BACKWARDS: the secret itself was our power

This is a continuation of “I Have a Soul In Some Notebooks” where I talk about chronicling my entire life in my journals… and how I came to write in them backwards. Right to left, like a mirror.

This is a mess right now — but I’m not going to take it down while I fix it. I know me, and that’s death. I like what I wrote before and I’m not risking losing it now into the black hole of drafts just because I had the bright idea of “improving” it.

So… you’ve been warned.

I didn’t just want what I wrote to be a secret, I wanted the entire existence of the backwards journals to be a secret.

So since everyone saw me constantly writing, I had to knew I had to have something to show for all that writing. So I every time I needed a new notebook, I bought two instead of one. Twins. Matching journals.

One was the real journal,

the other was a decoy.

Over the decades people watched me write in my journals, day after day. Right to left. Backwards.

And yet no one ever noticed.

Well, almost no one…

The Secret Itself Is the Power

Decades of doing something in front of everyone and no one noticing was one thing. But decades of writing… four big boxes, the bottom half of an old toy chest in the attic, others hidden behind books in my huge bookcase: a written record of my life, my thoughts and my feelings since I was a small child. It was like a hidden treasure. A hidden treasure getting more and more difficult to hide, but a treasure nonetheless.

It makes you feel like a god, almost, to have a secret that big and that powerful. And not an egoistic god-complex kind of god; but touched by a sweet sense of the infinite.

There was also none of the two-faced, false front thing, either. At first I made a serious attempt to not write backwards in front of anyone. I didn’t want to be found out. This was my secret. I never wanted anyone to know about it.

In all those decades no one noticed but my mother, and my friend Brenna in college.

writing backwards your whole life and no one ever notices

It was there in front of anyone and everyone to see. Mom saw it. But she was looking. She paid attention. Nothing escaped her notice. Nothing. Sometimes I thought my mother was more like an antenna than a human. And Brenna, in college, saw. But she, also, was a “noticer.” A noticer who was in close proximity to me almost all the time.

But nobody else saw. I wrote in those top secret journals in front of Tony a million times, and tons of other people, too. Every place I went, spanning decades, I wrote starting at the left side of each page, aiming for the right, like letters in a mirror. I always, always had a notebook with me. I was always writing in it. It was the very first thing anyone noticed about me. The mechanical pencil ever-hooked to my shirt, suddenly in my left hand — spinning, spinning — and I was writing. Even in bars it was there. Maybe especially in bars. And I was hella fun at a bar, too, but the journal was still ever-present. Open. And I wrote in it, right there, in front of everyone. It was just part of me, so no one thought twice about it. And no one noticed that my hand was moving the wrong way on the page.

By the time I decided to actually call attention to it, I had spent my entire life with the realization that almost no one really sees anything, despite almost everyone thinking they see everything.

That was an amazing discovery. To have the world unveiled with such force, to realize beyond all doubt at a very young age how very little people notice, changed at once my perception of everything else in my world. And everyone else, as well.

“…to realize beyond all doubt at a very young age how very little people notice changed at once my perception of everything else in my world.”

This impression was sealed at thirteen. We had just moved to Houston and I was sitting alone in my new middle school’s cafeteria, not eating a thing while writing so furiously that I failed to notice a real asshole — a proud bully — standing right over me with his little group of bully wannabe’s. He looked down at my sacred spiral notebook and demanded: “Gimme that.”

I didn’t know what to do, but —

— he grabbed it so fast that I didn’t have time to make that decision.

My journal, my soul: open and exposed. I had been writing… it was right there. And now my hubris, which had made me to be sloppy, overly bold, and completely thoughtless, was about to kick me in the ass. My secret of a decade: totally destroyed, all in a matter of seconds.

That boy, gorgeous, popular, chest puffed out, bullying as if it was his inherent and inherited right, studied my page of backwards scrawl for a minute – a minute that seemed to me like a lifetime – then looked at me and made a very, very unfriendly sound.

I couldn’t breathe.

Finally he spoke: “You have very pretty handwriting,” he said.

“Thank you,” I replied, grabbing my journal back a little too eagerly, as if it was breath itself.

People are very unware as a species. Completely unimpressive.

“Completely unimpressive”

Tony never seemed too interested in the box of decoy journals stacked in our garage – at least he wasn’t interested yet; that would later change — but when my mom found out she had only a few weeks to live, only to have my dad cut in line and manage to die first — the last thing on my mind were journals.

I was shell-shocked, anguished and lost. And my marriage was fine.

Still, mom understood that with neither parent alive my secret journal hideout was about to disappear, which to me seemed unimportant in the extreme, but there was no whim too silly for me, the only daughter of my just-widowed dying mother to turn down. One last game of “journal intrigue” seemed like the exact right ending.

It was our last secret together.

To have that secret handed back to you, to carry alone and by yourself, is an impossibility. It just keeps the dead person from ever really dying.

It wasn’t the old journals themselves, so much, that were important.

What my mother understood, and what I would all too quickly come to understand, was the significance of the secret, itself.

Secrets bond us to others. A secret that only you and one other person in the world know is a bond forged in titanium. To have that secret handed back to you, to carry alone and by yourself, is an impossibility. It just keeps the dead person from ever really dying. I found out that secrets are even stronger than death.

They span immortality with grace and ease.

Especially a secret like this one, which was conceived by my mother for the whole purpose of spanning immortality in the first place. The journals got incorporated in later. She had her wildly bold and hyper-imaginative immortality scheme cooked up long before I was even on the scene.

And it was a doozy.

Anyway, Tony didn’t believe in secrets.

For Tony any secret was fundamentally sinful.

(Anyone else’s secret. He had plenty of his own that were anything but innocent.)

For me my backward journals are, quite literally, as close to sacred as anything physical could possibly be. They have existed for as long as my ability to write has existed, an outward manifestation of my very soul that I never shared with anyone.

And over all that time, the longer the secret stayed secret, the more value the secrecy itself seemed to have. Everyone has thoughts and feelings they never share with anyone.

And we all have the right to that.

There was no way for me to know back then that whatever instinct made my mother suggest that maybe I should keep keeping that secret a secret would end up having value, but that is, indeed, what has happened.

is this where we came in?

Sorry for burying them all over, but I knew it was my only chance of getting them to you.

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