Sometimes, when I’m bored or feeling nostalgic about days gone by, I read the diary I kept as a teenager. I don’t know why I subject myself to the foolishness of adolescent “truths,” especially considering that age and experience has garnered me a certain degree of wisdom that exposes the banality and lies many a teenage girl has told herself in the sanctity of an upstairs bedroom, but I do. Even more bizarre is that knowing what’s going to “happen” on those pages still causes me to cringe, and when I actually reread the words my fifteen-year-old hand wrote, I watch the tales unfold with the same sordid fascination a twelve-year-old boy has when he “discovers” the naughty scenes in a movie. I am both intrigued and disgusted with my younger self, and I wonder how I will keep my own daughters from experiencing the tawdrier, heartbreaking scenes I have archived on those pages.
I read about the girls I detested and wonder if they turned out as cool and successful as they pretended to be. I read about the friends I used to have and question if there was anything I could have done to maintain relationships that seemed so inseparable before college. I read about the guys I liked and thank God I had enough sense and courage to give up my fascination with the urban bad boy. I read about my aspirations and marvel at the cynicism and trepidation that creep into the fearless mind as it matures, deferring dreams (sometimes indefinitely). Each page paradoxically illuminates a soul who knew everything and nothing all at the same time, and I secretly long for some vestiges of the audaciousness of youth that used to come so easily.
I finally close my diary, after reading one tale too many, full of forgotten shame and disappointment, and vow to burn it (one day), and I climb the steps heading toward the realities of now. I have dinner to cook, baths to give, hair to braid, love to make, and sleep to get.
Looking in my daughters’ eyes as we play shadow, I realize that the teenaged version of myself prepared me for these moments. I know that these mother-daughter moments will be forever etched into their consciousnesses just like the ones with my mom and me are carved into mine, even after the fights spurred by teenage rebellion seemed to rip at the very fabric of unconditional love. My teenage love affairs equip me with the sight to spot a good-for-nothing man a mile away, so when I fell hard for my husband, I knew he was the real thing, the right thing.
My younger self has been inching her way into my consciousness more and more, and I have learned to embrace her for all she has taught me. Her reckless independence, this-is-my-world attitude, and I’ll-try-anything sensibilities gave me the navigability to make my own way. I’m not proud of everything she did, but I am proud of her. She is making it despite all the things she did and let happen to her. Parts of me wish that more of her were alive in the more seasoned version me. Perhaps this is why I still hold on to that diary. For all the guilt, sadness, and frustration lacing those pages, there also reside tons of fortitude, sassiness, and dreams that remind me of the girl I was and the woman I hoped to be.