Christine O'Brien - Crave

I thought you might want these.

The three diaries are old, small, ugly, with fake gold-edged pages and forest green, chemical blue, paper bag brown, covers. Their ugliness was something I didn’t notice until now, as I take them out of the zip lock bag my mother mailed them with a short note, I thought you might want these.

I hold them carefully. It’s been decades since I last saw them though, like old friends, they are familiar, like we have never been apart. The bindings, loose and peeling, reveal glimpses of string and glue. Chunks of pages splay, barely connected to their spines. In the green diary – my first diary entry ever – I state I’m in 4th grade. The entry on the last page of the blue diary is my goodbye to my life as I knew it at the end of 11th; we were leaving New York forever, moving to California. As I look at these 6” by 6” books, the narrowly lined pages I squeezed my thoughts into, the date at the top allowing one tiny page per day I think about how journals now are sold as big beautiful books with appealing covers decorated with artwork, pages big enough to rest one’s forearm on; blank, unlined, inviting wide white space waiting for sentences to be sent forth like lines of caravans, emigrants into the unchartered territory of fresh page and buried psyche. The label journal, itself, which didn’t exist when my mother bought me the green diary when I was nine, seemed to instantly legitimize the writing down of one’s private thoughts. And indeed, I wrote in beautiful journals from college on, feeling my entries to be more palatable just by virtue of the change in terminology. Diary was a word I had always hesitated, maybe because of my brothers’ teasing, to say out loud. The term seemed to lay my entries bare, expose these parts of me that sat hidden like waste, the waste of me, something that was a byproduct of living but belonged out of sight. And if I tried to tell myself otherwise, the fact that my felt pen scribblings and childish scrawl, tear-smudged and adorned with hearts or stamped with exclamation points, needed to remain private was evidenced by the small gold lock that held my diaries shut and the two little keys that came attached with a plastic ring to each.

That day I received my diaries in the mail from my mother, I lay them out on the bed like artifacts, remnants of a past life, the before in the demarcation of our move across country. The scribblings in these diaries were painful to see not only because I was ashamed of the private self I had revealed in these pages, but also because I knew that within these books was evidence of something I had only just found before I had to leave it all behind, something I didn’t even completely understand. A thing I was right to mourn because it had been as difficult to find in my new life in California as I had feared. But mostly I was embarrassed. I knew the summer these diaries described was a time when I had disappointed. And worse than disappointing was the sense I had that I had met my parents’ expectations. Christine is so social, they said loudly enough for me to hear, both deliberately setting themselves apart from what they clearly considered my base impulses and possibly also hoping the sting of reproach would jolt me out of them. But I was desperate that summer. A year into the Program, the blended vegetable vegetarian regime my mother implemented after her two hospitalized breakdowns, I may have been used to being hungry. But this was a new kind of craving, one that didn’t involve toxins or my searing guilt at the idea of cheating on the diet. I was in love and the high was higher, lighter even, than the euphoria I felt on my mother’s enforced bed-rest, week-long water fasts. The feeling of being in love was not at all like the brain chemical high of extreme deprivation or the hopelessness of one meal-less day following another. And even if I didn’t attain the object of my infatuation, Genie Kennedy, god of The Beach Street Gang, the high from just thinking about him was infusing my very cells. I was as light as air. Though I hadn’t seen these diaries since I last wrote in them, I hadn’t forgotten the high loving Genie had produced. I also hadn’t forgotten the sense of failure I had carried with me after that summer. When it really counted, I hadn’t been able to act. More comfortable with hiding out in my room and writing about my feelings, I didn’t know how to actually become the protagonist in my own life as it was happening.

As I flipped through the diary entries, I decided that lingering in the telling of these Point Lookout events didn’t fit with the trajectory of my memoir and aside from using the diaries to put together a rough chronology of the events of my 16th summer for the portions I did include, I didn’t delve into the reading of specific entries. I put the journals back in their ziplock and stuck them on a bookshelf.

Six months after she sent the diaries, my mother died unexpectedly and I had an ending to CRAVE that I hadn’t planned on. Soon after, the publisher pushed back the release date which left me with a yawning expanse of time that both made the book release look like it was never going to happen but also gave me a chance to really consider what it was I was doing: exposing myself and my past to the world in a way I could never take back. I pulled out the diaries again, looked more closely at first one entry and then another. This was the story I wished I was telling, I told myself with a sick feeling. Wasn’t everything I wanted to say encapsulated in the recounting of this one summer? The changing of schools, our move from New York, the implementation of The Program, all led up to the private insurrection I waged. These three months in one tiny town were a microcosm for my entire life and so much more palatable presented in a coming of age frame.

I suppressed an overwhelming urge to call my editor and tell him, stop the press. That would never fly after the years spent chiseling out the story for CRAVE. But suddenly I had to know what was contained in the recesses of my old diaries. Might not the entries I had avoided offer insight into the deepest truths about who I was? And, maybe, if I could stomach them, I could arm myself with knowledge I had previously ignored. If I was the first to understand my own failings, I could use this awareness as protection for whatever was to come, like a shield.