Emeralites & The Library

In its 165 years since first opening, I figured very few people had probably tried sneaking into the University of Michigan Library after-hours. On a warm autumn night in 2003–, my then-girlfriend and I officially became part of the handful ourselves.

Ranked as the second-largest research library in the United States, and housed throughout a dozen of different buildings, we chose the Shapiro Undergraduate Library as our place of study for the night. The multitude of green glass lampshades gave the entire place a warm, welcoming vibe. They say the color projects a feeling of serene peace and perhaps even helps one focus on their task at hand. Ours was to try and finish some homework we’d both brought with us. It was an innocently sweet moment I was able to share with her—, knowing how far-removed from all of the surrounding wisdom we truly were.

The aisles were lined with world literature containing life lessons one can only read about within the pages of very old volumes. While not seeing the specific books myself—, I imagined I was surrounded by such classics like The Divine Comedy, King Lear, and Les Miserables. Grapes of Wrath, Great Expectations, and countless other titles that I’d never even heard of. Authors that went through deep, personal epiphanies and still had the strength to put pen to paper and forever seal their experiences between two covers.

What was the world like beyond the tree-lined pathways past the library’s front doors? Could I just curl up in my own little corner and read myself into enlightenment? Doubtful. I needed to activate all five senses and see first-hand what was out there awaiting the traveler in all of us. What could I accomplish from inside these four walls? Or any walls for that matter? I needed to be one with the atmosphere outside.

I knew nothing of what awaited me. All I felt during those moments of my life was the pull of something much greater than myself. Like a magnet, the world called out to me and drew me in its direction of pure adventure. Ann Arbor was my first stepping stone, and what an impressive one it was.

Aside from singing along to group vocals in pop-punk classics and finding new make-out spots in school with my girlfriend—, my adolescence was spent daydreaming about the future. I closed my eyes and saw massive skylines. I knew I’d eventually get there, I just didn’t know how impactful the whole experience would be once I did.

It was 2003 and the Safe Sex Shop was still open. More than a decade later, in 2015—, I walked by once more and noticed it was nearly empty—, of both patrons and products. They were closing—, on that very day. It was the end of an era. And I barely missed it, but somehow, still made it back in time to browse their selection of scented lubes and colorful condoms one last time.

Then—, there were all the memories I’d made right across the street.

The first time I ever got drunk was at Pinball Pete’s. The lower-level arcade was bursting with the smacking sounds of pool balls bashing into each other, beeps from the machines randomly spread throughout the large room, and the frenzied clacks of the hockey puck hitting the sides of the air-operated table.

“Let’s play a shooting game,” my good friend advised. We tried in vain to aim the neon orange guns at the screen, our arms waving while our legs wobbled. When we’d get down to our last couple of dollars, we’d walk back up to street-level, head around the corner, and wrap up the night at the Back Room—, a pizzeria that only sold by the slice. Grease would drip down the cheap paper plates onto a piece of concrete that I’d come to call “home—,” in every way possible.

The same friend and I snuck into Necto a little while later. It was the only decent nightclub in the city—, but once inside, one was transported to another world. We walked in through the back patio door and down to the bathrooms. We holed ourselves up in the last stall for at least a couple of hours before hearing people start bustling in and out, letting us know the club was finally open for the night. We walked out like we were anybody else. I was barely sixteen and already getting used to the club vibe.

Before dating my official high school sweetheart, I had another crush for a short while. I’d skate up the street to her house and we’d spend the entire night there on her driveway or in her room when she’d sneak me inside the house. Whisperwood Drive—, because that’s exactly what we’d have to do so that her mom wouldn’t wake up. One night, I slept on the grass at the front of her complex until the first city bus pulled up shortly after dawn. I entered into its air-conditioned atmosphere and sat in one of the blue chairs with Fenix*TX’s “Tearjerker” on repeat, waiting until reaching downtown again to resume my normal summer routine.

Time slowly passed by. Finally, I lost my virginity to a Michelle Branch song. A lot of us probably did back in those days. Mine was “Drop in the Ocean.” Perfect. That second chorus really does it for a first time. The lasting memory wasn’t so much of how nervous we both were or the way her eyes looked, but how predictably unblemished it all was. Small-town and “before everything.” January 3rd, 2003. Northside. In a blink-182 poster-covered bedroom. “Love took me by the hand, love took me by surprise…,” Michelle sang, putting into words all of the abstract emotions I felt.

While I was obsessed with Southern California for much of my youth, looking back, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend it anywhere other than Ann Arbor. The city fit my younger-self like a sleeve. I had my World Industries deck propped up beside my Tom DeLonge Signature Strat and a closet full of Hurley. It was all so—, suburban. Not in a dull or drab kind of way, but simply that, it all felt so safe. All we knew of love was what the newest Drive-Thru Records release would have to say about it. All we knew of danger was cab-sharing with complete strangers well after midnight. And all we knew of the real world is what we’d hear from other people who’d made it out of the city, out of the state, or if we were lucky, out of the country—, those stories were always the most interesting.

I left Ann Arbor in late 2004 and aside from very brief visits, never went back. Sometimes I miss it, but I’m not ready. Not yet. I can’t face those streets again without bringing something with me—, some type of honor, some type of accomplishment. One day, we’ll meet again—, my hometown and I. Until then, I need only close my eyes and the faint sound of four-chord pop-punk comes back in as the taste of cherry lipgloss re-drips down my throat with bittersweet memories.

That was still a year away though. I had no idea how much everything would change afterward. Back in 2003, back in the library, the light underneath the green lampshade began to dim—, lessening our “serene peace” by the second.

“So…,” my girlfriend began, “ready to get out of here?” I thought about it, but not as much as I should’ve.

“Yeah—, I am,” I said. If only we would’ve stayed a little while longer. If only I would’ve stayed a little while longer. Maybe everything would be different. If only. If only.

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