When I was seven years old, I received a diary for Christmas, even though I’m pretty sure my Christmas list called for “dairy.” It was a pink hardcover volume with a Mary Engelbreit illustration on the front and a lock between the two covers. I kept the key in my pencil cup because, duh, who would look there for the key to my top-secret diary? My first entry detailed that Christmas morning: what gifts I received (including “this diary,” as though it weren’t self-evident), what we ate, and descriptions of every gift we were bringing to my grandmother’s house that evening. I felt the need to include explanations of everybody in my family in parenthetical references, which was an odd practice in the context of my surreptitious key concealment. Despite my best intentions, I had a hard time writing in the book because of its construction. I’d lie on my stomach in my day bed, writing earnestly, but in one wrong move, one side of the book would whip up and slap me in the cheek. I also struggled with the idea that I was writing a letter to some nebulous person. Who was Diary, exactly? And why did she care about what was going on with me? Diary was a she, of course. It was a pink journal, after all.
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I went to camp for the first time when I was eight years old and I was so excited. A whole week to go swimming and make funky crafts? Yes, please! Although I had no traces of homesickness, my mom sent along a care package with my ride. The brown-paper-wrapped shoebox contained small gifts like a flashlight, pictures of the family, and best of all, a small, spiral-bound journal. On it, a sticky note read, “Just so you don’t forget to tell us anything.” That week, I used a mechanical pencil to scrawl out breathless narratives about how camp was “soooooooooo fun,” I would be best friends with my bunkmates forEVER, and I never wanted to go home, ever. From that week on, I eschewed the “Dear Diary” format.
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In high school, I developed a habit of acquiring gel pens of all shades of the rainbow and I resolved not to use the same color two days in a row, resulting in a rather blinding display when I looked back for some cringe-worthy reading. The same thoughts always emerged: I can’t believe I liked that boy. Those girls are still that mean. I’m so glad I went to school out of state. Over the years, a blank book was always a safe gift for me, but I was picky. I always accepted blank books for various purposes, but for writing, I needed a spiral binding, lines on both sides of the paper, and a size somewhere between a half-sheet and a school notebook. In ten years, between that week of summer camp and high school graduation, I had filled up a journal every other month. My bookshelves were filled with books crowded with tiny cursive handwriting in fluorescent colors, detailing how deep and sensitive I was.
Going back and reading about my adolescent drama wasn’t exactly nostalgic for me; it was akin to looking at an album of gawky, fashionless, glasses-filled self-portraits. Even so, I kept the books until I came home to clear out my bedroom because I was moving into my first apartment. Moving between dorm rooms for four years had made me a frugal packer and I knew that the time had come. After flipping through the pages and sighing, I loaded all of the books into a box destined for the trash. Trash is such a harsh word; it’s not quite what I meant at the time, nor now. The real purpose and benefit of the journals was to help me process what I was experiencing, not to preserve it like a personal museum. That purpose has been fulfilled and I no longer needed to hold on to the physical books. In a way, I’m proud of the “body of work” I created at such a young age; what it lacked in panache it made up for in quantity and heart. That’s worth something, I think.