I came home from a bad weekend. You know the kind—restless, slow, and somehow exhausting. Every so often, I waste a whole weekend agonizing over every decision I’ve ever made. I question whether I have one smidgen of talent and contemplate giving up altogether. So I came home from one of those weekends to find them lying by the front door: my high school journals.
I thought at first it must be a sick joke. I’d been thinking about them lately and semi hoping I’d never see them again. But no. There they were, double-wrapped and pristine as though cryogenically sealing my embarrassing teenage mind. For whatever reason, my high school first sent them to my dad, who then had one of his secretaries forward them to me. I haven’t spoken to my father in months, so there was the initial pang of seeing a package from him, but that’s another story.
You have to know something about the atmosphere in which I wrote these journals. The school I went to, nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley, made up of half boarders and half day students, sent us on intense backpacking trips. Not day hikes through manicured woods, but weeklong treks through the Sierras, each one of us carrying 40-pound packs on our backs. We’d spend days hiking from one campsite to another, coming up with games to keep our minds occupied and off the blisters on our feet. Did we all have drug problems to warrant a tech-free, toilet-free week in nature? No. Were we privileged? Very.
Toward the end of the trip, we’d have anywhere from a few hours to a full day left alone to self-reflect in solitude. Because we were still in school after all, we’d have our journals to write in and prompts to address. And because I was one of those straight-A types who couldn’t turn down extra credit if I wanted to, I answered those prompts like there was some right answer.
Where do you see yourself in four years when you receive this journal?
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Because I wanted to get an 4.0 GPA in life, naturally I wanted to graduate early from the best college, be a lawyer, make lots of money, and change the world. I was sixteen at the time, so you can imagine how little I knew. How could I know that by 24 I’d end up living with the love of my life, broke, and scared shitless? If my life had gone according to plan, I’d be alone by now—conventionally successful, possibly—but very much alone. I know now better than I did then that you can only plan and prepare so much before those expectations get in the way of living. These days, I exist one hundred percent outside of my comfort zone and hopefully stronger for it.
Still, there’s something unsettling about revisiting the dreams I used to have. I distinctly remember feeling insincere as I wrote them. As I wrote down everything I hoped to achieve in my too-perfect script, something felt off. My own words read like a rigid instruction manual. I couldn’t relax and write something honest even if it was just for my eyes only. I remember feeling sad about that, that I couldn’t be comfortable with myself. I remember being aware of that much but unequipped with the tools or experience to do anything about it.
To clarify, I did not have a great time in high school. A straight-A student, student government president, and conventionally pretty, most people probably assumed I had all my shit together. The truth is I felt more like an anxious butterball of fear and self-loathing. Or, who knows! Maybe they saw right through my polished veneer to the lonely little dweeb I really was.
As of today, I’ve strayed so far from that little dweeb’s plans. I’m not braving a lucrative, demanding corporate career until I finally decide to call myself a writer. I’m leaping into that right now with no money and no concrete plan. Maybe there’s some small part of me that worries my little me might be right. Maybe I should have settled into something more stable and put away my dreams for when I had a retirement plan and a responsible amount of savings to fall back on.
I’ll admit it feels weird to be threatened by my younger self. That naïve, arrogant girl who thinks SAT scores actually matter? That’s not me. That must be some other girl. I feel sorry for her. I don’t envy her in the same way I hope to look back ten years from now and not envy current myself. I guess that’s the way it goes if you’re doing anything right.
What do you think, dear reader? Should I read my old high school journals or not? Or, better yet, who cares? I could burn them for symbolic purposes and I’d only be superficially changed. My mind will continue to construct stories that suit me better in the present than they did in the past. The hard part is pretending my old mindset doesn’t still have a hold on my new one.