On December 8, 1990, I received a diary from a friend. I wrote my first entry that same day to mark the occasion, making note of how the journal had come to me and who I had crushes on.
Since then, I’ve filled a couple dozen journals. These journals are jammed into a purple plastic box in my eight-month-old son’s nursery closet. I see them every morning when I decide what my son is going to wear that day. Some days I don’t even notice the box. Many days I wonder at how copiously I’ve documented my life given that, until recently, I had no desire whatsoever to read a single page’s reflections on bygone days. Other days, it’s easier to recall that I didn’t keep journals as a record of my life but rather as an outlet for thoughts and fears that otherwise would have found no expression.
It is only in the wake of my mom’s death that I have found myself wondering what otherwise forgotten memories might be buried in those pages. Thus have I found the incentive I need to finally overcome mortification at teenaged angst immortalized therein and dive in, understanding that some of what I find will be poignant whereas some will be scathing. Entries from my early teenage years are indeed full of hate and anger.
As I begin to delve into these journals, I’m surprised to find it’s not the embarrassing entries that depress me. It’s all the years I didn’t have a journal that inspire chagrin, for it is in those years my mom was my wholly my mom, not the mental illness that would slowly devour her colorful spirit. It is in those years for which there’s no documentation I could have found memories that captured my mom, first-hand, before she was beaten down – if never fully broken – by illness and abuse.
I remember only fragments of the moments I shared with my mom in my younger days. In California, on several different occasions, she made holiday-themed treats and brought them to my first-grade class. This class, I recall, was the second class I sat in for first grade; my mom expelled me from the first because she couldn’t bear the cruelty I was being subjected to there.
I remember her holding my hand in the sunset at the Monterrey shore that same year. Together we shielded our eyes from the sun and watched my dad’s figure shrink into the ocean until it was no longer visible. When I expressed fear he might not come back, my mom squeezed my hand and reassured me he would always return.
He did come back, that time. In the end, though, it was my mom who could always be counted on to come back. No matter how many ice cream cones my dad bought me on his rare visits following my parents’ divorce, it was my mom’s perseverance that taught me true commitment. If she didn’t always make the right choice, she always tried. That was worth far more than any Thrillville trip or sugary treat.
My mom would always be there to light the way as best she could. I knew this from an early age, and knew it no less truly for the abuse I endured in childhood. Even as a child, it was easy to see how hard my mom had it. It was just as easy to see how determined she was that, in the end, her children would have the tools they needed to make better lives for themselves.
Through this dearth of memories, my heart sings its truer recollection of my mother’s spirit. I don’t need to recall each individual memory to remember the feeling of being enveloped in her love.
She will never hold my hand again, but this memory is imprinted in my heart, where it will remain no matter how many individual memories are recalled or lost.