If your house was burning to the ground but you were magically granted one thing from it to save –this doesn’t include the people you love, because they’re already safe and sound and draped in blankets and watching from the neighbors’ yard– what would that one thing be?
This is an easy question to answer: fifty-six journals (hello, since when does fifty-six old journals equal “one thing”? Since right now), one for each year of each of your youthful companions’ lives.
There they are up there, a bunch of them anyway. You’re missing one, the very first one, which you started when the oldest of your youthful companions was born. That was the guinea pig journal. It began life as an 18-month Batman wall calendar. It was big, with a square for each day of each month. You can still see it perfectly in your mind, although it disappeared fifteen years ago and you have no idea where it might be or if it still exists.
You filled in a day here and a day there on that giant Batman wall calendar, using a calligraphy marker because the letters were bigger and it took you less time to fill in a day. Still, that Batman calendar was a reminder of constant failure, so many more white unwritten-on days than the few haphazardly filled in with green and blue and red calligraphy marker.
In the beginning you had the best of intentions. Every day of your children’s lives would be recorded, every milestone written down for posterity. What the hell were you thinking? Obviously you didn’t know that it would be all you could do to get from one day to the other.
Over many years the ritual evolved into what it still is: every few days, or weeks even, you sit at the dining table at dawn, listening to music and writing in one of the journals, about one of the youthful companions. What she was doing, or what she said, or the way you glimpsed her on the street the other day, or the way her voice sounded when she called you that one breathless day.
You might write down something secret, something that she doesn’t know, such as the fact that every night before you go to bed you open up her closed bedroom door and take a deep breath, because it still smells exactly like her even though she lives so far away now.
Were it not for your cell phone camera you would have no photos. You have no organized photo books of your youthful companions, no filled-in baby books. No scrapbooks. In the basement are three enormous plastic bins shoved full of haphazard mementoes: a tiny stuffed panda bear, tickets to performances, old report cards, History Day projects, birthday cards. Someday you’ll go through them all. Or maybe you won’t.
But the house is burning down and you can save only one thing. That’s the rule, right? Fifty-six journals it is, then, all of which equal only one thing.