Buh-bye high school locker notes

Here’s something I assume has gone the way of the rotary-dial phone and the dashboard cassette player: notes written to a friend during class and shoved through the vents of her locker. (I’m saying “her” here because my brief and unscientific survey determined that guys didn’t do this.)

piles of notes from one friend in high school
piles of notes from one friend in high school

Last January, when I went through every single piece of paper I’d saved for sentimental purposes, I set this pile aside. I didn’t want to keep it, but I wanted to go through it. These were all from Shelley (who I’ve written about before), who lied to me and everyone for much of a year.

She was dying of cancer. This might be the last note I ever get from her. Her mother and her mother’s boyfriend were Satanists who kept trying to rope Shelley into their rites. They wrote “Satan” on her arm in permanent marker. Her mother’s boyfriend hit Shelley. Shelley had anemia. And a kidney infection. And nosebleeds at skating practice. And her mother was kicking her out in favor of the boyfriend. And she met her real father who wanted her to live with him. She had to go to a funeral for four family members in one day. She was moving to the country with her mother and the boyfriend. She was a Christian. She wasn’t a Christian. She was a Christian. She wasn’t. Someone was leaving nasty notes to her and writing my name on them — did she believe me when I said I didn’t leave them? Her friend thinks I’m nice. Her other friend thinks I’m using her. Am I mad at her? Is Carol mad at her? I’m head of a clique in a school club we both belonged to. The club is lame under my leadership. Why do I sometimes act like I don’t want her around? She can always talk to me. I’m such a good listener. She doesn’t mean to always unload on me. She’s sorry she made me upset. How did I manage to forgive her for lying? Do I still think of her as a liar? Am I really still her friend? I needed to choose now.

I’m exhausted just typing that.

Not really. More like bemused and grateful. Bemused, because she gets all wrapped up in telling me everything her other friends say about me, and references big blow-ups, none of which I remember; I don’t even remember these other girls. At all. And grateful because I do not have people like that in my life anymore, people who constantly manipulate their friends and try to keep them off-balance and entranced by the constant drama and conflict. At the time, I forgave her and remained her friend (as much as anyone could be her friend) because I figured the lying came from deep insecurity and neediness, and she was still insecure and needy, so I couldn’t abandon her. Which makes me wonder:

Are all teenage girls emotional adrenaline junkies?

Probably, to some degree. Which is making me dread the coming few years. I’d thought my daughter might be inoculated from that after two little girl bullies “fought over” her in second grade, but I see entrancement with drama coming back. Sigh. I’m sure there are good developmental purposes to it, maybe practicing in preparation for real difficulties in later life. I don’t have to like it, though.

There are so many more venues for drama and conflict now: Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, texting, and whatever new platforms develop between now and May, when we are finally nice enough to get the dear daughter her own phone. Now that makes me nostalgic for notes shoved in my locker.

But not nostalgic enough to keep them. I’m not even keeping them in the name of writing research.

I will choose to be free. Both of these notes and of people who seek to manipulate through emotional drama. There is enough real pain and suffering in my world — I need all my energy for that.

So what will you choose to be free of this year? This month? Any little papers you’ve been holding on to that you really should let go of?



Obligatory end-of-year musings

bleeding heart image courtesy of freeimages.com, TDingess
bleeding heart image courtesy of freeimages.com, TDingess

My theme word for 2014 was soft-hearted, which came on the heels of the not-on-purpose 2013 theme of compassion. A soft heart is a spiritual condition, which means that my heart should be softer/more open towards God, and because of God, which should come out in how I am with others. And you know what, I think my heart is softer.

I know I’ve been listening more than talking; my sporadic presence here on the blog reflects that. I’ve been more alive to the fears that lie behind so much human behavior, which has made me less judgmental. I’ve been slower to anger. My starting an anti-depressant this spring has something to do with that, but I’ve also been using my imagination in a disciplined manner, creating backstories for people who annoy me, until I reach the point at which I’m no longer annoyed. Mostly I’m not perfect at it, but I’m sure better than I was a year ago. I’ve been less irritable and more gentle with my family. I no longer try to compete in my mind with my husband on who has more stress, on who has it tougher.

There has been a related sub-theme that emerged throughout the year: acceptance.

In January, I went through all the family boxes of papers, including every letter and card ever sent to me, including notes left in my locker in high school. As I sorted and categorized (and tossed some stuff), I read what people have written me over the years. It was a revelation. Normally, I think of myself as kind of a bad friend. I rarely reach out and make contact. I’m too much of a hermit. I so frequently fail to follow through on things I’d like to do for my friends (most of which they don’t know about because I didn’t do them). I’ve let people I loved just fall through the cracks until I’ve entirely lost contact. All of those things are true, but the letters and cards let me round out that picture: I am an accepting friend. Over and over in these letters, friends from across my life said some version of the words, “I can always talk to you about things and know you won’t judge me, that you’ll still accept me.”

That was huge. It took awhile, but I let those words wash over me and seep into my heart. Because they’re true. I may not be a great friend, but I am an accepting one. So I took that on as an important part of my self image, and my life became crazy rich with variety of people to love this year. I am now friends with a woman who survived years of drug addiction and sex trafficking. I have more non-religious friends than I’ve had, possibly, ever. I stood on a sidewalk and talked with strangers about praying for girls and women who’ve survived abuse and trauma. And I’ve been more real, more courageous, more risk-taking than ever before. Which has only brought about more connection with people. It’s been a glorious cycle. And one I intend to keep going.

So what is this year’s word?


It was going to be show up. But as I was writing my prayer this morning as I prayed it (for only the second time this month, tsk, tsk, tsk) it morphed into practice. Both in the sense of the things I want to work on: prayer practice, writing practice, dance practice. And in the sense that “we call it practice because we’re not that good at it yet” (something a dear friend who is a spiritual director said once, a couple of years ago, and I can’t get out of my head). So I will both go harder after my various practices, and be accepting of myself when I’m not that good at it. I will practice both patience and impatience, simultaneously (something one of the presenters at my November writing conference said).

Because this is going to be a big year.

  • I am independently publishing my David and Saul novel series this year — all three of them!
  • I am going to work on two series for my blog that I’ve been wanting to do but have avoided: my diaries project (which I abandoned right before I got to the long-form diaries of high school), and an interview project. Through a few writing jobs I had this year, I discovered that I love doing interviews. I want to interview people about times of unsticking, times of pivoting in their lives. So be warned, I do not plan to talk to famous people. I plan to talk to my friends and ask all the deep questions we don’t normally ask of each other in our brief interactions. So be warned: I may contact you (you can always say “no” and know that I’ll accept you 😉
  • Within a month, my husband and I will be credit card debt-free. I cannot fully express how much I’m looking forward to having that burden lifted.

So how about you? Any musings, either looking back or looking forward, that you want to share? Do you do the word of the year thing? If so, what’s your word?

What Do You Do When Someone Lies To You?

These diary entries circle around a drama in the life of a friend at my high school, a girl I met either through the Inner School Christian Fellowship or at camp. There’s a twist at the end, which I didn’t chronicle, but I remember it clearly. I’m just going to get right into it, so I’m not tempted to foreshadow the ending. I apologize, in advance, for how often I use the word “neat” in the first entry.

Saturday, Mary 17, 1984  EK is in town, she called me today and we had a talk. She told me about S, at her request. Her mother and her mom’s live-in boyfriend Tom both serve Satan. The two of them will move to B.C. when they get married and they want to send S to Jewish foster parents in Ottawa. When she said no way, Tom beat her up and she was put in the hospital. Nobody believed her. S also has cancer in her knee. Nice life, eh? Well, I think God is finally giving me something to do and someone to help.
I made a pair of pants today. I wore them to the coffeehouse I went to at AJ’s Pentecostal church. It was different. The music was OK. During the break some guy came and talked about temptation. That being tempted was a blessing because them Satan thought that you were worthwhile to tempt. That was neat. There was some more music 🙁 and then this neat guy Claude talked for 40 minutes: “Why sit we here ’til we die?” It was about the spirit and works of a church dying out. It was interesting. J and H were rather shocked because of the spontaneous Amen’s and Praise the Lord’s. I loved it. It was not the sort of coffeehouse that I expected but it was neat.

Sunday March 18, 1984  Last day of freedom 🙁  Dad was gloating about that after church. NERD. Young People’s tonight was a riot! We went over the to JJ’s for a social. I was playing snooker and I was doing really well. I was proud of myself. JP was nice to me today, so was JJ. I was pretty happy. Later on JP and M teamed up against P in hockey on that game. He was beating them 7-1 until I started playing goal. Then he beat us 9-2. It was a scream. Then all the girls except me went upstairs to sing. Someone up there couldn’t. I was left down with the guys minus N and D. We had earlier played coffeepot. I made a few funny remarks. The action was showing and JJ asked if you could do it in front of other people; they said yes. I said, I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t coffeepot in front of anybody. I made a few more remarks as well. The real story was on the way home. JP’s alternator and battery were shot in his Bessie. It took us 20 min. to get the car started at JJ’s that lasted us without lights or anything to Bayview and Soudan. We tried roll starting, push starting and we flagged down a car and tried jump starting. M was with us. We walked to the [minister’s house] and they were still up. [M’s parents] were there! They took care of M and the rest is too complicated to explain. I got home around 11:20.

Monday, March 19, 1984   S called me tonight to talk to me and I found out some more stuff. E has thought about killing herself! She almost did try once! I’m really shocked. I knew she didn’t like school at all but I didn’t know it was that bad. I’m meeting her tomorrow morning at 8:15. I met S and E this morning at 8:30. S still goes in for chemotherapy for her secondary cancer. It’s really hard knowing how to treat her. I called C and she gave me lots of good advice about not just sitting passively but actively doing something. Both of us feel that some disaster is about to happen: I don’t like that feeling. But I also do feel that God will somehow work through me. I hope. S needs all the help she can get. She went with her Mom and Tom to that group last night: she didn’t know she was going there. They tried lots of different ouija boards on her but none of them worked! Praise God! A whole bunch of them grabbed her and put “Satan” on her arm with red nail polish. She just barely got it off for school.
H skipped today because L wasn’t feeling well. I called their house at lunch. It took them a few minutes before they realized that it would be either me or N so they answered it. The didn’t even invite me!

 Tuesday, March 20, 1984   Several big things happened today. We found out this morning that Mrs. Denny, the quiet nervous gym teacher died last night of hepatitis. I still can’t believe it. The flags were flying half mast. I’m glad. It shows that the whole school mourns her. The thing with S is also part of the way to being resolved, I pray. Her Young People’s leader called the Children’s Aid, and they called Mr. S at school. They came over and she talked to them and she has an appointment next week. Praise God! She had to tell them about E because she had been called down earlier for her absence on Monday and had told Mr. W about her. Tom and S’s mom had to come down and were really angry but I still praise God that something is happening. That’s about it, because besides that the day went as usual. I loved the discussion in English; we’re doing poetry. I love poetry! I should start to write some more; I think I will.

The twist

S was lying. She made the whole thing up: the cancer in the knee and the secondary cancer that had an amazing new kind of chemotherapy that didn’t make her extremely thick hair fall out too badly, the Satanist parents, the group of people writing Satanist stuff on her arms (she’d done it herself). All of it. Once school and other officials became involved, it all spun out. I found out from the school guidance counselor. I remember a hollow feeling in my stomach and disbelief, but not anger. There was even a little guilt in there because I hadn’t thought to talk to the guidance counselor or call Children’s Aid myself. My second reaction was compassion: she didn’t have to make up that story to get us to like her. I talked with her, either that day or the next, to tell her that, and to tell her that I wouldn’t drop her as a friend — my thinking being that she needed friends more than ever now that the story was out. We had a few intense conversations after this, and I was still friendly, but things weren’t the same and S soon drifted away. Probably to a fresh group of people to scam into pitying her.

Am I that compassionate now?

It depends on who’s doing the lying and who they’ve hurt.

I’ve written before about a woman at our prior church who was highly skilled in planting seeds of discord to distract us from the fact that she was stealing from us. She would give little reports of conversations with other church members that were racist or obnoxious in some way, or do little put-downs that were funny in how she said them. She got involved with someone who brought a great deal of drama that we were all compelled to help her out with — money, groceries, clothes, etc. She was my partner in dance and I’d thought we were friends. I gave her money, listened to her, prayed with her, had her pray for me. But she was stealing from us the whole time.

It almost destroyed the church — literally, I’m not being dramatic. Two-thirds of the church left in the aftermath, and those of us left had to deal with the trauma, except that we didn’t. We who remained all went to our corners to lick our wounds and treat everyone with suspicion for a while. I was stuck with some very large jobs when she left, that dictated the next eight months of my life. They were not good months.

It took several months of Spiritual Direction before I wrote a letter to her about what she did to me — the classic, unsent therapy letter. By the end, I felt profoundly sorry for her. Her life had gone even more to pieces after this: criminal prosecution, physical disability, no friends or church support system. I forgave her in absentia. That said, I could never be her friend again and if she came to any church I went to, I’d make sure she wasn’t given any position with authority over or access to money. I have no idea whether I’d hug her or ignore her if I saw her again. But chances are pretty good I’d make like I didn’t see her unless she forced the issue.

Then again, we had a situation this summer about which I will be vague, but a young person we’d trusted did something untrustworthy. My reaction: firm compassion. We forgave the young person immediately, largely because the person had been to our house hundreds of times with few problems, so the evidence weighed heavily in the person’s favor. It was firm compassion, though, because we analyzed the events that may have contributed to the untrustworthiness and don’t let things play out in the same way anymore. This is just as much out of compassion for the young person as for us.

But if a young person does something untrustworthy and I don’t have the long history with them, or if the untrustworthiness has to do with the personal safety of anyone in my care, they are not invited back. There are only three kids who’ve qualified for this, but my door closed to them quickly and decisively.

So now what?

Because of the lying church lady who so effectively used gossip to split up the congregation, I no longer listen to negative church gossip. If someone starts going on to me about what another member did or said to them, I stop them in the middle and tell them that I’m uncomfortable talking about this, but if they have a problem, to bring it up with the other member and the pastor. I’m not always in the loop these days, but that’s okay with me.

I also have a little core of suspicion that won’t go away when someone keeps bringing the drama, and that makes me a little sad. I’d like to treat everyone who needs help in a straightforward way, but I don’t know that I can anymore. I’ll have to find a way to keep myself from being gullible and yet remain compassionate.

Anyone else want to share a dramatic story about a liar?


The Evidence I Wanted?

The previous diary entry was embarrassing enough that it took me over two months to recover, but now I’m ready. I think. Then, I’d bemoaned the fact that all my entries were about boys and social drama, and not about church or any of my other enthusiasms. The evidence I wanted is here, gushing out all over the place. Gushing.

There would come a time when I’d mainly write in my journal about angsty things, but in the beginning of 1984, I clearly wrote when I was feeling most sunny. Note that, in person, all those exclamation points are peppy triangles over little circles.

16th birthdayLast time, I included a one-off entry from August, 1984 that had slipped into the previous diary, but this book is all 1984, starting halfway through grade 11 (my junior year of high school, for my American readers). I’d just turned 16.

New Year’s Not-So-Rockin’ Eve

You will notice that the first entry was New Year’s Day and I was at church, good Christian Reformed girl that I was. Am. There was a good chance that I’d worked the pancake breakfast that morning, which I had little problem waking up for because I wasn’t partying hard with my friends the night before. Nope. Until my second senior year of college, when my parents lived in California, I spent every New Year’s Eve with my extended family.

The big event for my Hart clan was New Year’s Eve. I’m sure this year the kids hung out separately from the adults until we all came together somewhere around 11:45, when my oldest uncle read a Psalm and prayed in the New Year. These were long prayers that I believe got very specific about what had happened in the family that year. My memories of the prayers are vague because it was midnight, my eyes were closed, and I’d probably filched some wine. Scratch the probably — this was my European family. Wine was available. Then we’d creak to our feet, walk around giving kisses and saying “Happy New Year” to everyone, ignore any of the adults who might be having a more intense hug or kiss, have one last bite of food, and head home.

It was tradition. Also, since I try to tell the truth here, I was never invited to do anything else on New Year’s. Never.

The Evidence (a larger chunk than usual since I managed to write for 5 days in a row)

1/1/1984  Happy New Year! Church this morning was good. He talked about faith. H said nobody understood Tuyle’s sermon, even her parents! K slept over. I had dinner at H’s and watched Von Ryan’s Express. The only thing I didn’t like was that Ryan died. R didn’t spend New Year’s Eve with C; H and I are so disappointed. D, the deaf boy from camp, was at her house. They get along really well. Nothing else happened today: so bye! Uncle D came over and the four of us had a really good talk. I feel amazing about myself!

1/7/84  I went out with H, L & N tonight. It was pretty good. A carfull of 4 guys yelled at H and I: ego boost! We pigged out severely. It was a Thurs. today and H and I skipped last class. I know, I know, naughty, naughty, but I know! Life is wonderful! Praise God!

1/8/84 I sat today and read the four Harlequins H and I bought. I had a real riot. They were cute but I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

1/9/84 Schuller this morning was great. He talked about faith again: it was really directed to church goers this time. He ties things together so well. I really enjoy listening to him and always learn something. I went nuts trying to read Great Expectations. At the moment I hate that book cause it’s driving me nuts. Oma was also over.

1/10/84 Today just whizzed by! I think it was the shortest Tuesday I’ve ever had! H said that too. Each class seemed like a rec. period. It was great. H and I are doing our English seminar on the title, I hope it works. No workout tonight. Darn! But catechism was great. We talked about parent-child relat. as compared to craftsman-apprentice. It brought up a lot of discussion. We really saw the true colours of some of these kids. Sad! I’m having problems with my devotions: I’m not doing them. I have to shape up. But I think I will start slowly by praying every night, then I will go to reading the Bible every night as well. I thanked God heartily for my family: I always will!

1/11/84 Today has been an absolutely amazing day! It was the 1st ISCF meeting of the year and it went so well. We played games & then had an exec. meeting. We made up such amazing topics. We have two blocks of subjects: relationships and faith! Praise God for the ideas! I know that they came from Him because everyone was so enthusiastic. M was over. At the end (5:15) her and C went to T’s and H, P & I went to Orange Julius and had a riot. We then walked to P’s house, getting crazier as we got colder and had hot choc. I then walked with P and P to Uncle D’s cause they were going swimming there. That was really fun and we walked faster because H wasn’t with us. No, that’s mean. School just zipped by again today: it was great. I’ve started to teach myself to type using R’s book. It’s going to be hard but very useful. Young People’s is probably finished cause L and J quit. I’m really sad but I want to go out with a real bang. Like going to JJ’s cottage and getting plastered. Oh well! H and I are really serious about going on a diet because we severely pigged out. I can tell my workouts are working. I can add 5-10 more pounds to my stomach and the pushups are a lot easier! Praise God!

Where to start?

Those entries are an accurate representation of how I remember my mid-teen years: friends, faith, romance novels, my reality always falling short of my ideals. Actually, this sounds like me now. Let’s do a comparison.

Me at 16: I’m having problems with my devotions: I’m not doing them. I have to shape up. But I think I will start slowly by praying every night, then I will go to reading the Bible every night as well.

Me, just a few days ago: I’m trudging along a path that I have created in my brain, and which my brain desperately wants to remain on, whether it’s leading me where I want to go or not. I am Resisting mightily the development of new habits that would be better than some comfortable old ones. And when I manage to head out on a new path, I drift back to the old one way too soon….That’s it for now. I’m not going to try to revolutionize my entire schedule in one fell swoop. If making that change doesn’t bleed over into my bad evening habits, I’ll revisit this process in the new year.


The second entry cracks me up. Was my response to a litany of random boys honking at me, pigging out severely, and skipping school really, “Praise God!” With an exclamation point? It does sound like a fun day, but I can only shake my head at myself.

An Unusual Child

My parents hadn’t attended our church for a few years already; I’d either watch Robert Schuller on the Crystal Cathedral on TV with them, or walk to church by myself and be the final Hart family representative in “our” pew. I’d listen to the sermon. I was even known to go to evening church, mostly because our minister at the time didn’t feel the same pressure to be the “domine” in the black robes behind the podium then, and gave wonderful messages. I attended Young Peoples. I was an officer in the Inner School Christian Fellowship group at my public high school. I was a representative of our church at regional young people’s planning boards. I went on service weekends and to conferences. I believe at this time I also went to a Friday night Bible study (8pm – 12am) with a bunch of Pentecostals and Baptists in a suburb of Toronto. I was a thoroughly churchy girl, with no specific encouragement to be such by my parents. I just loved it. This makes me unusual, I know. And I still love church. Even when it frustrates me, pains me, hurts me or my friends, it gives me joy and comfort, it challenges me.

Still me

While the grownup me uses very few exclamation points in both public and private writing, most everything else in these posts is still part of who I am. I still thank God for my family every day (although I’m less judgmental about people who didn’t have such great families of origin). I’m still involved in churchy matters. I still read romance novels (although not Harlequins; they’re too short). I still love food, movies, God and my friends. I’m still not as regular as I’d like to be with Bible reading. I still like to periodically skip things for no good reason.

So I will give that dear gushy girl of my past a hug. She wouldn’t always be so up.



I Wish There Wasn’t Evidence

Oh, the diaries project is getting bad. For those of you new to this party, this is a series in which I go through my childhood diaries. Verbatim. With you.

I wish there was more evidence of me as a child who read a lot, loved school (except 8th grade geometry), had babysitting and painting jobs, loved her family, went to church even when the rest of her family didn’t, and went on as many young people’s retreats/conferences and service weekends as she could. Those were all true. Yet I get this:

grade 8 graduation


Thurs., Feb. 5, 1981, age 13  Teen Club tonight was a learning experience to say the least. At first, I thought my only friend was K. But then I was hiding with D. and he asked me if I hated his guts. I said no, not necessarily. Then I got the surprise of my life, he said he liked me. I wasn’t expecting that. And on the way home I found out that J. doesn’t hate me. Or he did a good job of covering it up, but I think he likes me (normally of course). Bye-bye.


At least that took place at church. There was spiritual content to the club meetings, I swear. But it was clearly eclipsed in importance by the social angle. I’ll do well to remember this when my kids’ reports on their youth group evenings include nothing about God or Jesus.

According to the evidence, during those early teen years, I mainly wrote diary entries when I had something of a romantic nature to report. The next entry after the above was July 31, 1982, then September 15, 1983, and then August 24, 1984. Yup, I really got around. Even less when you consider that only one of those was about anything actually happening.

Let’s rip the band aid off and not delay another second.

7/31/82, age 14  Haven’t seen ya in over a year or so. Tell you what’s new. I’m going into gr. 10, I don’t like anyone in particular, I’m a Gen. Hosp. and Y&R nut. I’m fat. I’m not really that fat but I’ve graduated to a size 30 jean and weigh a touch over 130. So, I promised myself that in August I would do swim training, and, I suppose I will. I really have to lose weight/fat and get rid of my zits. I have 6 weeks until school and I’m doing to do it!! It’s 11 p.m., R’s at camp and I’m going to dreamland good-bye.

9/15/83, age 15  What a frustrating weekend. JW is a really nice guy. We went for 2 long walks in the total dark, arm in arm. That’s all he did. I think he liked me because we were around each other a lot but we could never really talk. He was too serious anyway. And the ass didn’t even acknowledge my presence that Sunday. (This was at the Kwasind weekend.) Boy was I pissed off. Oh well. This was an almost fling. He never tried anything beyond arm in arm.

16th birthday


8/26/84, age 16  I had a fling today in Michigan! J and I went to the Hope College dance and on the way we met G and another guy. We went to G’s house (he looks GREAT in a towel). Not until Highway to ____ song did we dance and boy did we dance. To make a long story short we ended up making out all over the place: room off the dance floor, dance floor, car…. He gives the impression of tenderness and reverence by touching my hair, face, arms and back softly.


I can’t even tell you how much I hated typing all that. I hate the evidence of how I talked to myself about how “fat” I was, of how much mental energy I wasted, making elaborate plans to solve that non-problem. I did have spectacularly bad skin. Any attempts to address it only made me feel worse about myself, so I alternated between ignoring it and loathing myself for it. Which I suppose is how I’m feeling about those long ago feelings. Come to think of it, I did lose weight before school that year — I got really, really sick, like 104 degree fever sick.

Something more properly momentous happened at that 1983 weekend: it was the first time I took Communion. It was a mixed-denomination retreat for teenagers, and when Sunday came they served Communion. I took it even though I hadn’t done Profession of Faith yet. The blurb in the program invited everyone who believed in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour (it being Canada, we had the “u” in savior) to participate. So I did. I was such a rebel. Actually, it did feel rebellious. That weekend, my heart pounded with nerves both because I was taking Communion when I “shouldn’t have” and because a boy I kind of liked didn’t try to kiss me. Those 2 walks in the dark out in the country, sitting on a dock overlooking an inland lake, no light pollution, falling stars, etc. were worth it, even if they didn’t result in what I wanted.

The 1984 entry sounds like more than it was. J and I went to this guy’s house, but he was our age, so it was his parents’ house. It was show-offy of him to come out in a towel, though, before returning to his room to get dressed. I’m sure he had some reasonable explanation, like that he’d just gotten back from work. And someone tell me why I could make out with a boy I’d just met, yet wouldn’t spell the word “Hell” in my private diary entry? Oh the contradictions.

My family and I listen to a lot of Bill Cosby when we drive anywhere that takes longer than a half-hour. His “75$ Car” bit is mostly about a junker he drove, but he starts out by detailing the relationship with the girl he drove the junker to go see. It has a few lines about kissing that are filled with nostalgia for the days of endless kissing (my favorite line is “kissin’ up on the whatnot shelf”). The days when it was just about kissing and not anything further. At 16, for me, that was all it was about. That and G. did what I call the Sound of Music kiss, which was worth a diary entry.

When Captain von Trapp kissed Maria for the first time out in the gazebo, putting his hands tenderly and reverently on her face, it was imprinted on me as the ideal romantic kiss. I remain impressed that a 16- or 17-year-old boy had that in his repertoire. It’d be almost 10 years before a boy did that again — and I married him.

So, people, throw that one in now and then. It’s a lovely kiss. Maybe enough to inspire a diary entry even now.


Diaries: Ordinary Teenager

What do teenagers do? Sleep in, watch a lot of movies and TV, and obsess about their appearance and social relationships. Yup.

1/3/81 Today I watched football, washed my hair and returned some overdue books. My hair finally went the way I wanted it to. Then we had a speedy dinner  with Oma and then went to Ordinary People. It’s a really neat movie. It was really good. A mature movie, excellent acting. I really enjoyed it. Bye-bye.

1/4/81 I was asleep ’till 11:00 a.m. so I missed half of the day. I saw the movie Seems Like Old Times for the 2nd time. I think it’s really funny. Then I watched skating. Two people skated separately then got marks together. There were 3 10’s given. One to Dorothy Hamel and someone else. The other two were given to Peggy Flemming & Toller Cranston. Tomorrow we go back to school. Bye-bye.

2/5/81 Teen Club tonight was a learning experience to say the least. At first, I thought my only friend was K. But then I was hiding with D. and he asked me if I hated his guts. I said no, not necessarily. Then I got the surprise of my life, he said he liked me. I wasn’t expecting that. And on the way home I found out that J. doesn’t hate me. Or he did a good job of covering it up, but I think he likes me (normally of course). Bye-bye.

Indeed, ordinary teenager stuff. I remember the February incident. D. is the boy I loved when I was 9. Even though I was all of 13 here, he still made me feel all fluttery and terrified. On this day, we were either playing Sardines, a fun variant of Hide and Go Seek (coincidentally, that my kids learned from their Canadian cousins this month), or Hide and Go Seek in the dark. In Sardines, one person hides and everyone else seeks. When a seeker finds the hider, they hide with him or her, until everyone is squeezed in like sardines and the last person finds everyone.

D. and I were hiding in a supply closet at church. I, true to form, as soon as he entered the closet, stumbled over church decorating supplies in my haste to get deeper into the closet, as far away from him as I could, something that could be mistaken for distaste, but was more like the terror of a mouse when the cat is near. I’m ridiculously overstating it even now.

What’s curious about this is the question of how to use these memories of teenage crushes in my writing of the David book. Being a teenager in 1,000 BCE was not the same as being a teenager now. They were essentially adults. If I had been born then, I probably would’ve been married off at 13, not lazing about thinking about who liked me. Boys were working in the fields since the age of 10 or so, although they didn’t marry until the end of their teenage years or later.

Still, there had to be some of the same emotional immaturity teenagers now have. In my telling of the story of how David came to marry Saul’s daughter Michal, Saul throws a dinner to officially introduce David to the rest of his family. At this point, David has served in the army with Saul and his sons who are of age, but since Saul clears the room when David plays for him, and since any smart king would keep his young daughters away from the army, David has only caught glimpses of the daughters, maybe heard them from out a window, and probably heard servants gossip about them during his years of living in the fortress. Just enough contact to know that Merab is a pill and Michal is intriguing enough that when the offer from the king turns from marrying Merab to marrying Michal, David doesn’t fight quite as hard against it. Here are some snippets in which I try to uncover some teenage romantic angst (David is 18).

Did the king order him to wear the cloak so he’d look marriageable tonight? Or was it a not-so-subtle signal that Saul would try to kill him again if he didn’t cooperate? Knowing the king, it was probably both.

The cloak made all the spots on the tunic stand out, so David wrapped it tightly enough that less than a handbreadth of the tunic was visible. He secured it with his own belt, which was actually Jonathan’s. It looked so disreputable next to the linen, it was a joke: you can dress up a goat, but you can’t invite it to dinner unless it’s dead.

He tugged at the lapel to smooth it against his chest and fingered the embroidery. The sandstorm in his stomach made small, swirling eddies that died down when he breathed deeply. He grabbed his lyre and trudged up the hill to the city proper.


Not singing words was odd, but the rest of it was fine with him. Sitting in a corner and playing his lyre was something he could do with his eyes closed, so he did. As usual, joy and peace sunk into his soul while he played. He couldn’t keep silent, so he sang sounds, his voice bending and sliding and adapting to his mood.

He opened his eyes a sliver to gauge whether they were enjoying the music. Michal was watching him through the curtain of her hair, out of the corner of her eyes. His skin went hot and prickly and his throat closed up. Now that he’d caught her looking at him, he couldn’t stop himself from checking to see whether she still was. After the fourth time, he shifted so she wasn’t in his sightline.


At breakfast the next day, David stirred his leban. The paleness of the yoghurt and wheat nestled in the warm brown bowl reminded him of Michal, her creamy cloak next to her nutty skin.

Oh, I’m so glad I’m not a teenager anymore. I have one in the house, though, so I’m going through those years again, whether I want to or not.


Diaries: Firsts

The beginning of my teen years. Romance gets less vague, but no less confusing. I become obsessed with the size of my person. And there are firsts.

1/1/1981  Well, the first day of 1981, and it’s a great one. I spent the whole day watching football. The Cotton and Rose Bowls. A few days ago I went on my first date. It was with T.M. We saw a movie and that was it. It was fun, even though I felt funny. I knocked at the door and L. answered and said she wasn’t expecting me. When I told her T. called she stood as if paralyzed, it was funny. Today marks the first day of starting the Pritikin Diet. I think it’s going to be fun. I met Rob, he’s lots of fun and I really like him. Bye-bye!

My first date was with the older brother of a friend of mine. I was just thirteen. A couple of months before the first date, but unremarked on in any diary, was the first time a boy told me he thought I was beautiful. It was T.M. I was sitting at their kitchen table with my friend, L., and he walked into the kitchen, leaned over so his face was level with mine, and blurted it out. I made a snarky comment in return, and he replied, “No, really.” I was that squirmy little mix of embarrassed, pleased, and confused about how to proceed so I brushed it off again. It wasn’t the best timing, but it was a big deal to me.

That same week, I happened to read an advice column in Seventeen magazine about the importance of accepting compliments — that it’s rude to the complimenter to disagree with them. Which made sense. T. wouldn’t have said that to me in front of his sister if he didn’t mean it. I decided to always accept compliments, and, in general, I have. I might deflect a little bit, depending on what’s said, but a compliment is a lovely thing, and “thank you” is easy to say. Not as easy is believing the compliment.

I do still remember L.’s reaction to seeing me at the door for her brother. Uncomfortable. I also remember wearing light blue eyeshadow and mascara that smudged under my eyes by the time I got across town to their house. I scrubbed it away while I waited for my friend to fetch him. Why I was the one who had to take subway and streetcar to his house when he was the one who invited me, I don’t know, although I suspect it had something to do with wanting to avoid alerting any member of my family to the happening of this date. Did I even tell my mother? I could easily have said I was going to a movie with L.

I also don’t know which movie we saw, but here are a few possibilities: Nine to Five, Seems Like Old Times (with Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn, Charles Grodin), or Popeye (with Robin Williams). I saw each of these in theatres, and on January 4, I note that I saw Seems Like Old Times for the second time.

The comment about the Pritikin Diet is a sign of my family’s times. My father had been diagnosed with high cholesterol, and his father had died a few years before this of a heart attack, so he became part of the clinical trials for statins and we went on the Pritikin diet. This is also the first of  a depressing number of comments about diets and fatness in my diaries.

1/2/1981  I went to Esther’s house and helped her babysit N. He’s so easy to babysit. Esther and I made a chocolate cake with really thick choc. icing. We also ate chocolate syrup. That’s called cheating on the diet. It was freezing cold. I had dinner at Est’s. It’s not pleasant. Esther and K. acted up and were sent to their rooms. That’s why I went home directly after dinner. Bye-bye.

My cousin Esther was only 39 days younger than me, and we spent a lot of time together as kids. It pains me how much of our lives and energy we wasted feeling fat and then researching and going on ever more insane diets. Once, at the cottage, we decided we’d only eat 500 calories a day for the whole week and exercise every day. The first day, we walked for miles and miles, stopping only to suck on some bitter crab apples, which we debated because of the unplanned calories. When we got back to the cottage, legs shaking, her brother was eating liverwurst on saltines. In reaction to the ridiculous deprivation, we gorged ourselves.

There was nothing wrong with how either of us looked. I wish I could’ve seen myself accurately, but that belief that if only I were a leeetle bit thinner, things would be better won’t entirely leave me, even now. My rational brain knows the facts and likes the size I am now, likes the things my body can still do, but a little dark corner of my brain makes me compare myself to the itty-bitty women at the gym and tells me I’m enormous. Which is no more ridiculous now than it was when I was 13.

Some firsts are good, some not so good. Anyone else want to share?


Diaries: Unexpected Sweetness

We’re whipping through the years, now. There was one entry each for 1979 and 1980. One is so earnest and dear and the other makes me cry. In a developmental note, I was no longer writing in block capital letters, but in lowercase, loopy cursive.

December 22, 1979   I have to pay better attention to my father. He is getting a lonely look on his face.

I have no idea what was happening. It was close to Christmas, which was a time my dad loved. He went all out but did his main shopping on Christmas Eve after work, which cut it close because that was the night we opened presents. He’d come home laden with bags and head straight upstairs to his attic office.

I believe 1979 was the first year my dad got one wish: we had oil fondue for dinner that night. My mother wouldn’t do it until my brother was 10 and she felt we could safely handle a pot of boiling oil on the table.

After dinner, Dad would disappear upstairs again, wrap everything in newspaper, write on the tags that they were from Santa (including the gifts he bought himself), and bring them all down. We’d tease him about the packages being from Santa. He’d insist. We’d get down to business.

I also don’t know whether I did pay better attention to him. The diary is silent on this. I hope I did.

April 24, 1980      I saw the movie “Lovey” today. It was fabulous! Today, I also wrote my first french letter. It was fun. I always seem to enjoy those things. I enjoy almost everything. God gave us so much to enjoy! To me, my understanding and love of God is growing. And when I pray, it is almost always from my heart. Almost every day I thank God for my parents and teacher, they are so wonderful.

When I read the above, I was puzzled why I’d been watching that movie. After a little research, I figured out that it wasn’t the film version of the Judy Blume book, Forever, her book about “going all the way,” which my class read avidly, especially the pages that had been pre-folded-down for us.

Not at all. Lovey: A Circle of Children was a 1978 TV movie about a teacher of autistic children. Here’s the description from Answers.com:

Lovey: A Circle of Children, Part Two is that TV movie rarity: a sequel that is every bit as terrific as the original. Jane Alexander repeats her role from 1977’s A Circle of Children as a volunteer teacher specializing in autistic and emotionally disturbed children. Hannah (Kris McKeon) is an 11 year old child nicknamed “Lovey.” The girl is given to loud, unexpected and quite violent tantrums, and for a long time it looks as though Ms. Alexander will never get through to her. The social worker’s efforts to help Lovey put a severe strain on her off-hours love life. Despite the soap-opera trappings, Lovey: A Circle of Children shines with the light of truth from first frame to last, with Jane Alexander matching the brilliance of her earlier performance in the same role. Like A Circle of Children, this sequel was based on the autobiographical novel by Mary MacCracken. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

I remember this movie: the calm tones of the teacher, the tantrums of the girl. I know I’m not the only girl who went through a phase of devouring books and movies about kids with developmental or emotional issues. All that nobility and persistence. And tears. I’m certain it made me cry, then. It’d make me cry even more now, I’m sure.

I wonder what I was doing when I wasn’t praying from my heart? Was I just rehearsing words? Trying to pray before bed and falling asleep in the middle?

I like thinking about that twelve-year-old girl who got really into things and wanted to love and understand God was grateful to God for almost everything. I’ve gone through intense times of gratitude since then, and they’re wonderful.

The year we moved back to Grand Rapids from NYC was another such time. We decided to move, my husband got a job that was a promotion in his field, we bought a car, I got pregnant, and we bought a house, all in the space of three months. And then in December I got to dance as Mary in a Lessons & Carols service while I was pregnant — one of the best experiences of my life. I can’t say I was a ray of sunshine all the time, but I was deeply, deeply grateful to God for all of it. Then the child arrived and exhaustion and insecurity took residence for awhile.

You know, I still get enthusiastic about things. I still want to love and understand God. And I’m often grateful.

However, I am not feeling too sunny about sharing the upcoming diaries. The excruciating high school years — exclamation points galore, gushing, soul-bearing, ridiculous behavior. That we all go through it doesn’t make it any better….

Diaries: October, 1978

I was not a consistent diarist. The prior entries for 1978 are from January. The next ones are from October. At least I’d write a few entries in a row before losing steam. Actually, this is something I still struggle with: full of good intentions but not so full of sticktoitiveness. I get more disciplined as I get older, but it’s still a “growth area.”

10/7/1978   Today at modern dance we learned how to use the balls.

I loved that class. It was actually rhythmic gymnastics, which I was really good at, but my cousin (who I took the class with) didn’t take it the second year and I was too shy to take it by myself, so I dropped it. I wish I hadn’t. I had the flexibility and gracefulness that the sport requires. Coulda been a contenda! Can’t do anything about that now. At least I still use those skills many Sundays when I take out the big ribbon on a stick to wave during praise and worship. Although I got it tangled around my neck once and I tied such a multi-knot in the air that I had to stop and undo it this past week, I try to make patterns with the ribbon that go with the words of the song.

And, out of all the things that I’m discovering are still an issue for me, these 30 years later, this one is not: I’m not afraid to be really good at something. It isn’t considered very feminine to boast, but I’m going to do it: I’m really good at Zumba. My spot is in the front line, right by the mirror, and I dance the living daylights out of every number. I came in almost late this morning, and when two other regulars saw me, they said, “Oh good, here comes our teacher,” which we had a laugh about. My theory is that I’m not snotty or obnoxious about being good at it, I’m not falsely modest although I do highlight when something is hard for me, and I take such obvious joy in it that nobody can feel I’m lording my Zumbabilities over them. Also, I just plain love it, and I’m not letting anything get in the way.

10/8/1978   I felt so stupid standing at the church doors handing out newsletters. Boy, is Mrs. M. ever pregnant. It looks like she’s about to burst. I went over to E.’s house, we listened to Grease twice. It was freezing outside, no wonder R. wore mittens to Church. Near the cottage it snowed. Here it rained and hailed.

Oh, the self-consciousness of the tween. No idea what the newsletters were for. And I don’t remember noticing adults all that much, so Mrs. M. really must’ve been ready to have that baby. This is the problem with trying to tell a self-conscious child not to worry about it because nobody is looking at you: they often are. It was apparently ridiculous enough to wear mittens to church in early October that it became one of a half dozen diary entries for the year.

Conversations between my daughter and her friend bear this out, too: it’s all about the other people in their classes. So maybe I need to revise the advice, turn it to: “Whether you do nothing or something, some people will love it, some people will talk smack about it [shrug]. So you might as well do something.” Not that anyone will listen to that, either, but a mother’s got to try.

10/9/1978   There wasn’t any school for us today. Guess why? It was Thanksgiving. Oma and Tanta Re came over for the turkey dinner. After supper we saw some slides. Most of them were from Holland. Today was chilly and if you were going to be outside for a while, you had to wear a jacket.

10/10/1978  Today was Guides. I showed “Sparky” my stamp book and she said she would send a tester.

Let’s set aside the nod to the expectation that other people would be reading this with the “Guess why?” Although that is happening now, it’s silly in a ten year old.

I think these two entries are connected. A relative from overseas brought me a huge envelope of international stamps for my collection. It could very well have been Tante Re. I still have the stamp book. I have pinned a post on using stamps in art, and now that I see these all again, it makes me want to take them out of their little book and put them on the wall.

And now I’m going to give ten-year-old me a hug. She was a sweet little thing.

Diaries: Romance Edition

I will have a 10-year-old daughter for only one more day, so, in her honor, I’m going to utterly embarrass myself and reveal my romantic obsession at her age: D., the older brother of my friend and classmate E. Although we were two grades apart, we went to a tiny (and I do mean tiny) alternative Christian school, so we were in the same classroom. (Note that while I identify everyone else by initial, I use my cousin Esther’s full name because she is no longer with us to object to my using her name.)

He was the perfection of boyhood and I fell in love immediately upon seeing him. I liked him for years. Years. Here we are sledding (I was in heaven but also freaked out enough to maintain a reasonable distance between us):









Fri. 2/3/78 D. gave me 40 cents to spend. Now everybody’s teasing us. I’m glad. I’m expecting a call any second.

Mon. 2/6/78 Today all the grade 5’s had a fight. It’s sort of O.K. It all started when D. broke Esther’s radio. This is what a note said, “If you don’t get E. and I this and that you have to kiss Natalie.” Just before D. got on the subway he said he’d phone me. Esther just phoned me. [I later added: He didn’t.]

Tues. 2/7/78 Today Esther had this silly plan for me to spy on her and D. She makes me so jealous because every day she has something to say about D. I wouldn’t be surprised if D. hated me. If he does hate me I’ll just love him the same, and more. Some day all my love life is going to be ruined because of her. Today my stupid parents wouldn’t let us see the guests. All we had for supper was a tiny bowl of soup.

Fri. 2/10/78 Today was so exciting. D. walked me home.

Oh, the drama. The insecurity. The blowing tiny gestures all out of proportion. All my love life ruined….

I remember the day when D. was going to have to kiss me. This was a terrifying possibility, so I shoved aside the three-seater couch in our lounge and barricaded myself behind it so nobody could get near me. Although perhaps being kissed in such a publicly pressured way would have saved me from years of pining. My 3rd grade boyfriend kissed me on the landing of the exterior steps while everyone was running up to our classroom after lunch and it was the end of a beautiful thing.

We’d been together for what felt like ages, but was probably less than a month, holding sweaty little hands during lunch and class movies and arranging to stand next to each other when the class walked in the hallways so we could hold hands. I ignored the teasing and thought we were perfectly happy, but his buddies pressured him into the smooch. Embarrassing me so in front of the whole class was enough to tell me he wasn’t for me. That was it. The red-haired boy who pulled my chair out for me every day when I came to class stepped in to provide balm for my wounded pride. Although that only lasted until my birthday pool party, when he dunked me nine times, making me gasp and gulp water those last few times. That was it for him.

With D., I was not so fickle. I liked him from age 9 until my early teen years. It never developed into anything more real than vague compliments and flirting, either, which means I have a sweet memory of that crush. There’s very little reality to intrude.

In a non-romance moment, I sounded then just as silly as my kids do now when they get incensed at parental action. It’s kind of cute.

Anyone want to share embarrassing personal stories so I don’t feel alone?