Wednesday, January 18, 2006

rewriting history

One day after a fight with someone I love I drag my childhood journals out from their hiding place and, like a modern-day Stalin, I rewrite history.

I plough through hundreds of pages: the perfumed, pastel pages of my early teens, the scratchy, scrapbook paper I favoured later on, the no-nonsense, blue-lined binder books of recent years. I skim-read each page with a furrowed brow, revisiting words that once spilled out of me. Sprawling blue biro scrawl ringing with false confidence, jagged red pen lines that make angry imprints in the page. Neat resolutions in perfectly-formed script that leans slightly to the right. Story ideas in liquid gold ink. List after list after list. Lists of things done and Things To Do, experiences had and those desired, things I needed, wanted, loved. Things that, once done would cause everything else to fall into place. In some parts nostalgia makes me smile like an indulgent parent, in other parts I cringe—at the awkward earnestness unique to adolescents, or because I recognise a pattern. I see the same mistakes and fears played out over and over, karmic lessons that refuse to be learned. I wonder if we ever stand the slightest chance of changing our own character.

As I read, I think about how I would like to be remembered—or, more specifically, how I am afraid of being remembered. If tomorrow I carelessly step into the path of highway traffic, or am stabbed in the throat by a customer who finds the store's refund policy offensive, someone I love will be left with the task of sifting through my belongings. It is almost certain that the uncensored scribbles in my journals—always intended for my eyes only—will be read, but without the benefit of context. Because of a momentary lapse of concentration or the inexplicable rage of a tiny-minded shopper, the smallest, ugliest parts of myself will become known to the ones who meant the most to me while I was alive. And they will give weight to those words, the way people do the words of the dead, while I—pasted thinly onto the highway or having expired from a scissor wound to the throat—will be helpless, unable to tell them otherwise.

Some of these words were not meant to survive I decide, tearing chosen pages into shreds. As the hours wear on, I add to a growing pile of mental confetti beside me. Like a sculptor carving granite, I chip away at a picture of the person I was until she is someone I can stand. Someone I can live with. The girl that remains is by no means dull and perfect, nor would I want her to be. I let some of the bad stuff—selected rants and insecurities—remain, but those I deem unforgiveable I shred mercilessly.

I finish just after 2AM. All of a sudden I am aware of an ache in my back from too many hours spent hunched over, peering down into my past. My eyes sting from being open too long, seeing too much time compressed into too few pages. The covers of my journals sag, their contents now depleted. At my feet a mountain (or molehill) of thoughts I wish I'd never had sits, torn into pieces and ready to blow away in the slightest breeze from my bedroom window.

I stretch and sigh. My work is done.