Anita’s diary is her punching bag and her pillow. It’s the thing that she tells her frustrations to. The place where she yells, screeches, moans, and whines. She reveals all her secrets in her diary to keep calm and continue with life.
Anita doesn’t write good things in her diary.
“And who does?” She asks me.
“Probably only teenagers in love,” I quip. I don’t know. I've never kept a diary. It's too much of a commitment.
“Darn right!” Anita slaps her palm to her knee. “No one in the real world, no adult, writes anything good in a diary. If it’s a good moment, you go ahead and live it. If it’s bad, it stops you, and you must get it out of your system. Only bad things get written into diaries.”
Anita writes in her diary when she’s pissed off, feeling pissed on, or fed up with life as it’s dealt to her.
I’m wondering where this story about Anita’s diary will end. What, if anything, can yelling one’s frustrations at a page teach us about ourselves?
Anita holds the diary as possessively as she holds her cat. The inanimate and animate objects bunch uncomfortably in her lap. Soon the cat has enough of sharing her space. She wriggles out of Anita's grasp, saunters to the sunroom's entryway, and plops herself onto the doormat.
“For years, I’ve kept it secret, you know,” Anita says quietly as her eyes follow the cat. Then she turns to look at me and adds: “You are the only person who knows about it.”
Let’s pause the story here for a second - Anita was not suggesting there was something special about me that made me worthy of her diary secrets. She only wanted to share a story; it was her way of contributing an experience that she thought would be worth reflecting on. We agreed from the outset that this story would not result in me, or anyone else, knowing what was in her diary. Now, let’s return to the story...
“Anita, which is the real secret – the fact that you have a diary or the things you write in it?”
It was important to me that we establish the boundaries of our conversation. The intimacies of Anita’s diary entries are irrelevant to this exercise of unpacking the lived experience of keeping a diary. Plus, I wanted to understand her obsession with this secret book.
Anita purses her lips; her right-hand rises to her face, and four perfectly manicured fingers drum across her upper lip as her eyes widen. This is Anita thinking.
Finally, she replies: “I guess I am less concerned about people knowing that I have a diary.” Her hands caress the red cover of the spiral-bound book as she speaks. “I wouldn’t want anyone to know what I write in it.”
Anita enunciates “in it” as if she were speaking for the book itself. I couldn't help noticing that she clutched the book tighter as she said this.
“I’ve written some difficult and nasty things in here. These are things that I’ve kept secret for years because it would just be too terrible to say them out loud. I don’t regret anything I wrote. Writing things down helped me get through the moment. But I wouldn’t want anyone to read this and think that this is who I am. It’s not. It’s how I sometimes feel when some shitty things happen to me or around me.” Anita is hugging her diary to her chest now. The precious book with its red hardcover, cream-coloured ribbon, and golden page edging was safe with her.
The cat must have heard the hug. Or maybe she grew jealous. She stalks back to Anita’s seat and jumps into her lap, willing to share space with the red book again.
“So why do you keep it? Why not just get rid of the things after you write them so no one will find out?” I ask matter-of-factly. I am still trying to figure out Anita's bond with the secret book.
But Anita looks at me as if I've lost it. She clutches the red book tighter as she pulls her head back, and sticks her chin into her neck as she glares over the top of her glasses. Her expression yells at me that I have just spoken the most irrational words.
“No.” She shakes her head as she hurries the cat from her lap; she grudgingly slinks from Anita's lap to the cushion beside her.
“No, no, no. You don’t get it," Anita says as she shakes her head.
Let’s pause here – I don’t hear “You don’t get it” too often. I always thought I was one of those who, more often than not, got “it,” at least more than most others. So Anita’s words made me sit up straight. I kept it together, but I felt a little wounded. Okay, back to the story...
Anita puts the diary on the seat beside her, almost atop the cat, then leans toward me. She is ready to teach me something. That or she is about to tell me off.
“I don’t write in this every day. The last time I wrote something in here was April 2017.” She points at the book beside her. "When I write things here, I pour my anger and frustrations into the paper. The paper can take it. The people around me – not so much.”
Anita leans back and pats the diary beside her as she continues the lecture.
“I would write all the swear words and the "I hate this and this" in here. And then I would put it away. I lock it away in a secret hiding place. And then I would forget about what I wrote. Sometimes I would forget about the diary for months until I found its hiding place again.
“There is no way that I can get rid of this. This is me. This is my growth chart. Every time I go back to write in it, I get to read what I wrote before. Sometimes when I feel like it, I just read the things I already have in there instead of writing. Sometimes I read back to the beginning and see that I am better now than I was then.
“Some of the things here make me sad that I used to be in that place where I had to write those things. I am sorry to read about this person filled with so much anger. And I feel sad at the thought that people I love and respect might find this and read these terrible things – which is why I keep it locked away.
“But I also feel relief. Not like a triumphant sense of relief. It's more like a "look at how far I’ve come kind of relief." It’s a testament to my going to hell and returning from it.
"So, I read it, and I feel good about myself that that’s not where I am anymore. I am a different person than I was then. Now I have a better way of dealing with things. But I like to go back and read the diary every once in a while to remind myself that that’s where I am coming from.”
“I see.” This was all I could muster as I absorbed Anita’s words.
Then after a few seconds pass, I thoughtfully and apologetically add, “I’m remembering a quote from Marcus Garvey, something about how not knowing your history is like a tree growing without roots.”
“I like this one from Maya Angelou: The more you know of your history, the more liberated you are,” Anita replies. “This is my liberation, so to speak.” She gives me a pleasant, forgiving smile.
Let's pause the story one last time - Okay, Anita was right. I didn't get it. At least not until she made me listen and attend to her story. It takes a lot to attend, no matter how good you think you are at it. Anita's tone made me quiet my thoughts so I could hear her narrative. Now that I've listened and learned, I have no choice but to re-introduce the story and set a new mood. So here goes...
Anita’s diary is her history and her story. It is the place where she records her most challenging lived moments. It is the thing that maps her growth and helps her acknowledge her greatness.
Anita tells some of her stories in her diary to create a better account of herself…
Love this! Some useful insights that gave me pause. And the writing is wonderful, as always.