My first diary was a 5 x 8 hardback book with a crushed blue cover and a golden lock that matched the engraving on the front: Dear Diary. I was an avid reader from the time I could make out words, and when I opened the gift, the thought of writing my own thoughts down felt important and grown up and because it was from my mom, a little scary.
Not that she had ever given me any reason to believe that she would give me a diary, with a LOCK, just to in turn open it and read what I’d written, but somehow that was my gut instinct. Still, I forged ahead.
What did I care? I had a diary and I was on a mission to write down everything that happened to me in my tiny world, just like Anne Frank did. I mean, she didn’t realize that her diary would become as monumental as it did, maybe there was something happening around me that people might want to know about one day.
I remember filling the pages with entries written in fat pink marker. Things like, “It was cold today. I had to wear a jacket. I lost one of the sleeves,” or, “We had pork chops and peas and cornbread for dinner. It was good.”
Like most people’s first diaries, I began with the innocuous stuff, but eventually I became more comfortable sharing my inner thoughts. As I began to spend more time writing entries, my mom made it a point to warn me about the dangers of writing. “You know Susan, once it’s written down, anyone can find it and read it.”
“Yeah, but not if they don’t have the key.”
“Oh that,” she said. Then she took the book with one hand and grabbed a bobby pin from her hair with the other, “Anyone can break in this little things,” and with a skilled turn of her wrist, my diary popped open to the most embarrassing page possible:
Scarred as I was by the experience of not only having my (super flat-chested mom, btw) see my aspirations for having big boobs, but also seeing the ease with which she popped the little gold lock, it never occurred to me that Mom would use her skills to read my diary behind my back.
Of course … she did. And when I wrote about bigger things as I grew older, she began to use my writing against me.
It took me a long time to learn though. I just couldn’t help myself. The more complicated my emotions became as I entered puberty (and started to develop those boobs – visualization works!), the more I felt the need to express them in writing. Notes to friends, notes in book margins, journals and diaries, old notebooks – any place I could find space to write I would. Then I’d hide them all. In really good places.
Under my bed. Between my mattress and box spring. Behind the dresser. You know, all those sure fire hiding spots your parents used when they were teens up to no good.
The thing is, at that time, I was a really good kid. I didn’t drink. I was terrified of just the thought of drugs, and according to whether the time I’m remembering was pre or post-theater release of the original “Footloose,” I had barely even kissed a boy beyond following a stupid freeze tag rule.
Then one night something MAGICAL happened.
I was around 15 and my best friend C was spending the night when K, the dreamiest bad boy in Fitzgerald High School, showed up at my bedroom window with C’s boyfriend, W. We had been expecting W, but when K showed up, I thought I would die.
He looked so hot in the glow from the streetlight, and all I could think was, “How do I get my hands on that straw he’s chewing?” (I already knew the night would warrant a souvenir.)
The ever fearless C snuck her way past my mom’s room and out our back door for what I suspect was a pretty intense make out session in the truck with W. I, being the nicer/scared-er one of the two, refused to cross the threshold because as much as I loved K (from afar), there was no way I was going to get in trouble for one night of fun that I was sure was going no where.
Since he had to wait for W, K figured out a way to create a seat in the boxwood shrub outside my window. He and I whispered and laughed and joked about what might be going on in the truck until C came sneaking back into my bedroom. “Hey K, W’s waiting for you.”
As K rose from the dent in the boxwood I stopped him, “Hey! Gimme that straw.” I reached my hand underneath the screen to grab it and was thrilled to see that not only was it filled with his saliva, but that it also contained flecks of his dipping tobacco. I showed C the dent that K’s perfect butt had left in my bush, and she assured me that it would pop right back out by morning.
Well it didn’t, and when Mom made her way to this juicy entry in my journal, she not only solved the case of the stunted boxwood, her ensuing castigation also stunted my urge to write things down.
As I grew older, Mom and I would return to this topic over and over: whether she had a right to read my journals and use the evidence to punish me. My point was that they were my thoughts, and were put into a safe place where I should be able to trust my family members, of all people, to respect my privacy. (Besides, I didn’t even do anything that night! I had a chance to be the cool one in front of K and I stayed INSIDE. Couldn’t she understand that?)
Her point was that she was my mother and she needed to know everything, “Because you sure aren’t ever going to tell me the truth.”
My rebuttal was that she never gave me the option to tell the truth, because she never asked what was going on in my life. To which she’d usually reply, “All I have to say is that that boxwood has NEVER been the same and if I hadn’t read your journal, I would have never known why.” Which is true to this day, but I still don’t see how it applied to the argument.