The notebooks I’ve used vary in size, design, and color. The common marble school notebooks; small sketchbooks or more expensive handmade journals; loose sheets of paper that I bind together myself. Some of the older ones have yellowing pages that have become dry and brittle.
In these books I have recorded daily events while also wondering, questioning, and venting. I sometimes tease out ideas for short stories or poems I want to write. When working on a memoir piece I turn to my journals to help me remember. There are pages of doodles and drawings when words have escaped me.
I pulled out four notebooks, at random, and sat on the floor. I flipped through the pages, reacquainting myself with a past self, a younger self, a different self.
July 26, 1982: Jones Beach today. Billy dragged me into the water and I was glad because it felt good.
Billy. My husband, seven years before he became my husband, grabbing me by both hands, walking backwards into the waves, telling me it will be fun. I hesitate, plant my feet firmly, but he does not give up. “Come on! I’ll hold on to you!” he says. His light brown hair is wet and slicked back. His nose is sunburned. His smile is big. I know I trust him. I move toward him, he wraps his arm around my waist, and we are bobbing up and down with the waves. The water cools me, and I am happy. I call him Bill now; Billy is our older son.
November 1, 1993: I should give them to her. My sweet babies, my sons. She is so much better with them than I could ever be. Where does her patience come from? I cannot remember my mother being like that with me, although I imagine she must have been. When I was a baby. Before I became this selfish, miserable person. I feel I am damaging my children.
I am sitting on the blue and white plaid sofa in my mother’s living room. She is rolling around on the floor, my toddler playfully wrestling with her, my two-month-old lying on a blanket nearby. Billy is laughing. Steven is trying to turn towards the commotion, trying to focus and see what is happening beside him. My mother tickles Billy’s belly, kisses his cheeks. Then she tells him, “Let’s check on your baby brother,” and they look over to Steven. I am tired. I am hungry. I am wondering if I will ever be able to relax, if I will ever be what my sons need and deserve.
Mother’s Day, May 11, 1997: At times I feel I’ve left my mother. I’ve pulled back, a bit too far; it’s as if I decided she is already gone. I think it is because I just don’t want to be unhappy. I am useless.
She is not gone, not yet. One more month. But she is already so sick, weak, tired all the time. And I remember the look in her eyes; unfocused, and so frightened. I don’t know how to help her. I still feel like I need her to help me. I promised her, when she first found out about the cancer, that I would find a way to make her well. A promise I could never keep.
March 28, 1999: We missed Mass this morning. The second graders were to attend at 9am, to be part of a procession for Palm Sunday.
My mother has been gone almost two years. It is the phase of my half-hearted effort to be like her, to please her still, by holding on to her religion, by passing it on to my sons. I fail terribly. It makes me realize how much I failed her.
Four entries, and so many stories they can tell.
I met a young man who held on to me. We married and had two sons. In the way my mother did for me, I tried to care for them. When my mother got sick, I wanted to save her, but I could not. I could not keep her safe from all that can go wrong. I will never be able to keep my children safe. For everyone, everything, grows older, can be broken, can be lost.
I placed the notebooks back on the shelf, marveling at how much dust they collect. Perhaps some is the dust of their own decay, their slow decomposition. One day, years from now, all of it — the words, stories, images — will be blown about by the wind, millions of tiny particles floating in a sunbeam.
~ Vicki Addesso