I found my diary from the summer before sixth grade, before everything changed, before one of my best friends was hurt by a male teacher on an all girl’s camping trip, a trip my parents did not allow me to attend.
My mother found it alarming there were two male teachers with girls who were coming of age. I hated my parents for weeks until Lilly came back from that camping trip and stopped washing her hair and her clothes and was kissing eighth grade boys behind the backstop during lunch.
That was when Lilly stopped writing in our shared diary, and she stopped talking to V and me. The three of us shared one diary we passed back and forth under our desks until Lilly was hurt.
My mom called us Manny, Moe and Jack.
Lilly was the kind of girl who glided into a room, and when she did our fathers looked away and our brothers looked too long. She wore hiphuggers and hip-length wavy hair, and new breasts like tiny headlights, with overlapping front teeth, and a smile that made us all vibrate.
Lilly was Mona Lisa. She was Eve. She was Venus. She was everything all of us wanted to be – beautiful, funny and kind. A bright star in a small town.
After the camping trip, after weeks of Lilly ignoring me and V., I pushed our shared diary under the pink bathroom stall Lilly had locked herself inside. I pushed a pen and told her to write her secret in it for me.
Go away, she said as she dragged the pen and composition book out of my sight.
I promised her I wouldn’t tell anybody, and when she pushed that diary back, and I opened it, I knew right away I would have to break my promise. I crawled until the pink stall and held all of Lilly.
Then I went home and choked the words to my mother. I cried in my bedroom that still had a small purple rocking chair and a doll I never touched again.
And my mother held me. Then she smoked a lot of cigarettes and paced in the kitchen, whispering to my father, who said goddamnit over and over. She turned into a warrior. She turned that school inside out. She was a journalist and a mother.
Our teacher was fired.
That was all you could expect in the early seventies – he was fired, not jailed. There was no trial.
Lilly never talked to me again, I had betrayed her. The teacher moved to Florida, and they moved me to another classroom and I was separated from V. By eighth grade, Lilly had a boyfriend who had just gotten out of the Burlington County jail.
The truth is, before all of our innocence was stripped away, we had flirted with that teacher, a man whose attention we all craved, an old man who made our bellies quiver, though we didn’t understand why.
A few years after, when I was in high school, my mother threw all the angry diaries away, all the ALL CAPS paragraphs, all the shits and fucks away.
Because I unravelled, for a long time after that. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I filled books of writing with rage for the world.
My mother didn’t save those diaries, instead she saved my innocence, the summer of before. Before everything changed – before I met V. and Lilly and the wolf-teacher who glided over our budding bodies with his hungry eyes.
I believe my mother wanted me to remember the girl of before, the girl who ran through the woods, before breasts and her green banana seat bike. She wanted to preserve me so I could find her again.
I found the one diary in a lost shipment. When I read my neat, non cursive writing, I fell a little bit in love with my younger self. I was funny and silly and thoughtful.
I wrote that I was going to be a writer. That I would never get tired of writing, and I never have.
It’s our job to look back and forward at the same time. To be reminded of who we were, so we fully step into who we are becoming. To embrace our younger selves so we can meet our future selves with understanding.
Our past matters.
Lilly didn’t get the chance to tell her story, so I do it for her. She has always been with me. She helps me glide, she helps me remember my innocence. And somehow I’m still handing pens and blank pages to people who want to step into who they are becoming through story.
Words do save us, they help us unravel the mysteries and honor those whose light was taken from them early. Words help us tell the hard stories and find the wisdom in them so we can regain our innocence and shine our light into the world, one story at a time.