blue trim, located where another street merged into East Main Street at a sharp angle, creating the small 'point' upon which the library stood. Fair Oaks also had a free morning daycare program, where my mom could drop me off, head back home for some uninterrupted housework, then return to pick me up a couple of hours later (along with a few books, of course). I remember sneaking away during story-time, exploring the familiar aisles of books, ruffling through pages looking for pictures, and spying on the librarians and other adults through small gaps between books.

The downtown branch was less fun and familiar, and more mysterious... Even scary. The aisles of books seemed sky-high, and appeared to go on further than the entire inside of Fair Oaks. And the reference section, located deep in the back, was less well lit, with dark and musty smelling aisle-ways. I think that, due to the intimidating atmosphere of the place, I tried to stay as close to my mom as possible most of the time. Sometimes though, she'd start reading right there in the library, not wanting to wait until we got back home, and I remember feeling so bored just standing around doing nothing. So, even though I was afraid, I still occasionally wandered off to explore... Which is how I discovered 'the magic door.'

It was near the front, next to a section dedicated to paperbacks, not too far from the checkout counter; Just a big, blue section of wall in the midst of a larger white wall. Once, while I happened to be looking in that direction, I saw someone walk up to that blue section, push against the wall with their finger, and the wall silently, magically parted! The person who had pressed against the wall then passed through the opening and disappeared, the wall closing behind them.

I snuck closer, peering around racks of books, trying to get a better look. Another person approached, and this time I could see the shiny black button they pressed. I watched as that blue section of wall silently parted once again, and yet another person disappeared!

To this day, I have no idea what possessed me to press that button. A fearless daredevil I was not, so it may have been curiosity... Or more likely boredom. Whatever the reason, I pressed the button, watched the blue section of wall magically part, stepped inside, and found myself trapped in a strange room!

I don't know that I even noticed the inside buttons, or that my panic allowed me to register anything other than the fact that I was trapped somewhere, in a strange room, away from my mommy. I do remember screaming, and screaming, and screaming some more... At the top of my lungs, for what seemed like hours (though I'm sure it wasn't). When the doors finally opened again, either by someone who had heard my screams or, more likely, by the next person who needed to use the elevator, I ran out of that strange room as fast as I could, straight to my mom. I'd had more than enough 'adventure' for one day!

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