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Dear Diary Ch. 01

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2004-08-31

The last time I remember having used or even seen my old diary was about four years ago, after my husband and I got married and found a new home. It was a new start for me; I did not feel the need to have to mark down every single event of my married life.   I was on a path into a new territory, and I would remember everything. Every minute, day, and occurrence, every happy moment, probably every bad moment, too, everything would get imprinted in my memory. Or so I thought.
 
Years went by and I started thinking of my good old diary again. At first, I believed I had misplaced it in one of the moving boxes and since there were still a few that have not been emptied even after all this time, I believed it still might be there. Of course the old memories did not escape me, but I wanted to refresh them. I wanted to remember how my mind used to work and perceive life. I really yearned to see how much I have forgotten and how good my selective memory had become. Mike always claimed that I was an expert at remembering only what I wanted to.
 
I have to admit that despite loving Mike more than I had ever loved anyone in my life, there are moments when I daydream back into the past and think of previous relationships. Later on I might dismiss those thoughts as ludicrous, but in times of dwelling, my mood is dangerously aloof and should I have an opportunity to do it all over again with one or two lovers from my past life right there and then, I probably would.
 
Last week, we had decided that due to sharing our little home with three dogs and two cats, it was becoming too crowded, and we agreed to remodel the closed-in patio, which now served as a storage and dumping place and rebuild it into an additional room. We were to have a garage sale and get rid of as much junk as possible, and if lucky, make some money on the side, too.
 
Besides our workout equipment, which basically served as a dust collector, old clothes that were too small or too old to wear but still too dear to be discarded, some atrocious furniture, which we were simply too lazy to throw out, I had found three boxes from the time of our initial move, packed to the brim with books.

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I dug into the boxes with great pleasure, as I had hoped to find books that I might want to re-read, and probably some that were never even cracked open, bought on one of my impulsive binges and stored for the later times when I would have more time to devote to them.
 
As I was emptying the last of the boxes containing old sci-fi novels, which I seriously suspected would be the first ones to be designated as items for sale the following weekend, to my great amazement, I saw my old diary, it’s cover faded and with traces of coffee stains, laying on the bottom, dusty and alone. My heart jumped with excitement and I eagerly took it out of its prolonged imprisonment, pressing it to my chest and closing my eyes in silent gratitude. It had an odd smell of staleness, the texture of its cover familiar to my fingers.
 
I had kept a meticulous diary when it was first given to me, after which it lay discarded for years. It had been a gift from my mother, who brought it from her honeymoon in Italy after she married my step dad George. It was a combination of an address book, diary and a notebook, the size of a big paperback and just as thick, and if I was to use it as a chronicle of my young life, I could have probably squeezed in a few years, because as a teenager I had allowed myself very little fun and didn’t date at all.
 
The cover of the book was a mixture of soft pastels; peach and pink running into pistachio green and baby blue. In the middle of the cover was an upright oval circle with the cartoon picture of Holly Hobbie, who at the time was the rave among young girls, just as Pokemon might be for kids today, or Jessica Simpson for the teenagers.
 
On my book, Holly is wearing a big blue sunbonnet and a patchwork pinafore, happily strolling through the meadow with a wicker basket hanging over her arm filled with what looked like small field flowers. The sweet innocence of the girl had reminded me of my early years with heavy nostalgia. The image itself made me miss my school friends, most of who still live in a small town thousands of miles away from Chicago where I had moved when I began college never to return. It made me miss my mom, who had since remarried for the third time, my ex-step dad George and his quiet kindness, my sisters Hope and Alison, who were always in my hair and on my case, feeling that the simple fact of being older than me allowed them to do so.
 
As I started college, I again made use of my diary, carefully documenting all my escapades, mainly with guys, turning my innocent little diary into an erotic confessionary, always terrified that a pair of uninvited eyes might take a peek.
 
I placed the book in my lap and opened it, immediately cringing in embarrassment.

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   Over twenty years ago when I was fourteen, I had a huge crush on Rick Springfield, and his image was the first I saw. Actually, it must have been some thirty images of him, plastered all over the first two pages. Black and white pictures from the newspapers, colored ones from the magazines, overlapping in a shabby-chic array, which is very tiresome to the eye. Rick Springfield wearing a red leather jacket, Rick in a black T-shirt, Rick at a concert, caught in midair, kicking his legs to one side, his head flung back, clutching on a guitar, his long hair waving wildly, Rick on a motorcycle, Rick in doctor’s scrubs from the General Hospital, young Rick, older Rick, Rick wearing glasses, Rick wearing shades… Rick, Rick, Rick.
 
“Yuck!” I giggled. What was I thinking to be this obsessed by somebody who was not a reality, at least not to me?   No wonder I never dated properly!
 
I turned the page only to find more Rick, now becoming seriously annoyed over my own stupidity.
 
“Glad I’m over that one!” I chuckled, finally reaching the double page with no Rick’s pictures on it. Instead, the left side held two yearly calendars, 1981 and 1982, the opposite continued with calendars of 83 and 84, each one occupying half a page. There were no spaces for writing, just numbers; for each year, three months in a row, four in a column, Saturdays and Sundays in grey, weekdays in black and holidays in red. Many of the festive days I didn’t recognize and it dawned on me that they must have been Italian, therefore unfamiliar.
 
In May, June and July of 1981 I appeared to have been very conscientious, carefully circling five or six days in a row of each month with a red pen, obviously the days of my periods. After July however, there was no more markings until September of 1983, and they continued for another four months after which seizing altogether. I have never been consistent and disciplined with anything, even the tracking of my own periods. That is why I had so many scares later in life when I thought I was in my “safe” days and had had unprotected sex, only to sweat a number of sleepless nights, praying to God in whom I didn’t believe anyway, promising I’d do anything, just please, please, PLEASE, don’t let me be pregnant. The thought that I might be chancing something worse than pregnancy never occurred to me in those days.

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I shook my head in disbelief and turned another page. Here, more detailed calendars began; the ones where each month takes the whole page, each day in a margin of its own, so that one can scribble in notes and reminders. Again, May and June of 81 were full, written all over with my awkward, still childish hand, using different colors, from red, blue and black, to green and purple, which at the time were the peak of sophistication for a teenager. Math test; History test; Chemistry test; English and German tests in one day. I wondered how I ever managed to keep my sanity with all this testing forced upon my obviously completely immature brain.
 
The rest of the notes were inevitably pertaining to birthdays, a very important event in a young girl’s life, especially her own. Danielle BD – January 23 rd ; Daria BD – March 9 th ; Cynthia BD – March 23 rd ; Bo-Jane BD – October 2 nd ; Janie BD – October 11 th ; Zora BD – October 22 nd ; Tania BD – October 24 th and then again 25 th . I was obviously not certain when Tania’s birthday was, and to this day I still don’t now. Mom BD – October 26 th ; Dad BD – December 25 th . Surprisingly, there were no notes on when my sisters’ birthdays were. They must have pissed me off enough not to include them with the rest of the gang in my precious book.
 
And of course, there was my birthday: Nikkie BD – April 4 th . Why I had to mark my own special day like that I cannot explain. It’s just something a teenage girl does. Call it egocentric but I’m almost willing to bet that if you peep into a diary of your little sister, your daughter or even in your own, in case you’ve saved it from a long time ago, theirs or your name would be proudly written in the margin which represented the happy day, probably using one of the cool colors, like green or purple.

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   To my defense, I have also included names of the celebrities of whom I knew shared my birthday: Maya Angelou, Anthony Perkins, Christine Lahti and Muddy Waters. I was always most proud to point out that Miss Angelou was born on the same day as me! Muddy I only knew by name, but have gathered early in life that his music had made him a legend of blues, - or was it jazz? - and therefore decided to include him, too. Again, let’s not forget the teenage egocentricity.
 
I also wondered over the need to include the ‘BD’ after each name. Even after all these years, having missed some twenty celebrations of each of the people that I had so faithfully marked down, I still know their birthdays by heart. I might not always bother to call or send a card, but I do remember them on their special days. I glanced over August and cringed. Of course I couldn’t have missed Rick Springfield and his BD on the 23 rd !
 
After flicking through the margined calendars – there were only years 81 and 82, obviously book makers were hoping that a girl would either get too bored with that one and buy a new one, or worse still be so productive that she would completely fill it out and would absolutely need another – the part with addresses followed.
 
Half a page was devoted to each letter, X, Y and Z sharing the same half. Obviously, there are not too many people in the Italian world with first or last names beginning with those letters. My XYZ box only held one name, address and phone number – Zora. The friend with BD on October 22 nd .
 
I don’t remember drinking heavily at the tender age of fourteen, but should one browse through my address book, one would be certain that I had a serious problem with departmentalizing. I could tell which names were scribbled in first; they were all written in blue colored pen, each properly sorted by the last name and I must have put a lot of effort and care into my handwriting, as despite looking unaesthetic now, it appears to be somewhat consistent and eligible.
 
The next batch was sorted by the first names, handwriting already deteriorating, colors varying.

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After getting tired of orderliness, I just wrote names as they came, filling out the blank spaces that were available, starting in the A box. Dolores Anderson, Cynthia Axelrod, Abigail Matthews, and Aimee Stephenson shared this particular space with Maryanne Pinsky, Laurie Kinnard and Xenia, whom despite the uniqueness of her name and all my best efforts, I cannot recall.
 
Personal information packed boxes all the way to and including F, after which only the names from the “first” and “second” batches, when I was still trying to maintain some kind of order were dotting the pages. I nostalgically noted that each name held one or at the most two phone numbers – home and maybe a second home if the person was a victim of divorced parents. No cell phone numbers present; early 80s were blessedly lacking those most convenient, yet annoying little suckers.
 
The most bizarre thing that I had noticed when skimming over the names of my friends was that they all lived on the same street as me, only one or two doors down, some even in my apartment building, which made careful marking of each address, including zip code completely redundant. I suppose in those tender years I still displayed the ambition for some sort of organized arrangement, which later in life I have never quite achieved.  
 
Again shaking my head in amazement, I quickly browsed through the address book pages until I came to the notebook part. A bust picture of smiling Rick Springfield, his perfect hair obviously fan blown with a painstaking care, his pearly whites sparkling with an unnatural glow, a trace of eyeliner and soft rouge nearly made me drop the book back in the box and forget about it forever. I remember this particular picture of Rick used to be my favorite.
 
Instead, I turned the page. In an obviously more mature handwriting, which I recognized as mine, but a few years older than the one used for address and BD entries, there were lists upon lists upon lists. Just as in my early teenage years I had been obsessed with addresses, which later on turned into compulsion to make extensive notes on things that I felt I needed to buy, read, research, record, and see. Also, there were lists of things I did – again, mainly books I have read and movies I have seen.
 
I have obviously just finished and been impressed with Philip Jose Farmer’s ‘Riverworld Novels Series’ and had planned to dig into Tolkien next.

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   I have devoured volumes of Jean Plaidy books and was getting ready to read Victoria Holt afterwards – I cringed. Loving Stephen King, I have hoped that Clive Barker would turn out to be just as good if not better. Each title of the book that I had read had a little check mark next to it. I suspect that different colors used were some sort of color code, which would reveal of how good or bad I thought the story was, but I can’t remember the details of its legend now. The list of my favorite songs reads like a compilation of 80s music – Human League, Spandau Ballet, Soft Cell, Alison Moyet, and Eurythmics. Notably, American music was not very dear to my heart. Skipping over a few more pages of books, music and movies, which by now have revealed that my taste in written, sang and filmed art had been quite poor, I stumbled upon yet another list. This one made me shudder and then giggle.
 
A list of baby names. Despite the fact that even as early as my late teens I had decided that I didn’t want any kids – and have to proudly point out that this had been one of the very few things in life I had avoided to change my mind about – there were two full pages of boy and girl names. Saffron, Siobhan, Sinead, Taraya, Tamara, Tiyana and Tahar   – apparently very impressed by the names beginning in S or T; Maya, Farida, Farrah, Zala, Masika, Khepri, Anat, Matuya followed those, and the list went on and on. I was not even certain if they were all real names found in a book, or whether they were just a fruit of my imagination. I was not interested to put myself through the same torture with the list of boys’ names.
 
I flipped a few pages. Recipes – did I really believe I could learn the simple and yet complicated art of cooking? Most of the recipes had an accompanying marginal note of “difficult”.

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I went forward. I stumbled upon a complete list of English kings and queens from 1250 AD to the present time. I vaguely remembered a paper that I had worked on for weeks regarding the subject.
 
I skipped on. My own makeshift vocabulary of words that I came across when reading and didn’t understand, their meanings and examples in sentences carefully jotted next to them. One of them being saturnine, a word that had a nice ring to my ear, even though its meaning was less than cheerful.
 
I went forward. Another list of books, this one for the curriculum requirement. Dostoyevski, Tolstoy, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Wilde and Joyce. No wonder I was ‘saturnine’ during my teenage years.
 
I vaguely remembered that there should have been something more inside my book, something very personal and hopefully after all these years amusing to read. Where was it, though?
 
I kept flipping the pages, two, three, ten, twenty at the time. The book was more voluminous that I had expected. It seemed like I had acquired a mass of computer data information and wrote it down for future reference.
 
Then, I remembered what I used to do when writing secret things down.

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   I closed the diary and with the back cover facing me, turned it upside down. Now I opened it again and bingo. Here was what I had been looking for. My clandestine life, hidden from my family and usually from most of my friends, too.
 
To an untrained eye, the writings were a complete nonsense. To a person with passion for puzzles it would have been instantly clear that this was written in a code. My own – not hard to break, should someone take time and effort to do so. Certainly not interesting enough to my sisters who were nosy, constantly snooping around, yet too lazy to attempt the deciphering.
 
Even I couldn’t read it smoothly any longer. I paused for a moment, seriously considering whether I had time to do this. I was supposed to be cleaning out the patio room in an attempt to get things ready for the weekend. However, this was too much of a temptation.
 
I placed the book on an old coffee table and walked to the kitchen to fix myself a cup of hot chocolate and find a pen. I would need to write it all down if I wanted to be able to read it again. Now at least I understood that Mike had never read it.

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   He wouldn’t have the time or energy to do a complicated task of code breaking, no matter how interested in my life before him.
 
I returned with a mug of hot chocolate, can of soda and plate of sandwiches with their crusts cut off, exactly as I liked them. I had completely given up on any kind of work in the patio storage for the day. The task that I was about to undertake would devour most of the day; hopefully, I’d be able to finish before Mike came home from work.
 
Sheba, my longhaired grey cat brushed against my leg and quietly meowed, requesting to be given some attention. “Come on, pretty girl. ” I said, picking her up and pressing a loud smooch on her beautiful head. “You can stay, but I need a promise that you won’t tell on me. This is just between us girls, eh?” I looked deep into her intoxicating green eyes and as if answering, she purred softly. “Alright, then. ” I said, opening my dear diary.
 
I ripped out a clean sheet of paper and wrote down an entire alphabet. Underneath, I wrote another set, this time moving the first letter three spaces to the left, which is how I constructed my code. The letters read:
 
A    B    C    D    E    F    G
 
x     y     z     a     b     c     d
 
For each A in a word I used X, for B letter Y and so on. Like I said, nothing to prove me a genius, yet clever enough to keep my secrets to secretive.

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The first page was titled ARHB – October 1985. I didn’t need to de-code that one. I knew exactly what it meant. It was about Duke, the guy I lost my virginity to. October 1985 was when it happened.
 
For a moment I seriously considered abandoning the project of prying into my past. Was it wise to do so? Then, I though: ‘too late to turn back now’. My curiosity had been aroused and I wanted to relive the moments of my firsts.
 
I took a sip of hot chocolate and dug into work. It had taken a good hour to finish the first diary entry, but after a couple of paragraphs I refreshed my memory on the code that I was almost able to read it without a problem, just as I used to, almost twenty years ago.
.