I honestly never thought I’d see this day. Just a little more than seven months ago, I stood about six feet from this spot where I took this photograph tonight. That night I watched the window in the back blow in. I’m almost certain that as the glass flew toward me it just as quickly got sucked back out, taking a table with it. I’m not certain that’s exactly what happened, but that’s what my memory tells me happened. Memory is funny in moments like that, I’ve learned.
Some details are crisp. I know I thought, “It sucks for whoever has to clean that up tomorrow.” I remember the pungent smell of natural gas and my fear that the building was going to blow. I remember the relief at hearing Mary yell my name and seeing Sean arrive later. I remember seeing books fall off shelves and pieces of the ceiling fall to the floor. I remember seeing the flash of lightning and harsh rainfall where a wall should have been. Other things aren’t there, but seemingly should be. I don’t remember the noise everyone else talks about. There is no sound when I play it over in my mind. Still yet, some memories just don’t make sense. Or I know they aren’t accurate. I swear I remember a dog barking.
I guess all of that is how the mind tries to find order in the chaos.
One thing I was sure of that night was that Barnes & Noble was done. I’d taken a part-time job there in hopes of paying off some bills while going back to school. What if found was several people I now consider dear friends, a large group of customers who would treat me like I was part of their family. Who would see me at the grocery store or little league games and thank me for book recommendations or ask me what I was most recently reading. All that, however, seemed to be gone. I couldn’t imagine them not having to tear the building down. The back wall was gone. The ceiling seemed to be falling. It looked like a bomb had gone off inside.
Then Barnes & Noble did some fascinating things. It made sure each of us could keep our jobs. That each of us could talk to someone if we needed to. That it would open a pop up store in another location while the damaged store was fixed.
Then when the pop up store opened, customers came. Sure, some griped that there wasn’t a cafe or some such other amenity was missing. Others with their priorities in order showered us with kindness and understanding.
Of course I’d get asked, “When is the old one opening?” or “I bet you can’t wait to get back to your old place.” I’d smile and tell them what I knew.
Some would say “I can’t believe it’s taking so long.” I wanted to grab these people’s shoulders and say “Are you insane? My god, the other store was destroyed! Panera was a few hundred feet away and won’t be back for more than a year! Do you have any idea what went on that night?”
Of course they don’t, and I shouldn’t expect everyone to.
We spent the last two weeks working on the refurbished store. We piled books onto the shelves. We scrubbed fixtures. We alphabetized CDs, records, books.
Tuesday night, as Mother Nature blistered Wilkes-Barre in a blanket of snow, we opened our doors. I still can’t believe how many people showed up. They hugged us, they smiled, they bought books. And toys. The showed us that we were still part of a community.
As powerful a shock it is to live through a tornado, it’s just as amazing to see that you can mean so much to another person just by recommending a book.