Revisiting the Past: A Cautionary Tale

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

For the last few days, I have been re-reading some of my old journals. I have always been an off and on journal keeper (with far more offs than ons). I started when I was ten years old and have sporadically tried to continue throughout the years. I told a few friends that I was doing this and they each reacted similarly, "Oh, I could never do that. I would be way too embarrassed." I thought about it and decided this was an unlikely response for me because I am of the belief that if you aren't at least somewhat mortified looking back on your younger years, then you didn't do them right. I am okay with the fact that I was a dork. Who wasn't? (One of my best friends in the whole world, Danny, called me a "dork princess" at some point in high school. I'm still not sure who should be more embarrassed by this.) The only thing worse than being awkward and gawky in high school is not being awkward and gawky in high school. Peaking before the age of eighteen? I've seen it and it's not pretty.

In my previous incarnations, I was gangly and painfully people-stop-you-on-the-street-and-tell-you-to-eat thin with big hair and a big nose. I was idealistic, opinionated and kind, but I was single minded in my plan to, as my mother would say, get the hell out of dodge. I wanted so desperately to leave the isolated, close-minded, small town I grew up in and I think I believed the only way to do this was to abstain from anything that too closely resembled fun so that I wouldn't get sucked in. (Now, of course, I did have some fun, but those years were far more serious then I would wish for any potential future child of mine.) At the time, I believed the only future for people who stayed in my town was to become one or more of the following: a fisherman, a fisherman's wife, a drunk and/or a bigot. (Nothing against fishermen or their spouses and absolutely nothing against alcohol, but from a very young age I wanted something different.) I wish I could go back and grab my smaller self by the shoulders, shake her and encourage her to lighten up, have more fun, take more chances and, for the love of God, drink an alcoholic beverage before college! However, as Maya Angelou has said, "You did then what you knew how to do." I doubt very much that she meant, "If you knew enough to go back to your teenage years and try a little experimental drinking, you would have." You never know though, you just never know.

My journals outlined my achingly isolated life and how deeply I longed to experience more of the world, how deeply I longed to experience... joy.

As it turns out, I was wrong. It is embarrassing to go back and read my entries from the past. Some of the content of these diaries has made me call my best friend Carina, who I met on the last day of kindergarten and who was by my side through many of the adventures I wrote about in these journals, at midnight crying tears of hysterical laughter. (For example, the entry in which I wrote down all of the lyrics to, ahem, a Celine Dion song because it was the only way I could possibly explain the deep feelings I had for a boy whose name I can no longer remember had us rolling.)

I guess, more than anything, what I learned from going back and reading my old journals (other than the humor found in childhood entries that contain, "I get to spend the night with Heather! Hooray! She has a hot tub and a Nintendo and a puppy!") is that I have always walked a line (cue Johnny Cash) between pride and shame regarding my past. I am torn between being embarrassed by the pages and pages of unrequited love rants I wrote about twelve year old boys (I was, thankfully, also twelve years old at the time) and knowing that this is the job of sixth grade girls the world over. I am torn between being proud I found a way to get through what felt intolerably oppressive, even if it meant becoming a somewhat prudish sixteen year old, and wishing I could go back and tell that girl to sneak out of the house at least once. I walk the line between being incredibly thankful to have grown up amidst such hard working people who were, without a doubt, doing the very best they could and being so relieved that I, for lack of a different phrase, got the hell out of dodge and experienced things found only outside the confines of that small town.

Maybe this is why we grow up: to look back and think how very lucky we have been to have come so very far. What I know for sure is that, through it all, I still embarrass myself regularly with my awkward dorkiness. I still write down lyrics to songs and get excited about hot tubs and puppies and the occasional video game. I long for the simplicity of the place I used to call home, but am happy to only visit and then come back to the city with big plans for big travels ahead. I love to listen to John I-still-miss-the-Cougar Mellencamp sing, "gonna die in this small town." However, I love to travel far too much to ever die (and these are probably famous last words) in the town where I was born and raised. Although I can still be very serious, somewhere along the way I discovered a love affair with silliness, said goodbye to my past prudish tendencies and started a very long term relationship with cocktails.

If I could tell that younger, skinner, more idealistic version of Kathleen anything, I would say: Someday a part of you will love where you grew up. You will be proud of where you came from and you will be proud that you knew, even at such a young age, that you wanted more. Someday you will find that more. Someday you will find like-minded, equally opinionated people who don't, for example, talk about those outside of their race with hatred. Someday you will find those people and you will fit. Someday you will travel and you will travel far. You will fall in love with seeing the world through different eyes, through different cultures and these travels will change your life. Someday love will no longer be unrequited. Someday you will surprise yourself with your own confidence, your own uncontrollable laughter, your own joy. Someday you will be happier than you ever thought possible. I can't promise it will last. In fact, I can promise that it won't, but it will keep coming back to you, again and again, because you are, at your core, a deeply and unapologetically happy person. You just don't know it yet.


  1. i read this once through, silently and with tears and the second time, aloud to brian and with uproarious laughter.

    i love you, dear friend.

  2. Kathleen,
    I found your blog through Maggie's and read many of your posts. However, this post, I could totally relate to! You described how I felt in that same little town. I love where we've come from, but am so glad that we're out and experiencing an amazing world.
    Hope you're well!

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