Richmond, Virginia

Directly Southwest from James Branch Cabell Library fifty feet from its doors a large compass built into the ground serves as the center of campus. Students meet here, activists set up signs like “ASK ME WHY GOVERNMENT IS IMMORAL.” Men in white button down shirts tucked into black pants use this busy compass to try to guide us to the path of righteousness. So walk your path to sin quickly.

After taking a break from college half of what I know of the library had changed: rotating doors, lights on the wall changing color from blue to yellow to red, and high-backed modern chairs . Walk far enough and you will find yourself back in a time which exits are blocked off, carpet has been stripped revealing the raw grime beneath it, and books rudely piled into carts to become a part of a new Cabell which does not yet exist. Vents mixing the smell of dry wall with dust and muck beaten into old office chairs that were once a smarter red.

I have been here when floors have been emptied as night hours turned towards daylight, with trash cans full of Chipotle trash. I have seen a low winter sun go down from a second story window only to appreciate its rise from the third floor behind the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. Improvements set at 50.8 million are encroaching upon the library. Soon it will not resemble what is once was which is, if I’m not mistaken, the point. However, I still find myself seated in areas that remain relatively untouched by the future.

I plant myself on a large old study chair between bookshelves housing rebound books. In the mandatory silence of the fourth floor, I hear the sound of heavy bass from a busy Floyd Street, the laughter of students outside four stories below me, and periodically the security guard’s footsteps making her floor check several bookshelves away. I feel safer, like not so much time has passed since my departure and in these mustier, broken in spots, I am protected from the march of time.