In fifth grade I was given a small, pink, hard backed diary with a lock on the side. I promised myself I’d write every single day and promptly forgot to do it. Well, not forgot. I let myself get in the way, I didn’t think anything that happened in my life was exciting enough to record. The funny thing is I was bullied terribly that year, there was plenty to write about. But even as a girl I was too scared to do it. Writing struck me as something sacred. I was already a voracious reader, my sister had to bribe me to play with her. I’d rather spend all day every day curled up in a nest I made in my closet with a book. Over the years I’ve come to believe I am an excellent consumer of words, I still lose myself in books the same way I did as a child. They are magic to me, a way to lead different lives and be different people. Sometimes I feel more alive when I am reading than I do in reality. But along the way I convinced myself that I was no producer of words even though I wanted to be.
As I grew up I would occasionally take pen to paper when life got too overwhelming. But what I wrote was so raw and humiliating and honest that the thought of anyone reading it filled me with enough shame that I would destroy the words soon after they were written. I remember burning pages on the floor of my dorm room freshman year at Sarah Lawrence, almost setting the house on fire. Ah, to be 18 and a complete idiot.
Around that time I had a discussion with a journal writer. I explained that I felt like reading someone else’s diary was a terrible invasion of privacy, even posthumously, even if the work was published. I asked this person if when he wrote he thought that the words would someday be read by others. After some consideration he answered “Yes”. My breathtakingly know-it-all mind felt like he was doing it wrong. Diaries were private, if you wanted people to read your words you should be writing a story or poetry or nonfiction. How could you be perfectly honest if you were writing for an audience instead of writing for the truth? If you managed to lay your soul bare you would never want anyone to read it. Again, to be 18 and a complete fucking idiot. I wasn’t brave enough to write, obviously it was cowardly to condem anyone who had the balls to do it. And the idea that writing for an audience and writing for truth were mutually exclusive was simply idiotic.
The first winter of Z and my relationship was during my final year at college. We met the previous summer, and 7 months later were still in the throes of that heady new love. His mom had given him a blank book that had sat empty on his bookshelf and one night in a fit of romanticism we decided we should write down what happened in our lives once a week so we wouldn’t forget. The idea seized my imagination and for once I got out of my own way. I recorded our time together from January 13th to May 9th of 2009. The book has been on my mind, so yesterday I tracked it down in our attic room. Over the 13 plus years since it was written I’ve casually looked at it for a laugh every now and again, although it’s probably been more than half a decade since the last time I’d opened it.
I’m reading through it now, and it is kind of a mind fuck. I’m more convinced than ever that my own journal keeping is a private matter. Although it is far from explicit, I super duper don’t want my kids or grandkids reading about my sex life. But I’m surprisingly grateful to have the experience of reading about who we used to be. I expected to be a bit embarrassed (and was) at how young and oblivious we were, which isn’t quite fair to us. We were young, so of course we acted that way. But I was surprised and humbled (and I really hate that word-I find people use it when they are not actually humble at all, but in this case I can’t come up with another word that explains exactly how I feel) that we were struggling with many of the same issues we face today. I feel so much sympathy for the young versions of us who have no idea how close we would come to losing our marriage, or what it would do to us to experience a miscarriage, or what completely different people we would become. We stayed out till the middle of the night and slept in till noon. We were young, and it was sort of fabulous. We were completely wrapped up in each other, still getting to know everything about our histories, so hungry to establish intimacy. We have been family to each other for so long I can no longer imagine a time when that intimacy, which now feels like a necessary part of who I am as a person, did not effortlessly exist.
I’m also proud of us for doing hard work and discussing our problems so early in our relationship. I’d just come out of an awful situation in which the person I was with and I treated each other like garbage. Z and I made an intentional effort to treat each other with care from day one. We often failed. We weren’t fair to ourselves or each other. But we tried. I also feel sad for the girl who assumed that her needs weren’t quite valid and who tried to adjust them to fit those of the boy she loved. How young was I when I established that I was probably the one who was wrong in any given situation? The anxiety hadn’t taken hold in a way that overrode everything in our lives yet. It was there, but I beat it regularly. I lived life. I really don’t remember a time when it didn’t control me, so knowing it wasn’t always in charge is very comforting.
Last night I told Z reading the journal now was the reason I’d written it in the first place. We are far enough away from it to appreciate it and learn from it. He said we should do it again so we could read about the nuances of our life as young parents 14 years from now. I think he’s right. I think you guys should do it, too. When I was writing back in ’99 I felt like the future me was so far away, that it would take forever for 14 years to pass. And in some ways it did take forever, but it also took no time at all.