Tuesday, November 6, 2007


On a New Years Eve back in the late 1980s, my best friend L. and I played Sinead O'Connor and XTC cassettes on the stereo and alternated between bitching about people we hated in school and gushing about people we liked. Since driver permits, fake IDs, and boyfriends were all in our future, that New Year's Eve was more contemplative than the ones to follow. The change of a digit at the end of the calendar year incited meth-like spasms of excitement -- The things we were going to do in that new digit! Passage of time was all up side.

At some point before the ball dropped on Time Square that night, L. and I got our journals out. She wrote an entry in mine, and I wrote one in hers. We declared that when one of us died, the other would inherit our journals.

Maybe that sounds morbid, but we were simply doing what teenage girls do -- making a dramatic show of affection. Besides, I believe we actually wrote "If one of us dies ...," like the death part was a theoretical point up for debate. And it became a running joke. When one of us landed on the wrong side of an after-school special situation in years to come, remember to confiscate the diary! was the our rallying cry. We laughed about it right up through college and later.

When L.'s heart stopped beating at age 25 from a heart defect previously diagnosed as benign, her journals made their way to my doorstep. I looked through them once and then put them away. It was inexplicable to me that L. was dead, and nearly as inexplicable that a silly promise made by girls was being honored by L.'s family. I almost felt ashamed to have something so precious in my possession. I put them in the deepest corner of my closet and never went through them again.

Ten years have passed since L. died. I have been thinking of her a lot recently. It's not just the round-number anniversary of her death, but the fact that I now have a four year old child. L.'s only son was four when she died. And now her boy is just about the same age L. and I were when we swapped journals that New Year's Eve.

L.'s son is the rightful owner of her diaries, and I always knew that someday, when he was old enough, I'd give them to him. But now that he is a teenager, the concept of "someday" and "old enough" are things I need to actually nail down. I'm struggling hard with that.

I have several concerns. First, L. partook of some wild escapades in her day. If her son read about the crazy shit she did (or thought) at too young an age, he might judge her harshly and feel alienated from what few personal memories he has of her. Or worse, maybe he'd feel her antics were a great excuse to behave in similarly risky ways during his own youth. So for the longest time, I leaned toward not giving him the diaries until after his eighteenth birthday.

However, in the past few years stories about the home situation of L's son (relayed via L.'s parents) make me wonder if the boy should have the journals now regardless of the repercussions. Because L.'s son's father married a woman a few years back who sounds awful. L's son tells his grandparents stories of rejections and of being held apart from his new stepsiblings in arbitrary, petty ways. L.'s parents were so upset by these stories that they confronted their daughter's ex. The kicker: L.'s ex didn't dispute their understanding of their grandson's home life at all. He agreed that his current wife was not fair to L.'s and his son. But in the end, L.'s ex was not willing to force his wife to change her ways. He said, "Kids are resilient, he'll be ok."

So if L.'s son lives in a home barren of affection and kindness for him, perhaps the journals would be something he could cling to, something that reminded him that his stepmother was not the final judge on his worth. For better and for worse, his mother was never anything but passionate about life. Maybe that would help him in the next few years.

So many ifs. I honestly don't know what to do next.


Beruriah said...

Oh, what an absolutely heartbreaking story. I have a special animosity towards step situations where the children with the ex is treated as less equal than the shared children. And for him to have lost his mother so young, it's making me tearful.

I don't know what to say about the journals. Have you discussed them with his grandparents? It certainly does seem that he might treasure them, now or someday. How can a father be so uncaring toward his only child, especially when he's without his mother?

meg said...

I wouldn't know what to do about the journals either, but I think I would give them to him.

I think kids are older at a younger age, than we were. If that makes sense. And I think your idea of having that glimpse into his mother's life would be a good one.

I really don't know what I'm talking about--what do I know about kids or teenagers? But I just think that I would have liked to have them.

Lori said...

Oh... what a heartbreaking story from start to finish. I would feel I was carrying a heavy burden, and it sounds as if maybe you do too.

Maybe you could include a letter with the journals explaining to him, in a slightly different way, what you so beautifully expressed in your final paragraph. That you want him to know what a vibrant woman his mother was, and that you know how very much she loved him.

Wabi said...

Agreed, Beruriah, L's death was hard enough to bear, but the stepmom situation drives me wild.

I remember hearing about how HAPPY L.'s son was when his father got engaged years back, because he wanted a complete family again. It was for L.'s parents to see their grandchild embracing another woman as a mom figure but they encouraged his bonding despite that. And then the stepmom completely rejects him! It's a double hurt, since I grieve for what my friend would feel, and for what her poor boy does feel.

Lori, it's interesting, I never really thought of it as a burden before, but I guess that pretty much describes it!

I have not discussed the journal situation with L.'s parents yet because what is happening with her son is such a hard subject for them to face. But I should probably do so.

I just have this feeling that whatever I do, whatever my intentions are, this is going to have consequences that I cannot begin predict. And given the already sad situation, that makes me really nervous to contemplate.