Stardust Memories

I have decades worth of journals I never read. Today, curious about what I used to write about and if I would recognize myself, I randomly pulled a ragged blue spiral-bound notebook off a shelf.

Neatly written on the second yellowing page is December 2, 1975. The final entry is April 8, 1976. This was the winter and early spring of the last year of high school and also of any semblance of ‘family life’ with my nuclear family. I’d spent most of my childhood growing up in apartments mostly in the Bronx with my 3 siblings and parents and a dog that bit. The truncated version of our family – my parents, one of my brothers, the vicious dog and I – moved when I was 15 from our apartment on Broadway to a white, wealthy suburb in Connecticut. A few months after my last entry in this journal, my father unexpectedly left my mother and moved out of our lives. At the end of that summer, my mother sold the house and moved to a wall-to-wall carpeted apartment in Stamford. I went to college and on to my life from there.

All entries in this journal are in only lower case letters. No doubt an E. E. Cummings inspired affectation. I wrote (of course) bad poetry with apparent ease, often about the stars. I was observant, scrawling pages of overheard conversations heard on the train to NYC or in the noisy school cafeteria. I noted a school trip to see Sam Waterston play Hamlet and went to a Joni Mitchell concert in New Haven. I went on a few college visits to snowy New England towns that I wrote about half-heartedly because I had grander fantasies of traveling the world. I wrote that all I wanted was, “… a hunk of time for me — for romance, to read, paint and draw bad picture and write bad poetry.” Yes, I’d still like that.

While mostly these pages are excruciating, I appreciate how often my entries became poetry-efforts. Of course they’re sappy and bad but there was a fluidity to how I wrote down my thoughts and images that that feels true to the creative process of diving in. When did I decide I was no good and should stop? Now I rarely read and never attempt to write poetry telling myself it’s hard and I don’t understand it. That it was a phase. And yes, I think it is a phase that young creatives go through – bravely trying out different mediums, digging our way to the soul. I gave up on that one – probably because I thought I wasn’t good enough. Squashing life experiences pile up as do demands on our time and energy and we lose the sweet momentum of youth, don’t we?

I was busy. Besides school and literary magazines and school play productions, I waitressed in a tiny Indian restaurant. It was just the cook and me and while I worked there, we were friends. Singh told me that he was from a small village in the Himalayan mountains. He’d been living in the US for a few years when I met him, his wife remained in India and no longer wished to join him. He had a daughter. He sat on a step-stool in the kitchen exhaling smoke from one of his endless cigarettes, (the 1970s – people smoked everywhere) he told me he couldn’t remember what she looked like any more and in 3 years, a child changes. Singh was always sad and drank and smoked his sorrow. At night he blasted the Average White Band as we cleaned up.

Between delivering plates of curry, I filled my blue notebook. I wrote about the customers. One of them courted me — successfully, writing love notes on corners he tore off the yellow placemats. These days, he could have been arrested: he was 24 and I’d just turned 17 and I was willing and smitten.

However I was not interested in the teacher, the advisor for the literary magazine I worked on, who showed up on my doorstep. “I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop by and say hello and offer you a creative writing deal.” He wanted me to go to a bar with him “for a coke” to discuss some writing and would I edit it? Next, he is in the living room. I perch on the edge of the couch – he sits next to me and reaches over to move my hair out of my eyes and asks if I’d ever heard of Veronica Lake? No, I say, grabbling my hair away, hands shaking, biting the skin on my fingernails wondering when either of my parents would get home. I remember his breath smelled of liquor and he took off his glasses to show me a scar on his face.”What’s your weekend schedule? I was hoping we could get together and you would read this piece I’d written.” In my memory, he is old – in my journal I wrote that at least 45 years old. Old – when you’re 17. I answer him again with a NO, I have to work and have loads of stuff to do for school. “Where do you work – should I come and eat there?” No – it’s awful. He notices the piano that no one plays. He gets up, squeezing my leg before sitting on the bench, running his fingers across the keys before banging out what somehow I knew was “Stardust”. I see my mother’s car pull into the driveway. I’m shaking and my eyes blur with tears. My mother comes up the stairs of the split level and I give her a horrified look. No surprise registers on her face, instead, as if she’s heard her cue, she begins to sing. “Though I dream in vain
In my heart it will remain, my stardust melody!” I don’t remember any discussion with my mother about how strange and wrong this was and the teacher never approached me again. Things like this simply happened back then. Apparently my mother thought so too.

Throughout the pages, scribbled notes of homework assignments, history readings and math assignments and this: “Psych. – brown bag. one side showing you as you’re expected to be, 2nd side – you as you think others see you and on the inside – as you want to be or think you are.” I wish I could look at that bag now. Who did 16-17 year old me think she was?

What compelled me to write things down over the years? I used to fear that until I wrote it, whatever happened did not exist. Floating at the top of one page, perhaps from my mind or read somewhere – this: “Writing is my need to rework life – or at least say something right.”

16 thoughts on “Stardust Memories”

  1. your are making me brave enough to look at my journals and find the poetic promise, avoiding the sappy ever constant “falling in love” with some squirt who inspired poetry but didn’t even know who I was. Nice Tricia.

  2. What a terrific post and moment of self-reflection. Keep looking back. I know it can be excruciating, but accepting and loving your young self is…well, key to healing and to becoming wiser. Loved this.

  3. Wow. So vivid and so awfully true. Of course I can relate. A long lost co-worker who harassed me until I caved, this AFTER he married my friend, got in touch a few years ago, through LinkedIn no less, to tell me that first marriage failed, after three kids, and he was in another one and feeling bored. Well, he was right, he was a bore.And this time, I told him so.

  4. Love this. It’s amazing how much remains of our earlier selves, when we look back, and how much has changed. Sometimes I remember myself differently, and my journals put me straight. But I’m so much kinder to that young woman now…

  5. Wow Tricia. This is powerful. You’ve made me want to dig up my high school journals too….and you equip me with the knowledge and forgiveness that they will be sappy, embarrassing, and full of poetry. I was taken aback by your encounter with the teacher who came to your HOUSE! Beyond unnerving and inappropriate…and you were strong in holding your ground, but thank you Mom for a timely arrival! As to the paper bag exercise, that is really something to think about. Sadly, I think I know what I would’ve said: First side: well-behaved with good grades. Second side: mediocre. Inside: Reflective, striving to be more than what I’d written on the outside of the bag. Thank you for such a thoughtful piece that sparks reflections! XXOO

  6. Tricia, thank you for sharing yourself so openly! I remember Singh and the Indian Restaurant – I worked there as well but can’t remember the name of the place on Main street in Westport (Nature’s Kitchen?) I remember driving him home often at the end of a long shift. I love the picture of you posted here….just how I remember you. Long braided hair, big beautiful blue eyes and always alert and bright! There are so many stories like yours from teachers we trusted and liked and were betrayed by. And we never told anyone. We’ve come a long way baby! Love you dear friend. Val

  7. What a coincidence! I, too, recently went through my old journals. Mostly as a way of reminding myself of the ever present pain and conflict that has tainted my marriage (we have recently decided to divorce.) Journals are an invaluable window into past emotions and states of mind – ones we may wish to camouflage or forget later on for various reasons. One of the worst experiences of my life was having a jilted boyfriend burn ten years worth of my diaries when I was just twenty-two. I’ve continued to mourn that lost decades later. There is no way of bringing back the sense of naivete and innocence that I’m sure were evidenced in those pages. I feel like I’ve lost access to that part of my life.

  8. ugh. That’s awful! I’ve had a similar experience – years ago but it still makes me feel sick to think about it. The desire to obliterate – us? Sending you virtual hugs in navigating your exit. xxx

  9. Your old journals are treasures, even if they sometimes bring back dark memories. That teacher was despicable. Your spirit is gold.

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