Senior Portrait of Crystal

On Finding a Place

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When I was in high school, the kids often segregated themselves and I never knew which side of the classroom belonged to me. If I sat on the white side of the class, I’d have to endure girls putting their hands in my hair and exclaiming at its texture. Sitting on the black side of the class would mean being quizzed about which parent was black and why do I talk that way anyway?

Senior Portrait of Crystal

Senior Portrait, 1996

I tried to compromise by sitting on the edge of one group with my desk casually angled toward another group. It was awkward and miserable. I never fit in. Looking back on this, I wonder if my teachers noticed.

So, I was alone. I went to the school library for study hall and I went to the public library after school. I listened to music, did homework, and read my books. I went home and did the same.

Looking back, I realized I was depressed. Which is why what happened next is so important.

A librarian taught me how to talk to people who were like me. He patiently showed me how to get an email address — This was a long time ago, so it involved logging into a BBS and using command codes.

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That nameless and compassionate librarian changed my life; it’s very likely that he saved it. He saw me when my teachers didn’t.

That moment led me to a life focused on technology. Even as I earned my degree in history, I worked in the school’s IT department. When I moved to Las Vegas, it was to work for a DotCom company. I continued with history in graduate school, but I realized it wasn’t for me, and switched to Creative Writing. Despite the joy I found in the degree, it still didn’t fully click with me.

Although a librarian introduced me to the Internet, I associated librarians with books, not technology. On top of that, I was in my late twenties by the time I met a black librarian. In the back of my head, I always thought a librarian was someone fancy (i.e. white and rich) and somehow outside of my potential. Librarians were too important for me to ever consider becoming one. Besides, the librarian I met in high school seemed to be an anomaly. His interest in technology seemed at odds with what I thought a librarian was supposed to be.

But I was wrong. It turns out he was exactly what a librarian should be. I will always regret that it took me so long to discover that what I wanted and needed was to be a librarian. But I’m here now.

That mystery librarian changed my life. I wish I knew who he was so I could thank him. Instead, I keep studying, pushing, and leaning in no matter what, because I never know if or when I’ll accidentally make a difference in someone’s life.


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