“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.”
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.