Diary Of Diaries
There were no dark secrets in the small lined notebook with the red cover that I got at one of those gift shops in Park Slope. This one was smaller than the smallest hard-backed Moleskines and was not heavy. It was liable to get lost due to how lightweight and small it was. Somehow it never did. On the front was space to put your name and contact information (its design took after a blue exam book). The pages were not numbered, but I numbered them, so I could applaud myself for my progress, as one does while reading a book that is not all-consuming or which the reader does not let become all-consuming. I would eventually fill this notebook. It is one of the few notebooks I have ever filled.
I came to the end of the notebook during a meeting of my writing group, which has met roughly once a week in a different member’s house for years. Not that I attended every meeting. I had actually not been to a meeting in months because I had been too distracted working at a sports store and training for my first marathon with my manager, an Ironman veteran, and my co-workers, all of them endurance athletes, spurring me on.
It was a fun summer; it was a terrible summer. I loved one of those co-workers; he did not love me back. He’d had a wife. She’d left him. I lived for these rare nights that we would get together with some other co-workers and go to a ridiculous bar called Zombie Hut and drink bowls of liquor. The red notebook was basically only about this co-worker I loved. The name on the front of the notebook may as well have been his name.
There were no secrets within, and there was no wishing ill upon others, no admissions of theft or fantasies about surprising people. There was just sheer desperation: a thousand different ways of looking at unrequited love, each one slightly more enlightened than the last.
There are passages in which you can nearly see my excitement coming off the page. The handwriting is hasty, and yet careful too, the letters elongated and close together, like writing about some happy incident with the man in question gave me newfound strength to somehow write both neatly and quickly.
There is an account of a night at Zombie Hut, a couple of hours in which I felt I had something important with this person: something solid, something old. This night I was sitting on a brown leather two-seater next to him, looking at our friends across from us, and I felt that everything could be summed up in the fact that we were sitting over here, and they were sitting over there. But we had only known each other a few months. You can’t make new old friends.
The summer of 1999, I had a strangely oblong notebook with an illustration of geishas on the cover and thin brown paper, like that of a paper bag, on the inside. This notebook was never finished. The last entry in the notebook, about halfway through its pages, was written a year after I started the notebook. It reads: “It is exactly one year later and nothing has changed.”
What I meant by that is that I’d had these old friendships, the type of thing I wanted from Mr. Zombie Hut and which I’ve wanted from every relationship: a history. I wrote that “nothing” had “changed” because I still felt the same as the year before, specifically: stuck, and unwilling to age. That summer, while I was not making more history with these friends, adding to it, I was writing in this geisha notebook. I wonder how much more could have been done and said had I not been writing in the goddamn notebook, writing out analyses of the often brief and always subtle events that we experienced together.
To keep it all straight — all the brief and subtle events — I divided up many of the pages of the notebook into a chart in which I would write what happened each day of the summer, and how many stars (out of five) I gave each day. The descriptions are all so similar, though, that I wonder how I thought this documentation would allow me to more easily remember the summer of 1999 in the future. “Canteen, ice-cream, bikes, fights!” reads one entry. “*****.” I wonder what “fights!” pertains to, and why it inspired a five-star rating.
This is one of the more embarrassing notebooks of mine I’ve ever read. There are poems written in French and English. There are sentimental Lauryn Hill lyrics written in all capital letters. My priorities and tastes are questionable (one entry concludes: “All I want is an unlimited supply of alcohol, cigarettes and ____! Can’t wait for the new Everclear CD, ugh, I just want it now!”) But it serves a purpose now: there are dazzling events from this summer that I could not quite be sure had actually happened. They move quickly across my mind sometimes, phantoms of memories. Recently I picked up this notebook and confirmed for the first time in years that they had all happened.
I wonder why, when the setting of this notebook is the most familiar place to me in the world, how my mind could forget so much of what has happened there. The notebook did not reinforce anything at the time of writing. But that had not really been the point. The point had been to quickly pass the hours I had to spend without these friends, and to spend them in a way that allowed me to relive the hours we had spent together, to stay poised in the feeling.
In the middle of the summer of 2003 I went off to Australia for a semester abroad. Before I did, I was told by my mother to get a job for the month or so before I had to leave. I did not get a job. My oldest friend did not get a job. We played frisbee on the front lawn of the university across the street from my parents’ house, which used to be my grandparents’ house. My room was the room my grandparents slept in for nearly 50 years. In this room I was haunted by people who were still alive. My mom wanted to turn this room into a painting studio once I left for Australia. One day we argued about this for hours. In the end, she agreed to keep the room my room. But by the time I returned from Australia, I was returning to a different “home”: they were living somewhere else, halfway across the world.
My notebook that summer was a basic spiral notebook with a royal blue cover that I purchased at Shoppers Drug Mart, the enormous drugstore in town where my friend and I spent hours trying on makeup and, back in the day, building up a collection of Lip Smackers. This notebook is a downer: my parents at this point lived far closer to my oldest friends than they ever had, and yet in our house 20 minutes away from my friends and our summer haunt, I felt farther away. I kept myself away from it. I stayed in the house, watching TV, not reading. In my notebook I wrote about the TV shows I was watching: Seinfeld, documentaries about Avril Lavigne. I felt myself growing apart from these friends. I was threatened by how fast life seemed to be moving for them. Fast, relatively, because for so many years time had appeared to stand still, paused for the summer, which was the only time I got to be a part of their lives, until now. Now that I had them, it appeared I didn’t want them. But that wasn’t it: it was that as I got older, I became more afraid of having experiences with them, more aware that those experiences would end, more fixated on the endings.
In the notebook I wrote fake news stories about the exciting things that were happening to them: the romances, the recognition, the career aspirations. These stories were mostly sarcastic. I was just a fly on the wall now. I was convinced of this. So I did not let myself become anything more. I ran: running is perfect for loners. It is so engrossing as to be a good excuse to never do anything else except eat a lot and drink Gatorade.
The entries are often brief non-sequiturs that go something like: “Ran 5 miles. ____ is a real adult now.” Or, “I want a Mr. Knightley. I need to do more push-ups.”
I would take the notebook out to the rocks where the Cornwallis River trickled out into the sea, but then tourists would ride by next to me on rented bikes and I would feel self-conscious with my stupid notebook and go home. Once home, I would go running. Later I would write about the run, how I had, for instance, gone over the crest of the hill at the southernmost edge of town and down the other side for the first time, and how it had felt wonderful because the only other people going that way were people in cars driving fast from the distant farmer’s market to their homes in the valley. Even the names of the streets down there sounded far away and daunting: Ridge Road, White Rock Road. I didn’t need anybody when I had this deep knowledge of my surroundings, a familiarity of streets and landmarks and certain old trees, a familiarity that I’m convinced only running can procure so quickly.
Did we have any fun that summer? If we did, I seldom wrote about it. I wrote about quietly vibrating wires that never crossed each other, like the night my grandparents, parents and I went out to the nice restaurant where my friend was working as the dishwasher for the summer. On the way out I had wanted to signal to him somehow, to say hello. He was standing at the sink under a fluorescent light, his back to me, a door behind him open to let in the cool evening air from outside. I walked slowly past the door, down the path to my parents’ car. I did not breach the divide between us, in spite of the open door.
I wrote in the notebook later that night under the desk lamp at the small table next to my bed. Next to me on the table was a novel I was attempting to write on a yellow legal pad about this place that so possessed me. But the royal blue notebook, which contained the truth, was more interesting, always. “Feel lazy. Feel strange,” I wrote in the blue notebook. “He was washing our dishes.”
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Try something today. Count how many times someone brings up some sort of mental illness in normal conversation. Add that number up and tell me it doesn’t strike you as kind of weird how many normal people walk around with the belief that there is something wrong with them.
She assumed it was jewelry. Every year he gets her a charm for her gold chain or a pair of dangly earrings.
Fall if you will, but rise you must.
You may lose what would have been the joy of the experience had you not been so focused on some fabricated idea or unrealistic expectation you had of how it was going to turn out.