Dusty Old Journals


The trunk is dark green, and its lid slides off easily, the hinges broken. Tape mars the top of the lid from where I’ve tried to tape it in place during moves. Inside, dozens of journals are piled atop one another, many simple composition notebooks and others specially made. The dates in them range from last year all the way to 1992, when I was only seven years old. Writing in a journal has been a lifetime endeavor, where I had dutifully detailed life events, seeking accuracy when possible.

In November before my next move, I perused these journals and realized that I had never truly talked about my own feelings. Much of them are either detailed entries on an event, where I describe the setting, the people and even some dialogue, but I don’t talk about how I felt as a kid. The only exception was the religious themed entries, where it’s more of a prayer and what is not said holds more truth than the words themselves. I had been a fervent Catholic, a staunch believer in Christ, and a defender of the faith. Yet, as the journals progress in time, the entries speak of God less and less, until religion is entirely absent.

Near the bottom of the tub, there is a smaller journal, one about the size of my hand, that has a cat on its cover. It’s the secret journal I tried to hide from my family in high school. I vividly remember shoving it under my mattress in hopes no one would find it. Inside its pages, I wrestle, for the first time on paper, with who I was. There I try hard to convince myself to like a guy, even though I feared him and was afraid I’d never feel anything for him. Pages of me trying hard to prove that I had to like him because that’s what everyone told me to do. Pages where I beg God to set my heart free and blast away my fear. Pages where I write scathing remarks about my own body, and how it’s just all wrong. I had no words to describe how conflicted and afraid I’d been, but I tried to find the words in that little journal. The last entry ends with me begging God to wash me clean, to rid me from my sins, and to end it all. There is no hope within the pages. It’s a hopeless narrative where I struggle to find words, but find only a well of pain and confusion. My love of writing had failed me.

Family members have claimed that I’ve never talked about my feelings for girls before, but there in that journal, even though I can’t name it, I recognized that something was wrong with myself. I didn’t fit the narrative everyone tried to paint on me. I didn’t like the boys I was supposed to like. I couldn’t live up to their expectations. It wasn’t the last journal that I hid from everyone else. The next had a bright rainbows on the cover, but inside I detailed a growing fear that I was damaged. That I was just a late bloomer, and that one day I would suddenly wake up like a normal girl, with attractions to guys, but I never did. And I feared what that meant.

One narrative overwhelmed my childhood, and it primarily came from my family and the Church. That narrative said marriage and subsequently romantic love only existed between a man and a woman. From that narrative, I knew from a very young age that I’d never marry. I wrote it at one point, but the page of that journal was ripped. I’d been angry that day, and the journal is old, the seam starting to fail. It’s dates lands me at the end of eighth grade.

Those middle school years were a hodge-podge of journals, bits of writings on spare pieces of paper, and story after story of aliens. Several stories involved my best friend being kidnapped by aliens, cloned, and the clone put into her old life. Except, I was always able to figure out it wasn’t her. I’d confront the clone with the truth, and the clone would help me break into the alien hideout and rescue my friend. The clone would often die during our escape, but she’d give her life, so that we could live. The stories would always end with my friend and I holding hands, and saying, “We’ll be friends forever.”

Those words meant something different to me than it did to the friend, who starred so often in my stories. K had first shared it in a note in seventh grade, where she wrote how God had brought us together and had ended with a goofy but cute poem about being friends forever. To me, that meant a type of commitment. Of all the people I knew in junior high and high school, I was most faithful to her. Other friends noticed this steadfast loyalty, and I remember when my high school locker partner asked me, “Why do you try so hard? Sometimes she’s just mean to you.” I wrote that down in a journal, and it’s because the question haunted me. I had no words to explain the narrative of my real life story. I had never heard the words gay, lesbian, or sexual orientation uttered in school or at Church or at home. Without any words to describe how I felt, I fumbled with the answer to that question. Why did I try so hard?

Today I can look back in those journals and see the answer so clearly. How much I wrote about her, the notes I sent her, the poems I wrote, the stories — it was all written with love. I loved her, but back then, love between two girls didn’t exist in my life’s narrative. And so the words failed me, and when asked why I tried so hard, I could only say, “Best friends forever.” Because to me, forever was a commitment, but to her, it was not. To her, our bond was not that type of love, and only a few years later in college, she would say the words that would break my heart. The words that sent me down a dark path, where I searched for a cure and found none.

In college, a transition happened, where parts of my journal entries appeared on my hard drive as free writes, where I spilled forth my thoughts and feelings. Yet in my hand-written journals, I detailed very little thoughts and described only events. A disconnect, where my life split into two. The tempest of my internal agony trumpeted onto the harddrive, buried within subfolder after subfolder, in hopes people wouldn’t find it. One of those documents records a desperate argument with myself, where I tried hard to prove to myself that K was right and I was wrong. That my love for her hadn’t been attraction, and that friendships with girls was just deeper than with guys. I tried to convince myself my feelings were lies, and that I needed redemption. The piece ends in a desperate prayer, where again I beg God to expel this from me.

That fateful day in 2005, when I confessed my feelings to K, was the day she told me it couldn’t be true. She was the first of many who would effectively silence my words and attempt to rewrite my life from their perspective. My family came next, and of my five sisters and two brothers, only two sat with me and truly listened. The rest interrupted me and tried to explain away parts of my life, how they had viewed it, and how I had never mentioned this to them. I tried to find the words to explain why, but again words failed me, and I tumbled into a growing despair. The cage of my faith shackled me to the ground, the teachings whips against my mind, and I was left with a growing doubt that maybe my own memories were faulty, that my own journals lies. I began to doubt my own mind, doubt the words that I’d penned over the years, and even my own memories. What was the truth? Their account or mine?

My life had been put on trial.

(Note: This is part one of a continuation of my coming out story that began with “Let it Go.” Addendum to the above: I recognize these people thought what they did was for the best, but that doesn’t erase the pain it still caused.)

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5 comments

  1. I love viewing your story through the lens of your writing, knowing how vital writing is to you and the place it has in your life. I admire your bravery in sharing these honest recollections and am so glad you are doing this! You are a treasure, my friend, and your voice is valuable.

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  2. I still say and will always believe that God loves you as you are. Your family loves you too. Siblings and parents (all 10 of us) do not always understand each other. Yet we are always family and there is love.

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  3. I always used my journals to express feelings and thoughts I did not want to express eleswhere. We learn and grow through this: those of us who have a need (even a necessity) to journal. By the way, Amber, my journals were always kept private. I started mine when I was 15, but no longer have the earlier ones. I remember encouraging you in your journal writing.

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