The Jewish new year races in on dark autumn clouds and I'm cleaning house: throwing ballast, the rubbish and old rain boots, the matchless socks and phone bills from a number long erased, electric bills of an apartment that now holds the life of strangers; lidless burned out pots and pans, the clocks that stopped forever.
Reaching up to dust the shelves, I find again the journals, a row of frayed black sketchbooks filled with three decades of my story.
It's extraordinary to be able to look back in this way, as a historian examines primary source material. Grand themes in the pages: loves, lost and found, sex, marriage, birth, death. The world seen through the eyes of a schoolgirl, the growing up years, the years of uncertainty, dreams, desire, and loss, the quest for love and acceptance. My parents and grandparents are in there, all my family, from that precious time when I could still refer to them in passing, as we met often in the hall and I was always on my way to somewhere else, not really knowing how quickly things change and people leave, and that I should have stopped for a moment to listen and hear while I still had the chance; the new dress on its hanger was in no rush to be worn, and the boy could wait, slouching at my door. I could still refer to the dear ones dismissively, peripherally, when everyone was still together and alive and could be taken for granted.
There are empty spaces here and there: it is 1996 and then, all of a sudden, 1998: "...Alex and I have been married two years now!"
There are periods of garrulous, compulsive recounting: years of pages filled to the margins with tiny detail of wardrobe and crush, the things said, eaten, music of the moment and books read, little obsessions. Parties are vivid here, the little toy favors of childhood birthdays, and, later, those innocent debauches when the Brooklyn cops came, impatient and preoccupied, to spare the neighbors. Mementoes fall into my hands: last remaining petal from a rose tossed to me, by the Rev Al Green, at a concert in the park. Photo booth strip of young me and Alex, black-and-white looks between us so tender that they animate the static frames. And a tiny secret note from the eight-year-old daughter of a roommate I had in graduate school, slipped into my hand as she brushed by: "you are the best friend I evar had and I hope you new that."
In all those pages I'm there, as a child as a teenager a young adult as I am now. My flaws and faults are clear: vain, proud, arrogant, anxious, hot-headed, distractible. I like to talk about myself, I like clothes and shoes a bit too much. I retreat from people, sometimes, when I'm needed.
But there's something else too, a certain recapitulated variation on a theme. Through it all, through the very hard times and the very good times, I can count on the fact, as surely as I can count on rain and sun and day and night, that I will never tire of the clamor of life: its steady routine and its exigencies, the profane dreams and the clean sheets, the bittersweet flow of days and years, mad and sane, troubled or peaceful, all its variation and endless possibility.
photo of a stack of my old journals