I spent the morning snoring, laughing, and cringing my way through my boyhood journals. From the age of nine to eighteen, I jotted down a few words almost every day. Looking back, however, the things that interest me the most are not the goings-on that I recorded, but those I chose not to write about, though they are the very incidents I still recall most vividly–and, in some cases, painfully.
Of course, there are entries about girls. Since it would take me days, if not weeks, to muster the courage even to dial a girl’s number, it was such a momentous accomplishment when I did call her that I noted the mere fact of the conversation in my journal. There are entries about dates I had to school banquets and short-lived “relationships”. And there are those things I didn’t record. Like that moonlit night, when I held and kissed Denise on her front porch, and wanted it to go on forever and ever. That unbelievable new feeling surging through me materialized into sound as I said to a girl for the first time, “I love you,” and heard her echo the same. Twenty-six years after she broke up with me, I can still recall enough of the pain that I could easily compose a page of emotionally laden prose about my heartbrokenness. But on the day it happened, all this Stoic wrote was, “Denise broke up with me.” Perhaps we don’t always incarnate emotions into ink, for if we did, they would take on a life of their own, and be all the harder to kill, coffin, and bury.
There are entries about my hunting dogs. Early in my teenage years, I wrote down, with no attendant explanation before or after that day, that my dog, Hobo, had his front foot amputated. In fact, the lines for the three or four days prior to the surgery are blank. If you’ve been reading my other stories I’ve posted on FB, you might recall one in which I recounted how my friend accidentally shot Hobo in his front paw with my shotgun late one night while we were hunting possums. He was so overcome with fear of what his father would do to him when he found out, that I willingly lied to my parents. I knew and believed in their love and forgiveness, and so feared no severe punishment from them. I was okay, and my friend was off the hook—a win-win situation. Because I had not yet fully developed the predominately adult skill of lying to oneself, I didn’t know what to write about what had truly happened. I couldn’t reveal the truth, for what if my parents happened to look at my journal, and my friend was found out? Nor could I write a bald-faced lie, for I was still a virgin at self-deception.
And there is an entry which, still to this day, shames me. I was seventeen, working at a feed store in town, when my Granddaddy came to visit us. When I was younger, he and I had been birds of a feather, united by the common loves of hunting, fishing, and trapping. When he came to visit, we were inseparable. But I was growing up, and he was growing old. Because he wanted to spend time with me still, he would come to my workplace and, more or less, just hang out. My boss had no qualms about that. Granddaddy stayed out of the way. He just wanted to be with his grandson, whom he loved. But it embarrassed me, him being there. I can’t even tell you why. And I’m sure, by my actions, and perhaps my tone, he began to detect how I felt. I voiced a complaint under my breath to my coworker (who, just so happens, was the same friend who shot Hobo). My friend, whipped around, got in my face and told me that I was a damned fool for acting the way I was, for he’d give all he had to have a Grandfather who missed him so much he’d be there, hours on end, just to be close to him. He shamed me, and I deserved every bit of it. But it was too late. Granddaddy never came back to my workplace. This morning, as I read through my journal for that year, all I saw written was that Granddaddy had come to see me at the store. Shame, for someone else or for oneself, is always ugly. I wanted my journal to be free of that, especially when it revealed the ugliness that leaked from my own proud heart.
The last journal I kept was in 2006. That was the year every strand of my life came unraveled. Living was difficult enough; writing about it—so I thought—would have been hell. So I laid my journaling pen to rest. But now, thanks be to God, perhaps it is time to take it up again. And if I do, I will strive for one simple goal: candor. For if there’s one thing I’ve learned most about myself over the last few years, it is that without honesty—to myself and to others—joy will never be forthcoming, for the lie always brings with it the shadow of fear.
Dear Diary, keep me honest.