Funny story, really…
The summer between eighth and ninth grade, I spent much of my time hanging out with my sister and her friends. She’s two years older than me, and by the time I was 14, we’d begun closing the gap of our age difference.
Of course, this still meant I saw her friends as cool, and more mature, and me cool and more mature-ish by association. We were all hanging around our kitchen one day when one of her friends walked down the hall to use the restroom. Alvaro (we’ll call him Alvaro because that’s his name and I doubt he’ll ever read this blog) had a bit of a crush on me, and though I didn’t return the feelings, I saw him as a friend.
At first, we didn’t really notice how long he was taking in the bathroom. We headed to my sister’s room to listen to some music, but noticed the bathroom door was open and my sister’s bedroom empty. The group of three or four of us popped into my bedroom next, wondering where he’d wandered off to.
We found Alvaro sitting on my bed. Holding my heart-covered journal open in his hands. Reading it.
I should mention now that my journal was a hardcover, bound book, about 6 x 9 inches and maybe half an inch thick.
I mention this because I snatched it from his hands, held it in both of mine, and with a force the doctor’s daughter in me is still embarrassed to admit, hit him square on the head with it.
Then I held the journal in front of his face and said, stone cold: “This is private. You don’t read this.”
I can still hear the thunk. Can still see the way he blinked, one eye after the other, shocked. I can still hear my sister laughing, and I suppress a laugh too, when I think about it. Head injury is serious stuff. I could’ve really hurt him.
I don’t know what possessed Alvaro to think reading my journal would be a good idea. My reaction came without a thought, purely visceral and fueled by a need to reclaim something I’d never thought to lock away or protect.
For years after, this was often the moment I pulled from when I needed to muster strength. Not for the writing kind, but for actual, physical strength. It’s how I got my overhead serve in volleyball to go over the net. It’s how I spiked the ball with a force I didn’t know I had. “You don’t read this” became my mantra. Those words in those pages were mine.
Which is funny when you think about it, because these days, many of us probably wish we could hit readers over the heads with our books and say “read this!”
But I digress.
That privacy of our first words is so sacred. The agency to keep some close and share others. Unfortunately for Alvaro, he learned this lesson the hard way.* Wherever he is, I hope his head is in good health, and if it is, I hope he thinks real hard before the next time he cracks open a writer’s journal.