I finished the journal I’ve been keeping since I was 17 this week. The last page of writing was basically a love letter to the book itself. I made a list of all the things it survived. Then I read through past entries. In one, I described uncontrollable itchiness and napping two or three times a day — symptoms I did not yet recognize yet as lymphoma.
In another, I talked about realizing that I was not having stomach problems: I was actually purging. Then, out of the 200 pages and four years of writing, the rest was mostly about boys. I want to learn not to be ashamed of that.
I have catalogued my romances, in all forms, through the years. I don’t think I wrote about every date or even every kiss, but then again, for years there were a lot of boys I never got around to doing either with. What gets to me is that every time I started telling these stories, even up to a few months ago, I wrote, “Here I go again,” or, “You know what I’m about to say.”
I’m 21, and I have been in love three times. I am in love right now. I know that I fall easily and I even fall fast. When it comes to more casual encounters, I can’t extricate physical feeling from emotional feeling. I am learning to be proud of that. I’m so grateful for having started a habit at age 10 of writing secrets down every once in a while. I just hope that I can grow to take the judgment out of the space that is the most truly my own.
When I start my next journal, my goal is to forgive myself more. Every time I read, “Here I go again” in my own handwriting, I feel the criticism. Even in the privacy of a book that no one else will ever read, I reprimanded myself for being “boy crazy.” Who cares?
I no longer want to cast my thoughts aside when they are that important to me. It’s true that one day I might look back at love notes to boys of my past and laugh or even cry. But I can’t protect myself from that now, so I’m going to continue putting words onto a page.
Once, when I wanted to do something really special, I sent my ex-boyfriend a journal entry I had written about him early in our relationship. A year later we imploded, but at that moment I shared with him my early dreams of walking down the aisle. In spite of all the pain to come, showing him these words was intimate, terrifying and worthwhile. Moments like that are why I write about love.
My own words haunt me when they describe the onset of my cancer or flashbacks to emotional abuse I had not yet recognized. But where else will I find such an untouched record of my life? My entries about love and
particularly poetic, but they remind me I’m capable of incredible things.
I wrote on the last page of the
journal that I hope I never misplace it. When I started writing down my feelings at age 10, I knew from the onset I wanted to show it to
my future daughter. Well, that’s impractical now because I write about sex sometimes.
However, I can still see myself pulling out the tattered purple book every once in a while to teach her, perhaps, the joys of letting yourself feel emotions deeply and running headfirst into them. She’ll laugh at me, I’m sure. But I want to try to help keep her from the hurt of repressing or judging her own heart.
I heard recently about a 60-year-old man looking through his 40 years of journal entries for career inspiration. I hope I can similarly teach future me a thing or two about love.
And I hope I stop writing “you know what I’m about to say” when a new partner enters my life.
Every time is different. And I have a lot of stories. I’m excited to spend this semester telling them to you, with all of the befores and afters and everything in between.
Emma Andrews is a senior majoring in international relations. Her column, “Before & After,” runs Fridays.