“What I know,” Julian said, sitting on his patio, “is that keeping a diary has saved my life.”
Julian is sixty six years old. When I contacted him about why, not what, he wrote in his diary, after some pestering on my part, he agreed to speak to me about his diary and the process of writing over all these years.
I asked him how he got started.
“I watched my mother. She kept a diary.”
“I lived near a farm. Not “on” one, mind you. That would have been great. No, my mother was a domestic worker on a farm. She had me out of wedlock. Back then, and where we were from, that was a pretty bad thing. So, her family sent her out of the house to make it on her own. It was a cruel thing to do, but my mother was a tough lady. She was only nineteen. But she took her clothes, stuck them in a bag, and went to make a life on her own.”
“My first memory of her writing was when I was about five or so. My mother was a very reserved woman. She didn’t have anyone to talk to anyway, so this was just her way of processing her thoughts. After she came home from the farm, I saw her sitting on the edge of her bed, writing in a little book. I saw this key dangling from her hand, and I asked her about it. She said that the book had a lock to keep her thoughts safe. I didn’t understand what she meant by that at the time, but I remember her locking the book with those little locks diaries had, then putting in in her drawer.”
“Now, you should know, that we had it hard. My Mom barely made enough for us to get by. We were dirt poor. And, growing up, I know how hard it was for her to care for herself and especially me. She never mentioned it, but I always felt that I needed to do more to help. I tried to be as good of a kid as I was able, and I never gave her any trouble. Didn’t have any friends, but I just kept to myself.”
“Over time, from watching her, I started to write down my thoughts when I was about eight. I don’t have those diaries, but I remember writing with my mother while she was writing in hers. After about a week, she told me that I should do my in private, and that this process was a time to “be still, and think about your day.”
“And it helped. Made me feel less lonely, less afraid.” “I told you that the diary helped save my life. Well, one day, I was seventeen, my Mom didn’t come home from work. Hours passed, and I finally called her work. They said that she’d been taken to the hospital that day, and the folks in the house went with her to the Emergency Room.”
“I hitchhiked into town and got to the hospital. My mother was on life support. Apparently, she had a stroke. The doctors were attending to her, but when I asked the nurse how she was, she shook her head and said, “We probably won’t know for a another few hours.”
“Not an hour the nurse saw me, the doctor came out to the waiting room and told me my mother passed away. I had never been struck with such profound sadness in my life.”
“After the funeral, I was to move in with my aunt and uncle, but I didn’t go. I just stayed in the house. And the depression just deepend. My diary entries were short and very dark. So were my thoughts. I The grief of my mother’s death took hold and I wasn’t able to shake it loose.”
“Then, in a period of a day or two, I decided it would be best to end my life.” Julian looked at me, scratched his head and said, “With my Mom gone, I thought my life was over. And I didn’t know what else to do.” “On my way to my room to go to bed that night, I passed my mother’s room. Her diary was left out on her nightstand. I don’t remember this ever happening. Maybe I just didn’t notice, but there it was.”
“So, I opened her diary. I had never done that before and I don’t remember what compelled me to do it that day.” Julian picked up a diary sitting next to him on the couch. “Her last entry before she went to the hospital reads follows: “Dear Diary, My dear Julian is my greatest blessing. . Please give him the strength to meet all his goals. Please give me the words to heal his heart, to let him know how much I love him, how much he means to me, and how empty my life would be without him.”
“That night,” Julian said, “changed everything. I put down my mother’s diary, and went back to my room. I my entry for that night was, “Dear Diary, I’ll get through this. I’ll keep moving forward. Please let my Mom know, wherever she is, that I’m going to be OK.“
Julian started to cry, and said, “I tear up every time I read that. But I began a new life that day, one that my mother would be proud of.”
“My diary continues to give me focus, to chart my path, and to bring my feelings to the surface. I write in it every day. It helps me think, it absolutely helps me get clarity with my feelings, and it makes me feel like my Mom is right next to me.”
“And that night when I was seventeen,” Julian said, “Her diary saved my life.”
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