simplyjan

A Simple Look at a Not-So-Simple Life

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Journals

“Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, please throw my journals in the lake.”

journals

I went rambling in my antique trunk the other night. It’s the first time I have done this since moving to Charleston 2 1/2 years ago. I’d forgotten about all the treasures I’d carefully wrapped and stored away inside: pictures, cards, letters, knick-knacks, kids’ drawings, diplomas, and journals.

Yes, journals – about a dozen of them spanning the years between 1987 and 2007. Some of them are cheap notebooks. Others are nicer journals. Only a few of them are filled from cover to cover. I love notebooks and journals. Even though most of my writing is done on a computer keyboard these days, I still buy them frequently – all shapes, sizes, and colors; some plain and some fancy. It’s like I believe that if I can just find the right journal the words will naturally flow out of me to fill it. Apparently I’ve yet to find the right journal.

It was an emotional experience to read through these old journals. I tend to write a lot when I’m hurt or confused. It’s my way of figuring out what I think and how I feel. Much of what is in these journals was written during times of personal turbulence and confusion, with a few happy stories and memories scattered in between the angst. I scanned quickly over pages written by me, the bewildered young wife who couldn’t figure out why her husband rejected her. I found a letter I wrote to Anna on the night before I was scheduled to go to the hospital to have my labor induced. I found the photocopied pages of one of my journals that my ex-husband made without telling me. I remember how I felt when I accidentally stumbled across them hidden in the back of a drawer. I couldn’t have felt any more angry or betrayed if he had taken covert pictures of me naked and printed them out. I read over pages written by me, the angry and now defiant young wife who was done with that marriage. I read pages written by me, the dreamer – literally – who faithfully recorded the most vivid, bizarre dreams that visited me often during that tumultuous period. I read pages written by me, the teacher/called to be preacher/wannabe writer, searching for a way to be the me I wanted to be. I read pages written by me, in love again, hurt again, alone again, yet always somehow hopeful that one day things would work out.

As I read my old journals, I wanted so much to be able to talk back to the younger me, to tell her things that the older, more experienced me now knows. I wanted to comfort her. I wanted to shake her and tell her not to put up with the crap she put up with for far too long. I wanted to show her all the ways she was strong back then, even though all she could see at the time was her weakness and her alone-ness. I wanted to tell her to write not just when she is sad, but also when she is happy. I wanted to tell her to always listen to her dreams, for more often than not they are filled with the kind of wisdom we can only receive when our guard is down in sleep. I wanted to tell her that it’s okay to be a bitch sometimes, and that she doesn’t have to feel guilty about going after what she wants, and that the people who really matter in this life will love her even if she decides to go her own way and do her own thing rather than always being compliant. (They wouldn’t always like it, mind you, but they would always love her.) When she was upset about being written up for being insubordinate at work, I wanted to shout, “Hell yes, girl! It’s about time you stood up! And don’t you dare change a thing!” I wanted to thank her for writing down her story because her story does indeed matter.

After a couple of hours of reading, I tucked my journals away in the drawer by my bed – their new home that will make it easier for me to access them. As I closed the drawer it dawned on me that perhaps my older, more experienced self should listen to her own pep talks a little more often.

Wind Blown

I curled up in a ball on my side and drew the covers up to my chin. The cold air wasn’t here yet, but I could sense its imminent arrival on the coattails of the wind that whistled through the screens and rattled the siding of my house. So much for the unseasonably warm weather we’d been having. 

My 8-year-old daughter opened my bedroom door and tiptoed to my side. “I’m scared of the storm,” she whispered. 

“It’s ok, sweetie. It’s no storm – just wind. See?” I tapped the WeatherBug app on the phone at my bedside and summoned the radar screen. My children are the grandchildren of farmers. They know how to read a weather map. Satisfied that a storm wasn’t coming and armed with the advice to turn her radio on low to combat the noise of the wind, she returned to her bed. 

A cold front was coming, no doubt. I felt the coolness through the cracked window. A person always needs a little fresh air when they sleep, regardless of the season. I learned that from my farming grandfather. The wind outside howled, and now even the dog showed signs of nervousness at the sound. He shifted restlessly at the foot of the bed, snuggling closer to my legs for warmth or reassurance – or both. Little did he know that I needed it too. 

A short time later, somewhere in that no-man’s land between sleep and wakefulness, my mind conjured up memories that were spurred by sound of the wind. 

I remembered all the times that I fled the mobile home I shared many years ago with my husband and newborn baby girl. I hated that house. Seeking protection from elements like tornadoes and high winds (that in the South have the locations of such homes programmed into their internal Garmins) felt like carrying a clover leaf for an umbrella. It just wasn’t up to the task. My he-man husband always refused to leave the house for trifles such as tornado warnings, meaning that I was forced out into the storm alone, carrying a diaper bag and a crying baby through the wind and rain.

I later ended up fleeing that house for good, not because of tornado warnings, but because of a stormy marriage that threatened me even more than an F5 tornado. My daughter and I landed in a tiny duplex apartment in a nearby town. The neighbors on the other side of the duplex were a married couple whom I found friendly in the light of day, but who drank heavily and argued loudly at night. I used to lie in bed at night, praying that if one of them pulled a gun, it wouldn’t be fired through my bedroom wall. Strange things happened in that house. Sometimes, particularly on stormy nights, I would feel the mattress of my bed move, as though someone was leaning or sitting on it. I would roll over, expecting to see my preschool daughter ready to tell me about a bad dream or that she needed a drink of water. No one was ever there. One night filled with heavy rain and gusty winds, I walked out of my bedroom to go to the bathroom, only to discover that the front door of my house was standing wide open. I never knew what would blow in on the wind around that little duplex.

Fear of the wind haunted me even after I moved on. I woke one night in my sturdy 1950’s-built brick manse in Landrum with my heart pounding. I felt threatened. Was someone in the house? I became aware of my ornery calico cat sleeping peacefully beside me. No, no one was in the house. She was the first to slink off to a hiding place when a strange person (anyone except me or my daughter) stepped into the house. I lay there with a pounding heart when I heard again the sound that had wakened me: a strong gust of wind and the rumble of distant thunder. A storm was coming. Years of living in that flimsy mobile home followed by two years in a wind-haunted duplex conditioned me to fear storms.

And now on this night, the wind continued its loud symphony of sounds outside my window. I rolled over and the barrage of wind memories continued. This time it was the memory of a dream. In the dream I was living again in that horrible mobile home. (It seems that many of my bad dreams put me back in that house.) A terrible windstorm blew in so fast and so furious that I didn’t have time to flee to safety. There was no inner room or safe place to hide in that single-wide tin can, so I huddled on the couch with my baby girl in my lap and prayed and cried as the winds rocked the house. Finally it stopped. A few moments later, my mother and my sister-in-law knocked on my front door. I was a wreck, a fact they couldn’t help but notice yet failed to understand. “Didn’t you hear that storm?” I responded to their questioning looks. “Didn’t you feel those wind gusts? I thought the house would blow over! Can’t you see all the limbs down in the yard? Look – the old oak tree was literally split in two!” They were happily oblivious to any storm that had passed through. I could not understand how they had missed such a horrible storm or how they failed to see the debris it left behind.

As always, dreams are truth-tellers. Wind has always been a symbol of upheaval and vulnerability for me. I was afraid of being harmed in that flimsy mobile home and the man I had believed would protect me and my child failed me. The two years in the tiny wind-haunted duplex were years of personal storms: a stormy job, stormy divorce proceedings, the stormy end to a relationship I cherished, stormy communications with my parents. I felt so alone during those storms. Even years later when the storms were behind me, just the sound of wind and thunder could wake me in fear or brew a truth-telling wind dream. 

Then there was the wind on this night. It blew in memories that had been secured in storage for years. But that’s not all it blew in. There were also snippets of an old song – words that sounded to my ears so secular, yet so holy. I realized later that it was probably the voice of Garth Brooks crooning on my daughter’s radio, but my mind felt like the words were sent to me from the One who loves me most:

The storms are raging on a rolling sea,
Down the highway of regret.
The winds of change are blowing wild and free,
But you ain’t seen nothing like me yet.


There ain’t nothing that I wouldn’t do;
Go to the ends of the earth for you.
Make you happy, make your dreams come true,
To make you feel my love.

And with those words echoing in my mind I finally slept in peace, even as outside my window the wind blew on.

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