A Note of Thanks

I came across a greeting card this morning that made me laugh. The front shows a Mom driving a car with a couple wild kids in the back and says, “Mom, you took us everywhere…” The inside says, “And even brought us back home! Astonishing!” It made me think back to the road trip my family took to Illinois. Five kids, two adults, one car. And this was 1992 — long before there were televisions to watch from the backseat. From Illinois, we headed north into Canada and, after a stop in Niagara Falls, headed back to New York. At the border my parents were asked for our birth certificates. “We didn’t really plan to come back this way,” they explained, “So we don’t have them.”

The officer said, “We work very closely with ChildFind. How do we know you didn’t kidnap these children?”

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Some Things Never Change. Need proof? Read your tenth-grade diary.

When my friend Carolyn first told me about Mortified I was intrigued – and just a wee bit appalled.  Basically, people go back and find things they wrote when they were kids – stories, diaries, letters, song lyrics – and read them on stage to a group of strangers.  It sounded like some odd new therapy to get over your childhood – and I thought I just might gain something from reading the secret thoughts of my nine year old self to people who paid to hear them.

A few days later I found myself laughing out loud at the youtube videos of people’s performances.  I so want to do this, I thought.  I wondered if, without any background in theater, someone like me would be accepted to do something like this.  I read the FAQ.  It seemed like if you had material they liked and could pull off reading it, they’d possibly be interested.

My first mission was to find the plastic  18 gallon Rubbermaid container that held every journal I’ve written since getting my first diary in 1985.  That treasure trove of childhood frustrations and angst was on the second floor of my parents barn – where all things deemed important enough to store for “some day” are sent.  My childhood dreams and aspirations were now sharing space with six mattresses, a set of patio furniture, and a cotton candy machine among other things.

I hauled the storage container off its shelf, down the stairs, and out the barn door.  There I dropped it in the grass until I had the energy to walk the thing up to my parents house.  Eventually I lugged it to my temporary room on the second floor of their house.  And there it sat for months while I filled more journals with my thoughts during travels to the Italian Coast and the Spanish countryside.

Upon my return, I finally pulled off the cover and pulled out piles of journals and notebooks.  Then I saw it: the diary that started it all.  I was ten.  It was a gift from Santa.  Pink cover with hearts and a lock.  Now I looked at its torn cover, then carefully opened it.  I read it from beginning to end.  I was surprised by how many times the only entry for the day was, “Today was a HORRIBLE day!”  No explanation of why.  Just the date, those words, and my signature.  Once, three entries in a row professed the sentiment.  Was I such a miserable fourth grader?  And fifth grader?

If I had to pick a theme for the pink diary, it would be “musings on how much I hate my sister Liz.”  But Liz wasn’t the only one I “hated.” Most family members were mentioned at some point after that word, as were classmates who, just a few entries earlier, I had declared to be best friends.

Then there was my obsession with ending entries with, “P.s.  My boyfriend is__________.”  The name changed often in the beginning, sometimes listing three or four lucky boys.  None of whom, I can assure you, ever knew they were my boyfriend.

I eventually started addressing my entries “Dear Tiffy” – short for Tiffany.  And then started signing myself as Vikki (complete with a heart to dot the last “i.”)

Eventually, I grabbed some post-it notes and started marking pages I thought might be appropriate – even funny – to read on stage in front of strangers.  The web site said to bring a few suggestions of material, but that they could help you flesh it all out.

Then I started reading what I wrote in in college and in my early twenties.  I was more than a little disappointed at how little it seemed I’d changed.  Some of the same worries I write about today were first written in those pages over fifteen years ago.  Really?  Do we ever change?  I wondered.

Those who knew me in high school will assure me I’m not the same person.  For one, I no longer deny the fact that Liz is my sister.  But reading the words of my teenage self dampened my spirits just enough for me to pack up my journals and stuff them into the closet.

Maybe when I go home for Christmas I’ll pull them out again.  And just maybe, you can all come see me read my diary on stage one day in NYC.