Every other Tuesday, I have lunch with my mom. We take turns making the food, but we always meet at her house because her house has all the stuff, and that’s why we’re there. To go through the stuff.
So far, we’ve been looking through envelopes of loose pictures. Some of the photos are labeled, but most aren’t. Some remind my mother of a specific time in her life, a certain house, a person, a story. Those are the pictures I like best, the ones she pulls out and then pauses to study, her eyes poring over the details, the clues. Long before she shows the picture to me I see the memories form on her face – the furrowed brow before her smile, her sudden laugh, her (slightly embarrassed) eye roll. I am a rapt audience then, sitting across from her, quite literally on the edge of my seat.
And of course that’s the real reason we’re there. I want the stories – as many and as much as she can remember – and she wants me to have them.
Parts of my whole.
This Tuesday, we found a letter from my great-aunt tucked into a tiny book full of pictures and dates and addresses, laminated memorial bookmarks. The letter was handwritten. It told the story of my mother’s grandfather, a spellbinding tale of sacrifice, adventure, betrayal and forgiveness. I was dazzled.
“Come with me,” my mom said and she brought me to the home office she shares with my father (once upon a time, my bedroom). There, in a drawer full of even more old stuff, she pulled out a diary. On the dark leather cover, my great aunt’s name in gold: Mrs. Drake.
I opened it. On the first page, in my aunt’s neat hand, it said Diary beginning January 1, 1922.
“It’s incredible,” I said, turning the thick pages, “that ninety years after she wrote it, I can still read it.” I ran my finger along the impossibly straight lines of my aunt’s life. I wondered what secrets I’d find, how much of her deepest, troubled soul she revealed in the pages of her diary. My mother and I were silent for several minutes and then I said, “I need to go home and burn my journals.”
“Or you can shred them,” she said, understanding my thought completely. I looked at her, and in that moment I knew there were things I’ll never know about my mom. Or if I do, it won’t be because I read them in her diaries.
I’ve been thinking about that. I have a drawer where I keep my old journals. There aren’t that many. I only started keeping a journal three years ago, but mine aren’t sweet. They’re not innocence neatly penned. I don’t use them to write about the weather.
They’re full of me working through my shit, figuring things out, getting it wrong, getting hurt. They’re raw and searching and embarrassingly self-indulgent. They’re whiny and triumphant, stupid and brave, confessional and clumsy… the best and, without a doubt, the worst of me.
I have to decide what to do with them. In the meantime, I’m sitting here looking at my aunt’s diary, wondering who I’ll find there, half hoping she wrote, ever so neatly, about the weather.