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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Traveling Back

In honor of our daughter’s pending sixteenth birthday—big swallow here—I dug through the pile of wrinkled dry-cleaning stuffed on the shelf in my closet, behind plastic bags and Goodwill donations to the back wall, where feeling my way around multiple volumes, I removed the yellowing steno pad that served as a diary the summer I turned the age that our girl is now. I hoped it might offer me updated insight into our maturing teen.

That summer, I lived away from home, waiting tables at a friend’s father’s two-hundred-year-old inn, and unexpectedly blown about by the oscillating fan of first love—documented the impact when its first electric hum shivered up my arms. In July I lost my grandfather too and the notebook catalogs the last time I kissed him as he sat shrinking from cancer in the vinyl chair in our upper den, dried toothpaste embedded in the corners of his mouth. At age sixteen, love and grief fertilized with dramatic exclamation points declared themselves throughout that book—infant seeds that would ultimately blossom into who I am today.

Picturing my daughter, I hopped on the wobbling and unbalanced bike I rode no-handed back then, opening my middle-aged doors to memory and empathy and timeless lessons recorded by sixteen-year-old me. Manic happiness exploded like fireworks followed by sorrows that wormed their way to my core. Turning the pages meant peeling back the soft snakes of childhood skin—remembering each scrape to that vulnerable layer produced hot tears, gasping but finite, cleansing, forgettable, a means to carry on to the next liquid event. I read stream of conscious words, from the brain, through the fingers—passionate, confident statements that testified to my fanatical belief in their importance and accuracy; dynamics that I can see currently emerging in my daughter.

And then there was this. Glancing down to the blue ball-point looping scrawl dated September 24, 1974, I read:

“Maybe I should be a writer.”

Geesh. It only took me about thirty-five years to listen to myself.

If there is one prayer I can offer prior to this birthday, this is it: Please don’t let it take Megs that long.

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