I’m posting this here because I’m the only one in class who had the book ahead of time (Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal by Alexandra Johnson) so everyone else is running a week behind. I hate being first to post. I had my first assignment ready to roll, so I’d value some feedback/criticism on this. I think the ending is lame but I’m not sure what else to do with it.
Recall your first diary. What did it look like?
When did you get it?
What single good thing did it spark?
If you stopped, what would you miss most?
My first real diary, the first one I had that was private and mine, was nothing special to look at. An A5 hardback book, black cover with red spine and corners and lined paper. I got it from Ryman’s Stationary Shop in Guildford at the top of the High Street in the autumn of 1993. I was eighteen and away from home for the first time. The University of Surrey took me in to study Physics and I gladly left home. I was a real adult now. I could lock my door without fear of recriminations or threats from Mother. I could stay out as late as I chose, tell no one where I was going or when I would be back.
I walked across campus, into town, across the bridge over the rail tracks and the river Wey, up the cobbled street trying to talk myself out of extravagantly wasting two pounds fifty on a stupid notebook. I was on a student grant with barely enough to eat and get books at the same time. Using the overdraft I’d got as a backup would cause an almighty row with Mum and Dad. If I had to eat carrot and herb omelettes three weeks running, that’s what I’d do. They’re not bad after the first week. But I bought the notebook. I had to.
The first page is special; you use special handwriting for it. I wasn’t meant to be right handed, the elementary school teacher didn’t like me alternating hands and everyone else was right handed, why should I be different? On the first page I try extra hard to be neat and make rounded letters. I know five pages later there will be spiky scrawl but on the first few pages I can dream that I know how to write well. There’s always a start and end date on the front page with my name and a volume number. I’m nearing the end of volume twelve now, US volume eight. Volumes thirteen and fourteen are waiting in the closet, blank and hopeful.
The diary represents independence and freedom. It prompted trust between my boyfriend, now my husband of nine years, and me. I knew he would never read it, so I left the first volume with him when I went to stay with my parents for the Easter vacation. When they demanded I fetch my diary for them to read, all they got were a few pages of volume two. Volume one was in Camberley with Hubby-to-be, in workings of his sofa bed away from temptation, safe and unread.
If I stopped writing in it, great swathes of life would go past unrecorded, sunsets and quotes and complaints and dreams all lost. Rereading old diaries is horrifying to see the mess I was in, the storms I had to travel through, but comforting to see how I got through, and with whom.