I read it! Even though it clearly says "Do not Read"
We were going through old files the other day, and I came across the things I kept through the years that pertain to me and my writing. The most comprehensive item was one of those black marbled composition notebooks. It was labeled “Do Not Read” and covered the events in my life from age 15-18.
I did read it, of course, though there were plenty of moments I cringed and even a whole section of bellyaching about an ex boyfriend that I completely skipped. My kids were thrilled at some of my more blithe comments “God I hate dates and proms and parties and myself!”
My husband endured the (more than I remember) barbs about his home state “Can you believe that I find myself in New Jersey? On purpose!” He wondered when he would come into the picture. Interestingly, the notebook ends a few months before we met.
I have kids around the same age I was when I wrote this journal. I was heartened to see that I was really pretty innocent at their ages, as I judge them to be now. More than that, I saw myself relate experiences, especially with boys, but also with my family, that shaped the way I navigated young adulthood, independence, marriage and motherhood a few years down that road. I learned early that waiting by the phone was a dumb idea and that if I wanted to know the status of a relationship, I should just talk to the boy about it. I reflected on my mother’s perspective on life ever so briefly. I still find it hard to put myself in her shoes but I think I was wrong to write, “I think she looks back over the last 23 years an sees how much of her life she’s wasted taking care of the family. I hate the fact that we make her do so much and we never appreciate her.” As an almost 19 year veteran of taking care of my own family, I feel like this is by far the least wasteful think I have done! I also wish that my 15 year old self recognized that feeling bad about not appreciating your mom could have and should have translated into, say, helping out with the dishes once in a while! Sorry, Mom!
Comforting, too, was seeing that I was able to put my most unvarnished thoughts in there about self doubt, anger, depression, disappointment, just all of the bad things. And as I read along, first scolding my younger self for being so histrionic, I saw the problems untangle themselves. I worked myself off of the proverbial cliff and back into sanity, and at a place where I was utterly sympathetic with myself. I think my own kids could really benefit and so do some mental health professionals (read about it here.)
The last pages are a mish-mash of things I clearly put in there at different times. What a contrast between an early artistic rendering my crush’s name when I was 15 and a list of the classes I took in my second year of college. at 18.
I’ve started a million journals in the intervening years, but they always devolve into grocery lists or notes taken while on the phone with the pediatrician or the exterminator. I’ve never again had that discipline to turn to the same tome regularly over several years. It’s time to try again!