A Love Letter to Borders, Long Overdue

So I find that I need to explain how incredibly heartbroken I was when Borders bookstore shut down. Like seriously fucked-up, dumped-by-Mr. Big depressed and heartbroken and weeping more than when the asshole I married last year divorced me (which isn’t saying much, honestly) after six weeks because he couldn’t learn Spanish or practice the guitar (I’m not joking. He actually used not having time to learn Spanish as one of the “dreams” he had that he decided couldn’t happen since we got married. No matter the part about being a decent human being, but I guess that was a minor detail).

I grew up in Borders. It’s always been Borders. From the time I was a kid growing up in Maryland, the Borders in Gaithersburg Square was my home away from home. I bought every new Animorphs, every tie-in novel for Star Trek: Voyager as soon as they hit the shelves, and I’m still convinced when they raised the price of the Star Trek paperbacks from $4.99 to $5.99 that was due directly to me. When Men in Black came out I even bought the after-the-movie novel so I could find out how Laurel was adjusting to her new life as Agent L. When I was obsessed with CSI I bought the TV soundtrack from the enormous music section on the downstairs floor (which would later prove to be their downfall) and also the CDs of the artists used for background music in the show if I liked them enough.

The horrible, miserable year of 2002 (in my head, 2002 is a shade of drab green and murky black) when I dropped out of public school to do homeschooling my mom would drop me off at Borders and pick me up after she got out from work at Kaiser Permanente down the street. I read and read and read and soothed my sorrow at my own life (ah, adolescent woes!) by rejoicing in the adventures of characters and people with far more interesting lives than me.

Oh, the smell when I pushed the door open and walked in! That book-y fragrance, paper and glue and ink and something intangible that to this day fills me with a sense of comfort and contentment and nostalgia. I wish Bath and Bodyworks would bottle a fragrance or make a wall plug-in called “Bookstore.” I know I would buy it.

I would sit in the kids section, on the carpeted dais with the sunlight from the window overlooking the Gaithersburg fairgrounds filtering in and read until my butt got numb. One day I was there with my sister and a friend and the area was so covered in children’s paperbacks that we decided to clean it up. One of the store associates walking by was so touched she gave us all a $5 store voucher.

Earl Grey tea. I would always buy a steaming cup of Earl Grey tea from the cafe.

Of course, there was always the library. The Gaithersburg “liberry” was also beloved to my heart, like a grandmother’s cozy cottage with knit dolls and other tchotchkes. But Borders was like my wife. My BFF, my beloved first love, til death do us part.

I hadn’t realized the Gaithersburg location closed until I was visiting Maryland back in 2009 and drove past Gaithersburg Square. My initial delight at passing by my old stomping grounds died when I saw the faint outline of where the iconic Borders storefront letters used to stand out against the red brick. I felt the tears welling up but held back because I didn’t want to look like a freak among the other passengers in the car. I can’t even remember who I was with at the time.

I comforted myself with the notion that there were still many stores open. The thought they’d all close wasn’t even an option in my mind. Borders was too big and too beloved, too important to fail.

When I applied for the radio and television program (my undergrad trajectory went from R/TV, to social work, to finally alight upon journalism) at UCF, my connection to Borders was the subject of my application essay. (I guess it worked, because I got in. That and the direct connect program from Valencia College helped.)

When the stores began to shutter nationwide, and then closed for good, I felt like a bereaved spouse, a widower. Barnes and Noble is a distant second, the new wife with the iron-clad prenup. Sometimes I close my eyes and pretend she’s my first love, but she’ll never compare. Borders was like my Khadija, yo.

Now, when I drive past the empty Borders storefront in Winter Park, with the lettering tauntingly inviting my eyes to look and hope, I take a moment of silence for the place that sheltered me from the storm and shaped who I am.

Rest in peace Borders, you will be missed but never forgotten.

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