In the Importance of Being Earnest, one of Oscar Wilde’s characters famously quipped, “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.” And so this weekend, apropos of nothing, I took from my bookshelf the very first Moleskine notebook I ever filled and began reading a random slice of something sensational.
Reading one of your own journals is bizarrely fascinating, like window-peeping on an exhibitionist neighbor. Here is this seemingly familiar character viewed in an unaccustomed guise: should I watch with voyeuristic interest or should I politely avert my eyes?
The journal I pulled from the shelf dates from August, 2002, when I was working through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way with a friend and subsequently trying diligently (and with mixed success) to keep regular morning pages. What I ended up writing was a day-by-day account of my first marriage at one of its critical junctures: the last autumn my then-husband and I lived in our old house in Hillsboro, NH. Within a year, we’d sold that house and moved into the rented apartment in Keene where I still stay during the week; within two years, we’d separated before our eventual divorce.
Re-reading one of your own journals is like re-reading a murder mystery: now that you know how the story is going to end, you can pay attention to the clues you previously missed. In retrospect, I see all the signs pointing to my first marriage’s demise, and this makes these particular journal entries especially painful to read. I cringe, for instance, at the number of times I mention sleeping in the living room in a favorite chair where Reggie would curl beside me before taking his accustomed spot sprawled on the couch. In retrospect, I clearly see how my then-husband and I used our house (and even our dog) as a buffer between us, the simple avoidance of going to bed conveniently shielding us from the awkwardness of intimacy. Had I known then that there is life after divorce–had I known then that I’d thrive on my own, and that I’d eventually (unimaginably!) re-marry–would have I have lingered so long in a marriage that was so clearly not working?
It’s all there on the pages: the bone loneliness, the oft-repeated and pointless arguments, the frustrations over housework, finances, and work. In the fall of 2002, I was teaching at two different colleges, working part-time as a freelance technical writer, doing occasional word-processing work for a lawyer in Boston, and plodding away at a dissertation I thought I’d never finish. I was doing everything in my power to pay the mortgage on a house I couldn’t afford while my then-husband was at home not walking the dog, not doing the dishes, not doing the laundry, and not cooking and cleaning. In one exasperated journal entry, I silently wondered why anyone imagined that Atlas, the mythical character who holds the world, was male when it was so obvious to me that it was women like me who shouldered the world’s burdens. In the fall of 2002–one year after 9/11, and two years before my divorce would be finalized–I silently wondered how much more I could stand.
Whenever I consider the “Me” I was when I was unhappily married, I want to reach out to her: I want somehow to send my voice across time to tell myself how things turn out. Reading these old journal entries, I want to reach across the years to hug that tired, lonely, frustrated woman I was; I want to send her to bed for the rest she so clearly deserved, and I want to reassure her that she really doesn’t have to carry the weight of the world. I want to tell her that everything works out fine in the end: the dissertation gets done, the divorce isn’t the disaster she might have predicted it to be, and it doesn’t really matter, ultimately, whether she finished the dishes, the laundry, and the cooking and cleaning on any given day.
If the woman I am today could talk with the woman I was then, I’d tell her something sensational: that in a world of second chances, I came home from walking the dog this morning to find my very own Atlas had done the dishes while I was gone.