On April 20, 1987, I scribbled out my first entry in elementary handwriting complete with misspellings. “I thought I might write what happened in my life,” I wrote. Wise words for an eight-year-old.
Through age 17, I actively added entries to my diary. The ritual took place in my room while sitting on my bed, where I’d recap my day while listening to the radio or my favorite mixtape of the moment.
My diary became my silent companion, my confidant, and my therapist. It got me through challenging times and was a depository of secrets, fears and desires. When there was something I could tell no one else, I’d tell my diary.
It chronicled my loves, adventures, misadventures, crushes, heartaches and growing pains. It was my constant as I worked through the struggles, joy, exhilaration and confusion of growing up. It was sought after by boyfriends who, had they only known to check under my mattress, would have discovered my best-kept secrets. It was found once or twice by my parents, which in turn led to my being grounded. It was at that time that my dad wisely advised, “Never write anything down that you wouldn’t want the rest of the world to see.”
He wasn’t the only one -- I had boyfriends warn, “Don’t write it down!” Ah, but I couldn’t resist and instead continued and started writing in code. I had a fear that if I didn’t record every detail, the memories would fade, and I didn’t want to eventually forget what was once so important to me.
On December 20, 1994, at the age of 16, I wrote, “My diaries will make good reading for me later on.” I had no idea just how true this would be.
It is now 22 years later and I recently learned that my best friend from when I was 14 unexpectedly passed. Knowing that Jonathan’s name was written across multiple pages, I immediately went into the closet that held the stack of my old diaries. I poured myself a glass of wine, turned on music, sat on my bed and cracked them open.
In the blink of an eye, while reading bubbly handwriting expressed through colored pens, Jonathan was back. My diaries were time machines that transported me to a place where my best friend was just across the street and I knew that if I wanted to see him, he was just a call or a knock away.
Before me was a litany of memories, records of our conversations, details of days spent together, and long-forgotten inside jokes. Moments were so detailed that they triggered distinct feelings -- I experienced tears, laughter, love and I felt exactly as I did when I wrote those words years ago. My diaries had turned back time and brought with them a temporary return to our days of innocence, discovery and endless possibilities.
At Jonathan’s funeral, I was able to accurately tap into that period of time and those feelings, and share them with others. I borrowed excerpts from hand-written pages to provide a unique and personal celebration of his life. A piece of Jonathan could vividly live on through me, through our written history, so wisely recorded in my youth. If I could go back in time and thank my teenage self, I would.
Today I am a writer and openly share my thoughts with the public. Long gone are the awkward teenage years, but my optimism, desire for discovery and sense of adventure remain. I will always appreciate the therapeutic nature of the written word, and love that if I want to unlock a piece of my history and youth, all I have to do is open one of my diaries.
Getting reacquainted with this personal ritual has breathed new life into my desire to pick up a new diary and begin writing. Perhaps one day, twenty years from now, I’ll thank myself for it.