So I am a shameless notebook hoarder, and while I think I did a major purge a few years back (thankfully my middle school diaries were among the victims), there’s one small volume that has survived since I bought it (as I explain in the opening pages) on March 29, 2011, in La Quinta, California, for seven dollars that I borrowed from my mother.
I’ve kept it mostly on the assumption that I would one day use it again, as it was a pretty design and I hadn’t half filled it, and I’m always chock full of ideas for self-improvement that come to fruition about 20% of the time.
It’s a journal that I kept intermittently from March 2011 to May 2012, which time covers the last of my sophomore year of high school and practically all of junior, though the journal is not half so thorough.
What a strange little time capsule I’ve discovered.
The first entry is a rollercoaster ride that goes from “Why I Hate California” to “Why Vacationing in California in March is Kind of Disorienting and Weird for Somebody from Idaho” to the sudden idea I had to write an etiquette book for teenage guys and call it How Not to Be a Caveman, and then I drift off into fantasies of actually getting it published (nothing new under the sun, eller hur?) and getting all kinds of small-town recognition in my small town’s small-town publications before quashing all my own dreams by pointing out that almost nobody read them except me.
“I think I’m one of those people who can’t wallow too long in sheer laziness,” I say in a later entry from the same day. Oh, fifteen-year-old Red. If only you knew.
“April 1. I flubbed the dates.” Two lines about how hot it is. “Anyway, I made a holy stew out of the dates. The dates in this journal are completely and most ridiculously WRONG.”
A few lines later, discussing my intention to observe National Poetry Month (April) by writing a poem for every day and calling them “Poem for April Xth,” I add, “And I’d be sure to get the dates right. Rest assured of that.”
Dear Red-from-the-past, you know you’re allowed to be wrong, right?
The poem for April first is a vague rip-off of Tolkien and steals a line from Robert Frost. There follows a discussion of clothing brand names I found silly. Guess and Banana Republic feature prominently. I quote: “Do bananas have some secret society, a plan to take over the world? How long before they carry out their dastardly plan? We must protect ourselves! *screaming in terror*”
I have only three pitiful words to defend myself: it was 2011.
The next entry discusses Lucy Maud Montgomery’s not-thoroughly-cited edict from Rilla of Ingleside that “life is beginning to get interesting when you approach your fifteenth birthday.” Or something like that. “The point is,” declared a Red aged fifteen years and nine months, “that there’s a great deal to look forward to over the next few years.”
I then record the re-advent of a friend who moved away (a thing which, despite what probability might think, not actually uncommon in my Air Force hometown), a prom invitation from one of my mom’s weirder students, an episode in which I tripped on my pants to fall headlong in track practice and bang my elbows and shins up but good in front of Literally Everyone™, and trepidation at the social possibilities of the returned friend coming back to school. “Maybe I should be a hermit in the Alps when I grow up and just not deal with anyone,” I wrote grumpily on April 5, 2011.
A few days later I record attending the funeral of the pediatrician who was there when I and all of my sisters were born.
“Poem for April 11th” begins, “I think I’m learning, don’t you know, about how not to be a recluse.”
Two days later, after writing a poem I’m actually rather proud of (about seeing tiny lights in the mountains of Nevada while flying to California) despite the fact that it steals a line from Kenneth Grahame, I write, “Every time I think I have this social thing conquered, it goes into uprising.”
The haiku (four days late) for my sister’s birthday reads,
“It’s a strange phenom
Watching your little sister
As she’s growing up”
Can confirm, Red from the past. Can confirm. (What I cannot confirm is whether I correctly used phenom.)
A few more poems get written and voila, it is August in our time capsule world, and I am at Swedish camp for the second time, despairing about how badly my head hurts from the sinus pressure caused by the annual camp cold that I am, even now as a veteran counselor, not immune to.
And then suddenly it is December 7 and my handwriting is about ten times neater.
“What’s going on right now…The school paper goes to press next week hopefully, under the direction of its editor, yours truly. I’m taking the ACT on Saturday. We have 3 choir gigs on Friday and Saturday. My mom’s birthday is in nine days. And I may well be in the process of losing my best friend.”
Losing, yes. Best, no. Oh, Red.
“I’m not really sure why I’m still ‘best friends’ with her. I think perhaps it’s because there isn’t anyone else I like better.”
Um…? Yes. Did you hear what you just said? Your entire school social life from first grade to about a month after this journal entry is summed up in that sentence. You hang out with people you don’t like just because there are others you like less. “I could do worse,” is your mantra, and you could. But you were so afraid to be alone, and you let bad friendships go for so many years because you were so afraid to be alone. Newsflash: You still are, in some respects. Less in others. Yay you?
That entry concludes with “High school is so full of stuff to do. It drives me crazy.”
The next entry has the neatest handwriting yet, but says almost nothing remarkable. Funny how that works.
Then, “Dec. 31, 2011. Sorry to say it’s only 9:37…My New Year’s resolutions include wearing my contact, running regularly and keeping this journal. I’m also going to try to worry less about guys and (related?) make more of a social life for myself. Even I am not quite sure what I mean by that.”
Let’s just say that contact-wearing and running suffered about as much as journal-keeping did.
On January 3, 2012, I write, “I just finished designing the family Christmas letter. On Word. For a girl so used to InDesign, I’m rather proud of myself.” I couldn’t do that now in either program. Go you, past me. “We wrote the pros and cons of each kid instead of talking about how perfect we are. My mom said she can’t wait to send it.”
Over the next few days I write about listening to the Beauty and the Beast Broadway soundtrack (on a purple iPod nano, no less!), knitting projects I have in mind, baking cheesecakes (my favorite hobby junior year), and seeing the movie Amadeus, “which I think changed my life.” I follow the Giants’ journey through playoff football (beating Atlanta 24-2!) and my annoyance that my sister stole my headphones. I don’t write it in this journal, but the first day back to school, January 9, 2012, is one I remember writing a poem for – about all the new music in choir and band that day.
A few days later, “This was a pretty good week. I have so much to do, but really, I glory in doing it. I’m a high-drive person – more so than I realized.”
My journey to being Miss Overachiever All the Time began in junior year – more so than I realized.
The Giants beat the Packers on January 15, and nowhere in this entry is an apology to my mother.
I work concessions at a basketball game and talk to some girls I don’t normally talk to. “[They] were really sweet. We talked about ‘We’ll all have to hang out some time.’ I wonder if it’ll happen.”
The Giants beat San Francisco and are bound for Super Bowl XLVI. Lots of capital letters. Oh, the considerable enthusiasm of a teenager. I copy my PSAT scores into the journal, as though they are important. I agree to accompany a friend on the piano when she sings a solo at choir festival. I still have that sheet music, in a pile two feet from the chair where I sit.
The final fight with the friend I thought I was losing earlier happens. We never really made up. “I can handle being friendless and alone, but I don’t want to,” I write. “I might not even go to prom now.”
The next day: “I felt good about doing whatever the heck I wanted, so I brought my knitting to school and worked in every class. I feel freer somehow now that I’m on my own. It’s better this way. Perhaps I’m too loyal.”
The next day: “Hannah asked me today in trig who I hang out with outside of school. I said, no one really, that I like my solitude. I certainly hope she didn’t take that as my saying, ‘Don’t invite me or anything.'”
Spoiler: she didn’t.
Still, a few pages later follows a priceless and not-for-the-last-time rant: “Mom came to say good night and when I went to set my alarm [on my phone] , she said, ‘No messages from anybody?’ and it made me realize how socially inept and lonely I am, so I was cranky. I so wish I could have a circle of people who love me and whom I love. I could offer them all so much. I don’t understand why people find me so unattractive. Is my vision of myself so skewed? So different from the truth? I wish, just to wipe [Freshman Boyfriend’s] memory away, that I could have a boyfriend…I want to be like other girls and go on dates and flirt via text and Facebook and be loved and sought after. I don’t understand why I don’t deserve this, or female friends either. It’s unfair that a selfish bitchy brat like [redacted] gets to be social and happy and even dates, and a great friend like me is stuck in corners. Inside me there is a lot of best-friendship and girlfriendship that no one is using.”
And that was before Instagram envy was a thing.
Two days later the Giants win the Super Bowl against the Patriots for the second time.
I discuss some of my college options: my plan at that time was “accounting and later a doctorate in Swedish. I’m also considering optometry, finance and a minor in music.”
Derek and I talked once or twice as sophomores or juniors in college about how it felt like the world that only a few years before had been so wide open and full of possibilities was narrowing on us. The clock was ticking. We’d committed ourselves to our plans and now the wild potential we thought we had seemed gone. I don’t miss the days of thinking I could major in everything at once, but I do miss feeling like I could do anything. And I thought I could get into Columbia. To be fair to my past self, I’m acing finance right now.
Though there is this: “I’m still afflicted with star-struckness about going to some dreamy college, but I’m pretty sure Pocatello is my destination.”
“March 14. Full day. I got an 87 on the trig test, ran a 1:34 400m…ran 2.5 miles total, walked all the way home, and finished most of the spread…and on the way home I cried a little because [redacted] is so cute.”
Sixteen, what a year you were and are.
I often look at junior year as the smoothest of my high school life, describing junior-year Red as “busy, cheerful and effective,” and indeed my mood was often pretty great, even when crappy stuff happened. This view into the real ups and downs of my daily life in that time shows me that yes, I may have been well-adjusted and efficient at my work and happy in (most of) my existent relationships, but I was also working too hard to think too much, and feeling lonely and stuck, and knowing something was missing.
Sixteen, I wouldn’t visit you again, not for fun, not for anything else but to admonish you again to stop worrying about the girlfriendship you think no one is using. Girlfriendship is like pasta. If you don’t let that stuff bubble long enough, nobody will be able to stomach it. And frankly the same is true of best-friendship. Please, please, sixteen, take it easy. It’s coming. Promise. Trust the universe. The next five years will see you under new stars on the other side of the world, in your soulmate’s arms, shaped into a woman – a baby one, but one nonetheless. Stay tuned.
P.S. I’ve started writing in the journal again.