I was an introspective teenager, always dragging around my spiral-bound journal and favorite blue pen. I wrote about the salient details of dirt, the bubbling hot tub in a hotel pool room, and my high school crush talking me into sticking my tongue to the end of a nine-volt battery to see if it would shock me. (Only a high school crush can elicit a take-your-life-in-your-hands response).
I documented my every thought, sniff, taste, touch and sight.
One of the sites that found prominence in my little blue journal was an enormous pile of leather shoes in the National Holocaust Memorial Museum. I was 14, impressionable and obsessed with World War II era history. I was so overwhelmed by the shoes of people who were once alive, but who were murdered by a psychotic madman who thought Jews and Gypsies were somehow less human that he was.
I had to sit down on a granite bench in a small chamber beyond the shoes. It was dim inside the museum on 14th Street in Washington, D.C. There was a skylight in my little chamber, and bits of dust danced in the streaks of sun shining down from it. People walked by alone, silent, nursing horror so intense that it couldn’t be shared.
Just days later, another horror was splayed on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. I woke up wrapped in white cotton hotel sheets and a scratchy bedcover. The TV was on, tuned to CNN. My mom was glued to the tube, making notes on a piece of paper. My uncle called and the two of them talked about an unnamed male from the next town over from where we lived.
I didn’t understand the gravity of the bombing that day, but I saw the grizzly images of people trickling out from the gutted building. They were covered in ash and soot, covering their mouths with cloth. A baby was brought out. She didn’t make it. People were looking for loved ones, hunting in the debris for any hope. And I wrote about it in my journal.
Journaling was my way of dealing with things. When Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” played on the radio one summer night between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I wrote about it. When my first boyfriend broke up with me on my 18th birthday, I wrote about it. Upon returning stateside after a mini-trip to the Peruvian jungle, I documented my difficulties re-engaging my lifestyle. And somewhere in the middle of all these synonyms, sentences and split-metaphors, I solved all of my problems.
I was living in a fantasy land, drinking dew drops of dissociation, reveling in reverie. I had no idea how to live in the real world. I fought paper tigers of my own creation. The thing is I thought I had a problem. I thought I was defective somehow, unable to contain—or escape—my gargantuan emotions.
My friends didn’t want to be around me anymore, which was OK with me because I didn’t want to be around anyone. I retreated to my bedroom, popped in a CD and lost myself in daydreams.
Typical me. But as I grew older, my problems grew bigger. When I graduated from high school, I felt a tremendous sense of loss. All my identity was gone, as were my spiritual, emotional and social supports.
I don’t know what I expected. People had plans, I had high-minded wishes. Life would just fall into place, I figured. I lived in a movie where the Buffalo Bills win the Super Bowl and New Year’s Eves never end. And I was desperately lost.