In My Father’s Library

by Jackie Wallace

My dad has this library. It’s mostly history books, and books on various religions. He has a whole corner of the room dedicated to all the books and pamphlets he collected from his church over the years. When I was little, I’d sit in that corner, in the old, purple velvet chair, and just look. It felt like church.

I haven’t been in the library for a long time. Probably since the summer, almost a year now. I close the door behind me when I enter, and flip on the overhead light. Most of the room is taken up by this giant model train set my dad built. I made all the tiny log cabins out of match sticks and putty. I circle the train set, and survey the shelves. First are the encyclopedias. My dad likes old encyclopedias because he thinks they’re more truthful. I’m assuming that by “truthful”, he means “aligned more closely with my own belief system and therefore easier for me to accept.”

Next is the church paraphernalia.  I will not call it “propaganda” because I am not bitter.

The purple chair is gone. It finally rotted away. I let my eyes slide over the books, and feel the words hover in front of my face, staring me down. I feel as if I’ve been asked a question. I hold my breath and turn away.

I pass by the extensive collection of Louis L’Amour western novels. My dad convinced me to read an embarrassing number of them the summer I was twelve. They were boring as hell, and I forced my eyes to focus on each word. There was one I remember liking, though. It was about a girl from the mountains who ran away.

I’ve reached the history books. There’s an entire bookcase dedicated to North America. Fur trappers, settlers, Indians. The next bookcase is world religions. My dad has a copy of the first five books of the Bible, in Hebrew and English. I remember looking at them when I was little, and trying to decipher which English words translated to which odd scratches of Hebrew.

The last bookcase is mostly miscellaneous. The very top shelf, out of reach, is diet books and books on parenting. I can’t believe the perfect metaphor that is created by the situation, and spend a few minutes smirking at those books, untouched and untouchable.

One row down, I see some possible targets. This is a shelf full of old textbooks. There is a book on ballet; I’m assuming this was my mother’s. Next to it, a psychology textbook. Introduction to Psychology, seventh edition. It is covered in faded rainbow colors. I let my eyes rest on the spine of the book. I shouldn’t choose this book. I’m fairly certain choosing my father’s psychology textbook would be considered self-destructive by a more stable mind. Also, the situation feels vaguely Freudian and I try to avoid anything that I think would please Sigmund Freud. I don’t like making Freud happy because he was kind of an ass.

My parents were fairly surprised when I chose to major in Psychology, but they were shocked into disbelief when I told them I wanted to be a psychologist. In this house, psychologists are druggie voodoo hippies who turn you away from all that’s holy. I am choosing not to be offended by this.

I pull the book from the shelf, and drop to the floor where I’m standing. I am sheltered by the Styrofoam mountains of the train set. The book is from 1979. The year my parents got married. I skim through the table of contents, looking for interesting reading material. I flip to the introduction. I want to get a feel for modern psychology in 1979. The book uses a lot of outdated language, and I get the impression that the humanistic approach has yet to gain any sort of respect in its field, or at least from this author. I skip ahead to about halfway through the book, and read the chapter on abnormal psychology. They cover a handful of broad categories: neuroses, psychoses, schizophrenia, anxiety and mood disorders, personality disorders, and addiction. I don’t think we use the word “neurosis” in formal diagnoses anymore.

This is what my father knows of psychology, filtered through a heavily religious college. I try to imagine living in the 1970’s, and wonder what might have happened to me a couple of years ago if I hadn’t had the resources I take for granted now. Maybe I would have ended up in a state hospital. Or maybe some idiot would have come at me with holy water.

I want to cry. I want to throw the book away from me. I want to burn the pages. I want to carry it into the next room, where I can hear my dad playing a Wii game, flying an imaginary plane and shooting imaginary bad guys, and drop this book in his lap. I want to tell him how psychology is the baby of the science family, and we’re still learning new things every day. Sometimes we got things wrong.

Sometimes people get things wrong.

Jackie Wallace is a Senior Psychology major at Whitworth University. At a dinner party, she can typically be found making friends with the resident animals. She enjoys gardening and painting, and knows very little about either.

Photo above is from here.

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