When my daughter knocked a battered old book off the nightstand and I was gathering its unbound pages, I happened upon a couple loose leaves of journal written many years ago. It was everything I could fit on two legal pad pages during an extended train ride from Chicago to Ann Arbor immediately following a blizzard. I didn't have a notebook on me at the time, or perhaps I'd filled the one I'd packed for that New Year's journey, for I hadn't expected to be stranded at my friend's aunt's house for two days. Anyway, it was an illuminating read.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was steadily descending into an era I now consider the absolute nadir of my so-called adulthood. I was in college, barely supporting myself on part-time work and student loans with zero clue about juggling money, classes, my job, leisure time or relationships, nor had I concocted anything nearing a realistic plan for my future. I was drifting toward some very regrettable choices, but again, I didn't know that then.
Upon glancing the date at the top of page one, I cringed. But once started, I couldn't stop reading. It's funny, I've harbored certain vivid memories of that train ride - shivering in my seat, the broken door at the front of our car that would latch only when forcefully shut and the way the snow infiltrated those breezy connectors between cars and gathered in thick ridges along the walls. But in that journal entry, there were memories I'd forgotten - how grateful I was for the hospitality I'd received in Chicago (the primary emotion I recalled prior to reading was sullen impatience), a funny toddler who begged his mother to let him visit a cute eight year old girl at the back of the train, drinking a warm Heineken and being glad it wasn't warm Budweiser. Most surprising was the frank rendering of my feelings toward my new boyfriend. When I recollect the advent of a doomed relationship, I always assume I must have been fooling myself. Turns out, I knew exactly what I was getting into, incompatibilities and all. And when I talked about him being funny and secretly sweet, I remembered why our courtship seemed like a better than bad idea at the time.
I've kept journals on and off (mostly on), for the last twenty years. Save the one lost to a returned rental car during my pregnancy, I believe I've kept them all. I don't document my daily life for posterity. I'm rather frightened of the finished product, especially as it gathers dust and age. Keeping a diary suits me because the process itself is therapeutic. But then I'm left with all these inked up notebooks full of memories I don't remember, packed in boxes, stacked in closets, moved from apartments to houses and across the country. I think of them the same way I consider my childbirth photos - "Ick... I mean, sure, I'll look at those.... someday." Perhaps my densest, most deep-seated fear is that I'll die suddenly, my grieving loved ones will read those tomes and then they'll learn what a grody jerk I really am. A couple months ago, I thought, "I know! I'll organize all my old journals, which will be super fun for me, for real. And then I'll read them chronologically and then I'll burn every one I wrote before Bernadette was born!" It isn't a terrible plan, but maybe the bonfire finale isn't really necessary. We shall see.