Picture yourself on a nice, sunny day, under a big, shady tree, digging a hole to plant some flowers. You take your little shovel and dig, and you soon find some roots in your way. Over-enthusiastic growth, yes; difficult to remove, yes. But removable with effort. You dig them out, you plant your flowers, and it’s all good.
They came out pretty good, so you want to plant some more. Therefore, you go back to your patch and start digging nearby. You almost have a good-sized hole dug and then your shovel hits something. You look and you see something woody looking. You dig down to get underneath it but you can’t budge it for anything. You keep digging and digging and all you’re doing is revealing more of it, until you realize it’s a giant tree root, growing from that tree that’s been shading your flowers all this time.
This story begins when my parents asked me to go through my things in the basement. I started with boxes of my old notebooks. At first I was delighted with what I found. Boy was I clever. I was tickled because even though they were from sixteen or seventeen years ago, it was just like me now. In some cases, I was even smarter then. A scary issue to be dealt with separately.
I saw that I had actually received a pretty good education at my Catholic high school. Greek plays, Latin, theology, literature, college chemistry, AP English and Spanish. I had made amazing progress from freshman year to senior. An essay from freshman year about The Lord of The Rings: I really like this book because it’s really good and I know it means something and I like it. Senior year: Dostoevsky takes me on a tour of hell, Dante’s Inferno-style, where a pathetic Satan is tossing people into a black pool full of tortures, as popular figures of the time float by, suffering their own particular hilarious punishment for their sins, and then I realize all of my own crimes, and I sink into the pool. It was pretty darn good.
There were humorous stories that made me laugh out loud. I was impressed with my wit and way with words. I found report cards, tests, essays, everything to do an egoist proud. And then I stopped chuckling.
I had uncovered a maroon 5-Star notebook, college ruled, packed with small handwriting in both print and cursive; I used to like to experiment. It was a diary of my sophomore year of high school. Right away I saw something disturbing on page one. Naturally, I also saw a plethora of embarrassing and immature things. I had a very unhealthy obsession with a grown man I never had a conversation with in my life. And, of course, there were boring accounts of the day and complaints about my mother.
My relationship with God played a surprisingly larger role than I recalled. I had many misunderstandings and superstitions. Yet, I also had a lot of knowledge that I had unconsciously welcomed and absorbed; I was just too young to be able to articulate and express it until years later. But I loved God and something in me urged me to keep asking questions, to overcome my mistaken notions. I was actually quite pleased with the depth of these entries.
But I grew sad when I read about a girl who struggled with how to relate to other people, how to grow a deeper friendship. I didn’t want to bother people, put them out. I worried constantly about criticism. And how much to share, how much to ask someone else to share. When to call, how long to wait for a call. These days, it’s the same business with texting. When to text, how many texts, when to stop. I realized I’m no different now.
In nine years, despite being friendly with many people, I’ve made no friends that I hang out with outside of work or even text about non-work related issues. I sort of kept in touch with a couple of women who were much older than me. I just can’t really talk to them about myself. When people leave, we exchange numbers, but I never hear from them again, even though everyone else seems to have. Same old song.
But one of the most disturbing aspects that I saw were the burgeoning roots of the tortuous thoughts that would choke me during my worst periods of depression. The seeds of this depression were planted seventh grade, but I did not realize how bad things were during my high school years. Seeing those words in my fifteen-year-old handwriting shocked me. I felt like I discovered that I really am defective after all.
When I went back upstairs, I looked in the mirror and my face was the color of the notebook and looked about ten years older. My heart was pounding and I felt nauseated.
(I finally calmed down after a shower and a lunch served by my mommy.)
This is my titanic struggle—how much weight do I put on this notebook? Is this who I am? Is this some sort of subconscious retribution for believing things got better? Or can I laugh it off and say, I was a stupid high school girl? It’s just your typical teenage angst? What makes the latter choice so difficult is that there was so much similarity between me now and me then. Maybe that isn’t the shocker of the century. How many notebooks, for the last ten years, have I filled with the same kind of stuff over, over, and over again?
Do I just accept all this and resume beating myself up? Resume telling myself: you’re a burden, you’re a monster, you’re a burden, you’re ugly, you’re a burden, nobody loves you, you’re a burden, and you haven’t changed. Read it—do you realize that you wrote this? This is you!
Was all the therapy I’ve done over the past year to get me to a place where I could envision a future for myself pointless? Was I wrong to believe that God loved me after all? That the content of this notebook is what I actually am and the real root of my problem has never actually been addressed? I know I’m reading backwards into this but I can’t get it out of my head that the problems I have are too big to be helped now and I was foolish to think I was feeling better.
I had duct-taped the box, but I went back and retrieved the notebook. I made the decision that I am going to read the whole thing and face it, respond to the girl with what little knowledge I have won after fighting for so long. Maybe she has something to teach me too, because she was asking these questions for the first time in her life and the crux of issues was fresher, starker in certain ways. Perhaps I can point out what she already knew. If I leave it down there or destroy it, I’ll only keep worrying about it.
There’s a journal I’ve had for about five years. I stopped writing in it regularly a couple of years ago. It was one of my many diary depression-mills. Occasionally, I’ll write a page describing something especially bad going on it my life. I’ve avoided it now for that very reason.
So my plan is this: I am going to read the old diary bit by bit, and respond to it in the more recent journal. By the end of this project, I hope that I will have put both of these notebooks to bed, and I hope I will have hacked away at that deep root and discovered that it was nearly dead.
Have you ever found any relic from the past that shocked you and then you needed to deal with it?