I came across an old journal the other day, looking for the spell I remember casting over ten years ago to find my perfect mate. Wouldn’t it be fun to write a new one and dig out the old one and see how they compare fifteen plus years apart? What I couldn’t find is the spell I so clearly remember writing – I wrote almost daily back then. What I found instead is my old, huge journal buried in a box of books in the basement – red velvet, embossed in gold the word “Secrets” on the cover (I took this journal everywhere with me back then) – filled with delicate ideas and my romantic heart spilled across pages and pages.

I was working in the restaurant industry then. I had dropped out of college, lived on my own for the first time, had money in my pocket, and not a care in the world. I remember this time in my life vividly. I saw the world as though it was a tapestry of colors and an endless sea of possibility. I was just old enough to have an adult relationship with my mother. We would speak on the phone over coffee most mornings – when I could, from the cozy balcony off my bedroom that overlooked the lake across the street.  Time felt slow then. Life felt full. I was fully aware of each small beauty I was inviting into my life. I was creating my own world, and it was full of delight, artistic notions, and fun! I had just turned twenty-one.

As I thumbed through the pages of this journal I began to discover, somewhat uneasily, that this time capsule held more than the idyllic dreamings of my younger self. I continued to thumb through, a slight tightening in my chest and heart. One more flip of the page and there it was: so clearly the unraveling, the shifting from that young girl in a moment.

One turn of the page, and my prose shifts from sweet ideas and haikus around sunsets, lakes, and love to the very real and painful experience of watching my mother die, my family change, my life forever altered. Even my handwriting looks completely different from the start of the journal to the end, a living artifact of a mind wrecked with grief. From prose of romance and a fairy tale heart to darkness and confusion. In some places I slip into third person, too painful I suppose to own the thoughts and feelings at the time.

The tense changes from present tense – alive in the moments of each day as a well formed, cheery girl – to past tense: a dissociation from reality as reality became too hard to bear. As I realize what I have stumbled upon, this journal that is my unedited heart on the page, it breaks once more. How long it has taken to stare at this pain directly and acknowledge it. How long it’s taken to forgive myself for being human through the darkest hours of my life to now. How many years I tried so desperately to hide the pain and smile, hoping no one would notice.

I have had friends over the years who have struggled to understand how much changed in my heart and life, and how quickly. Friends who, at the time, wished me back to my old self (how could they not? We were babies, primed for the time of our lives). I now understand the split, the break, the loss of my old self as that time in my life shook me to my bones and threatened to undo me completely: the change that they could see but I couldn’t. I was aware then that my heart ached with pain because I could no longer call my mother on the phone, hear her voice, catch that singular whiff of garlic on her hands. I didn’t know that I was also losing a version of myself at the time. I didn’t know then that soon there would be things in my life that I could never un-see, un-feel, un-know.

From my perspective I was simply “becoming”.

Slowly.

Shaped into who I am now, casually over time.

The journal tells a different story, a much quicker one. The story of a young girl who believed in fairy tale endings until – with the turn of a page – she didn’t. Overnight. Seemingly without warning. I can look back on that young girl with compassion now, forgiveness. I have finally found the strength to own the pain that I tried so hard to run from back then, the darkness, my first deep glimpse into the flip side of a heart filled with joy. I can honor her pain, the layers of loss I couldn’t understand at the time.

I welcome her home.

 

SMOKESTACK SONG

The smokestacks are raging steam,

Billowing white into the crisp stillness

Of the ink black sky.

Yellow sparkling alters smile down,

Blinking approvingly from heaven.

So I blew a kiss to the moon (and you)

And it winked at me.

 

The nightly freight train finally whispered

past the window,

Passing with silent weight

through my night.

 

It’s right there, just on the other side.

I cannot touch it, and I cannot touch you,

Only the thought of you –

Here, sewn to me with silver,

Breathing light into darkness,

Paying silent homage with me, to life.