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Jess Harriton

Guest Posts, Relationships

The Book Exchange

March 26, 2024
book

“He stole my book,” I moaned to my friends and co-workers, my bodega guy, my bodega cat. Anyone who would listen. “He stole my book. I love that book.”

They responded patiently.

“I’ll buy you a new one.”

“He probably lost it.”

“Don’t you have one of his too?”

All valid statements. But I wasn’t ready to let it go.

After work one night I sat at the kitchen counter, hunched over my phone, willing a text to come from this book thief I went on six dates with. Six. Then, without so much as an abracadabra, he disappeared like a white rabbit in a magic trick.

My roommate at the time told me to forget him.

“He’s a butterfly,” she said. “He flits from one thing to the next.”

I nodded. I knew she was right, but I was still stuck in that place where every word, every text, every kiss seems to hold the great unknowable answer to what went wrong. If I could just remember exactly what he said on that last Sunday date when we aimlessly traipsed around Greenpoint, surely I would be able to figure this out, I thought. But a close reading didn’t help. There was no subtext. No hidden meaning.  His disappearing act said it all.

On the subway soon after it ended, I winced as the train stopped at Delancey Street. A few days earlier I almost crashed into him as I rushed out of this station. I was running late for what would become our final date. He was standing on the corner, leather jacket unzipped, bass guitar strapped to his back, and that look. That look that I swear he must practice in the mirror—a mixture of sheepishness and amusement and something else that I could only describe to my friends as fearlessness.

“It’s weird,” I said to my friend on the phone after date number three. “When you start to see someone there’s a level of fear isn’t there? That you’re not going to fall or the other person isn’t going to fall with you. He doesn’t seem to have that fear.”

“Maybe he’s just braver with his emotions?” she offered.

“Maybe,” I replied, but I caught my voice trailing off the way it does when I want something to be true, but know it’s not.

Still, I held out hope. We went to dinner and the movies, his neighborhood and mine, a cute park date mixed in, several craft beers, and an impromptu bar crawl. And finally, The Book Exchange. After drinks in Bushwick, we were back at this place. I gravitated toward his bookshelf as I always do. I work in publishing. We sat cross-legged on the hardwood floor, perusing his collection. My eyes landed on a few Ishirugo books.

“One of his is my favorite,” I said.

And that’s how it happened. He gave me When We Were Orphans, and the next time we met, I gave him Never Let Me Go. The irony is not lost on me.

Soon after that, the texts started trickling out. The staring contest with my phone began. He was fading. I grasped a bit at the empty space he left until I didn’t anymore and left his last noncommittal message unanswered.

What he didn’t know—when he was ignoring my texts for days, when he was lending me a book and taking one of mine, when he was pulling me in only to push me back—is that I’ve had only one serious relationship. That all that’s been in between is a smattering of dating. He didn’t know he had been the first person in years I actually liked. He didn’t consider what was between the lines. It wasn’t bravery in his eyes; it was indifference. And only six dates or not, it still stung.

Weeks after I let that last text hang, deleted the message thread, and un-followed him on Instagram, I heard through the grapevine of our mutual friends that my story followed a very particular pattern. A friend’s friend had been down this very road: a handful of dates. He seemed to like her a lot. He totally flaked.

My mind flashed to the bookcase in his living room. I remembered the collection appeared to be growing. Books were stacked haphazardly on top of others and shoved in tight like misplaced puzzle pieces. Many of them were yellowed, with faded spines and dog-eared pages. They looked awfully well-loved.

I hope, at least, he reads them.

Jess Harriton is an editor and writer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her writing has appeared on HelloGiggles.com and in Concrete Literary Magazine. 
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