I mentioned in a comment recently that being home means confronting the ghosts in the floor boards. Along with the memories comes the monsters in the closets and the poltergeist in the pipes. None of those hit home with a more resounding thwack to the temple than going through a musty box pulled from the bowels of the basement. A lone box stuffed full of journals, notebooks, folders, diplomas and other scraps of teenage and young adult detritus. The journals span about 13 years, from 1984 to 1996 and reading them now, as a woman of nearly 44, is eye-opening, heartbreaking, befuddling, cringe worthy, painful, hilarious. In other words, exactly as they should read. My So Called Life, but written. In a pink, fabric covered diary there are love poems written in a flowery, cursive hand. Rhyming stanzas that take a wild stab at love and loss and longing. By 13, I had kissed my fair share of boys, but still, the pool of available emotions to tap into didn’t go much beyond a sanitized longing for hand holding and slow dancing, first base and French kissing.
And if the moon throws shadows
I know the sun will shine
because as long as the sun warms our hearts
you will always be mine
The sentences get denser in the next few years, the emotions more complex, rawer. There are pages of questioning and answer seeking; white pages stained in black ink forever asking why: why does he prefer her? why can’t I be pretty? why can’t he love me? why do I feel this way? There is a dense black book spilling over with desperation, with sadness, with confusion. Should either of my children ever feel that as an adult I don’t know what the desperate torrent and hurricane of teenage and young adult emotions is like, I will hand them this book, baring my word soul to them simply to show them that they are not alone walking a path littered with answerless questions. The later notebooks are a mix of a spiraling descent into depression, mapped out in sentences.
I sit in the window
how it would feel
to float in the mist for a few seconds
knowing my lips would kiss
the wet concrete below
the clock on the wall would keep ticking
telling its tale while
the glow of my cigarette
It used to be
that I had things to hide in:
giant white pages
to play peek-a-boo from behind,
words whose curves were perfect for diving
and curling into.
And I could sleep between the lines
snug; tucked into color and
sounds that only I knew existed
because I made them up.
There are composition notebooks riddled with notes on Hamlet, course descriptions and poems popping with rage; anger sometimes aimed at individuals, but more often spotlighting rules and traditions that cut and carve out large swaths of society. Seething, writhing words; fragments and scraps that jump off the page with fury. Poems that spit in the face of patriarchy, prose that cast thinly veiled women in the role of Kali, of Gaia, of creator and destructor. Evolution of a girl. Revolution into womanhood.
They chained me to shadows
and left me
pale and riddled with white hot bruises
Vampire sucked of everything but
a dull recollection of color
and an open sore of blistering revenge
From faltering school girl to depressed young woman to vengeful lover.
Oedipus talked to Passion
orange-hot, fickle speckled passion
summer soaked, slippery grip passion
even Passion betrayed
pocketing two iconoclastic souvenirs
before she disintegrated
into ordinary germ-dipped love.
The pages stop in 1996, a year before I met my husband. By then the anger had given way to reflection. The questions were still present, but turned outward. Instead of chewing at the cuticles of my own faults, I combed through the hair of everyone else, looking for nits to pick. But the words were softer, more forgiving, more mature.
Under the jaundiced glare
of barroom lights and soured fairy tales
you kissed me
breathing liquid silver
into the rattling hollows of my spine
long ago abandoned
I have always been an open book, both figuratively and literally. When you write, it is your job to make people feel something. What people who don’t write may not know is that often you use your own blood as ink in order to do that. Laying myself bare in the pages of a notebook or in a teenage journal or even on a scrap of barroom napkin is no different from writing a blog. I’m just a better writer now. The question remains, what do I do with all of this? It seems silly to keep a lot of it, not to mention embarrassing, painful and tedious. At the same time, it is a written history of myself, an evolution of a girl in words. Because my writing is so tied up in my experience, so entwined, it’s a bit like throwing away a part of myself. Though I ache for the young girl through some of those years, there was triumph in there too. There was growth, there was maturation, there was resilience and ultimately, there was a life fulfilled. A life as an open book.
What do you do with old journals, writing samples, stories? Do you keep them or have you said good riddance?