(I’ve read this aloud, here)
I have written in journals since the summer before 1st grade, back in the days when my name was still Tami. I have written all kinds of things my journals. My deepest secrets, my purest thoughts, quotes, falling in love, sappy breakups, pregnancy details, and then pages and pages chronicling the unquestioned adorableness of my children. Anything you can imagine that might come to mind, I’ve written. Unfortunately, I am separated from most of my journals right now. Some I will most likely get back. Others, I know, I will probably never see again. But I will always have them in my mind. Because once you write something down you’ve built a road connecting the valleys of your own brain. You lay down some actual track when you engage of the act of writing. It deepens the memory.
At least, that’s what my mother told me.
It was my mother who made me obsessed with writing everything down. I was about four years old, sitting snuggled up close to my mother at one end of the couch with her reading to me, when she paused, leaned into my ear and announced in her most majestic, secret whisper: “Once you write something down, it is in your memory forever. Did you know that, my darling Tami?”
Wide eyed, I shake my head. No.
Her big blue eyes are a dancing circus in front of my small face.
“The act of writing is a mystical thing,” she continues. “More than the mere marks written upon a page; writing a thing down can actually bring that thing into being. It is already halfway there as soon as your pen touches the page! And understanding? Writing will rain down blessings of understanding and knowledge into your life! I tell you the truth, my little angel, the ballet of the pen is, at times, divine.”
Then Mother pauses, takes both of my hands between her long thin fingers, and turns me around to facing her. She leans her head slowly in and I follow with mine until our foreheads touch and I’m looking into the kind face of my pixie mother’s sapphire-rimmed eyes.
“But you already knew about the mystical nature of writing, of course, didn’t you, my sweet Tami?” my mother asks, smiling.
I don’t know anything at all about the mystical nature of writing, but I don’t say so. Mother gives my nose the lightest of kisses and then kisses my forehead with her slightly puckered lips, while fluttering her lashes like butterfly wings into my hair, giving me goosebumps.
(I love her love her love her.)
Still smiling warm sunshine, she takes my left hand with her right and mimics writing on a page.
“The beauty of writing,” she says — while not so much holding my hand as dancing with it — “is that as your fingers skate across the page making the words on the paper, they are also digging new little tunnels in your brain. A new road has just been built somewhere in your memory simply because you moved your pen. You will remember longer, because you have written a thing down. But more importantly,” she whispers, pouring her fairy-blue eyes into mine, “you will remember deeper, and if you should ever lose what you have written, it will remain, forever, etched into your soul.”
She made journaling sound like secret magic. And I wanted some.
My first diary, when I was just six, was leatherish with a metal attachment that clicked to close it. But just closing it didn’t seem safe enough to me. I wanted a lock. Or better yet, a vault. I wanted a place where I could write everything down. Everything. Anything.
I didn’t want anyone else to ever read it. It was my magic journal.
I was pretty sure that dad wouldn’t snoop in my stuff, but mom would read all she could. She would try not to, but she wouldn’t be able to help herself.
It wasn’t her fault. She was born genetically over-curious.
I felt that I had to consider other security plans, so that I, too, could partake of not only the mystical side of journaling, but also get new memory tunnels in my soul and roads in my brain.
There were plenty of good hiding places in and around our house, and I decided that I could move the sacred book around so that it would most likely never be found, but that still left one major problem. People were always looking over my shoulder when I wrote. Mom did it without even meaning to. I wanted to take my journal everywhere, and I wanted to record in it under any and all circumstances. I wanted to be able to write whatever I thought at the moment without the writing affecting any of the behavior around me; but that seemed possible only if people couldn’t read what I was writing.
So I began writing the way I had before I learned better.
You see, at the age of four, once my mother realized that our five-day-a-week treks to the library had morphed into her only child learning to write, or something like it – I wrote wrong; that is, I reversed everything when I wrote, like a mirror, right to left instead of left to right – she intervened and ordered 2 big boxes full of teaching materials and taught me to read, and more importantly, to write. To write properly, that is. Left ➪ right.
It was difficult, but I learned to write like normal people. I don’t know why I had naturally reversed everything, and it would be years before DaVinci’s mirror writing became well known, but it was worrisome to my mom. I’m left handed, but so are a lot of people, and they don’t do that. I was still allowed to write my way, right to left, but I was encouraged, first by my mother, and then by the conformism of school, to “write right.”
But now, with this first journal and my concerns about bearing my soul in it, I decide to take up my strange habit again, and I take it up in force.
Now I can go into those mystical lands and get my very own brain tunnels. I am saved.
I am halfway through first grade when I decide it’s time to change my name. Or, as I saw things, to correct my name. Despite everyone calling me Tami at that point, it was actually my middle name. My first name is Serene. And Serene, I decide, is what I will be called. I don’t take a vote on the matter, I simply decide.
I am no longer Tami, I announce. I am Serene.
My dad, so insistent on the original name, thinks this is a hoot and is my first and biggest advocate. My Uncle Amos says I am “Tami” to him and he will never, ever, be able to call me anything else. So I pretend he doesn’t exist. I no longer answer to Tami at all. I don’t even accidentally turn my head when I hear the name.
There was no cocoon in this metamorphosis. I go to sleep a Tami. I wake up a Serene. Within less than a month I have trained everyone.
My mother, ever patient, has had her prophecy fulfilled. Her name has become real. Her name has become me.