In the back of my night table cabinet sits my past life. Behind a book light and my favorite novels and a folder of important documents, is a row of journals – their flowered and paisley spines tempting me to crack them open and revisit the moments that made me who I am today. I don’t often give in, but in researching my next book (and hoping for some dialogue sparks for the one I’m revising now), I pulled out a slim harvest gold book with red and black blooms and pretty green scrolls on the cover. I hit the jackpot with it. Encompassing 1992 through the middle of 1993, it started just days before my boyfriend of two and a half years broke up with me and ends a couple of weeks after I ran into my future husband on the street.
Kafka couldn’t have penned a bigger metamorphosis. I went from a girl – an insecure, depressed girl who was sure she’d never be happy again, crying herself to sleep every night and living on soup and Little Debbie Snack Cakes – to a confident young woman. I worked out at the gym again after abandoning my gym rat lifestyle for a few years. I knew exactly what I wanted in a relationship and refused to settle for anything less. I could even fill six journal pages with a bulleted list of all the things I liked about myself (before assuming arrogance, it included things like “I love the color green,” but more on that later).
I was twenty-three years old, just one month shy of my twenty-fourth birthday and living on my own – four hours from home – when I started the journal. I was two months past my twenty-fifth birthday on the last page. There were, of course, pages and pages about how much I loved and missed my boyfriend, and pages and pages about how much I hated him. It included details of our almost nightly phone calls (apparently we spoke often in the months after our breakup, which probably didn’t make things any easier for me.) But, there were also plenty of passages about my friends and family rallying around me – about the hours on end one friend listened to me – we’d talk every single night until the wee hours of the morning. I’d like to think I listened to his relationship woes as much as he listened to mine, but I don’t know if that was even possible. I do know that we made each other laugh – a lot.
There was an entry about how my roommate sat next to me with a tissue box when I finally broke down sobbing, realizing that the boyfriend and I were never really meant to be, even though I was sure that we were forever and I picked up my entire life and moved for him. Suddenly I saw that I truly was better off without him and that it wasn’t all my fault. It wasn’t his fault either – we were simply young and had some difficult circumstances. I realized at that moment that nothing I could have done would have changed the outcome. And then – I was free. It was literally turning the page on my life. I met my future husband, Jeff, three weeks later.
I had two other boyfriends between that break-up and my epiphany. But, I don’t think I ever really gave my heart to either of them, even though they were both perfectly nice and cute and ardently professed their love for me. I broke up with each at the three month mark – the time when you either move forward into something more serious or you walk away. I had to walk away. I was still tethered to the past. I dated other guys as well, and most were good distractions. Some weren’t – there was the guy who picked me up with a “booger hanging out of his nose and dragon breath.” I know – I was a bit vicious in the journal, but I knew no one would see it. More importantly, he was rude to the waiters; he ordered a dish for me that I didn’t want – and boasted that he was a bad boy. I took great pleasure in turning him down for a second date. I did have a great time with some dates – still, for over a year I couldn’t move forward (or maybe I just didn’t want to).
And then… I could. I was over the pain. I was over everything. There were things about myself that I needed to fix before I could move on (that’s for another post) and once I did that, it was easy. But, this post isn’t really about getting over a break-up – it’s about the gift of being able to revisit the person I was before I became the person I am. It’s about getting a glimpse of myself as I evolved and grew. I felt everything so deeply and recorded all of those feelings.
Even if I hadn’t been dumped, 1992 still would have been one of the darkest years of my life. My grandparents both died on the same day. My dog died and I never got to say goodbye. My weight, which was always a struggle for me to keep on, plummeted further. My apartment complex was riddled with drug dealers and other unsavory types, one of whom tried to break into my apartment. The gold and diamond necklace my parents gave me for my twenty-first birthday was stolen. And to top it all off, I had such a terrible ear infection, that I lost hearing. But, out of that darkness rose hope. Everything was still in front of me. I just knew I would “make it big” according to one entry. I talked about wanting babies and dogs. (I might not have made it big, but I did get the babies and the dogs.)
I knew that I had hit bottom and emerged a stronger and no doubt better person for it – and that brings me back to those six pages of things I liked about myself. Most still hold true – some good and some bad. Apparently I thought it was a good thing that I always believed I’d start balancing my checkbook, even though I never did and I must have thought it was charming that I had no sense of direction (and still don’t!). Or how about this one: “I can never throw anything out.” My husband got a good snicker out of that one. I have no idea why I thought that was a good thing, or maybe it was when I hardly had anything to throw out.
And then there were these in the bulleted list:
“I can write.” (The very first thing on the list.)
“I love hockey.”
“I am honest.”
“I am down to earth.”
“I love Mel Brooks movies.”
“I am strong.”
“I am loving.”
“I am loyal.”
“My favorite woman on TV is Elaine from Seinfeld.”
“I always like the book better than the movie.”
And two of my favorites, “I have really good intentions.” And, “I love it when a dog licks my face.” There were so many more listed and I was relieved to see that most still hold true. Not all – can’t say I’ve gone out dancing in quite a while. But, on the whole it was kind of amazing to be reminded of all the things I liked about myself when I actually had time to contemplate such things.
There was one more gift – just as amazing as remembering what I liked about myself: remembering what first drew me to my husband. For one thing, I said that he was the first guy I spent time with “who didn’t make my uh-oh alarm go off.” My friends who knew him better than I did (I had a crush on him after seeing him play the drums in a battle of the bands in college, but had only met him once or twice) warned me that he was trouble and was probably not even interested in me. I always had a weakness for bad boys and Jeff definitely gave off a bad boy vibe, but there was a sweetness to him. The night we ran into each other I wrote in my journal, “My gut reaction was that a) he’s a good person and b) we clicked and he felt something too. Why am I always wrong?” But, I wasn’t wrong.
A few weeks later, on the last page of the journal, I wrote that I liked the “juxtaposition of creative (a musician) and solid (getting his MBA) in his personality.” I also wrote that he was “multi-dimensional.” And a few lines below that – “It just scares me, because I get the feeling that this could turn into something big. He’s a sweetheart and really cute.” I wrote that I didn’t want to be disappointed again, but I also wrote, “Maybe I won’t be.” And that is the heart of the most important thing I learned during that year of transformation – to believe in myself and believe in my gut. To take a chance and love openly. I was absolutely right – it was the start of something big. It’s pretty wonderful to be reminded of that twenty years later.
A photo of me and Jeff today – twenty years after running into each other on the street.