I Bought a Stranger’s Diary
Updated: Sep 12, 2020
*All names in the journal entries have been changed to pronouns*
I know, I know… That’s WEIRD, right? I thought so too when I first came across this BuzzFeed video of someone doing the same thing. The more I thought about it, the more I became intrigued. After a few days of research, a very intense eBay bidding war, and about a week and a half later, I had my hands on a piece of property that used to belong to a stranger.
I do not know anything about this person other than what she has written in this journal. As I read through it, I was stunned at the amount of similarities she and I have – she had gone through a breakup, we’re pretty close in age, and she was even involved with theatre (she mentions playing Hodel in a production of Fiddler on the Roof). She describes how she feels about her love for theatre by saying:
“I feel like I’m part of something fucking awesome, fucking awesome indeed. There’s something great about musicals. It’s like a bedtime story that’s very surface-level. The happy moments are just happy and the sad, sad.”
I think that’s a lovely sentiment. I also heavily relate to her comedic tone. She seems to be very aware of herself and her emotions. Not that that makes them any easier to control or corral. My favorite of her entries is this, dated October 4, 2013:
“BLAH. Can’t stop obsessing over that dumb ass boy. Slight feelings. Bad, bad, baaaaad! Watch me not care. No, I won’t care. Noooooooooooo! We blocked “Tradition” yesterday. This one girl is a BITCH. Snippy comments and negative body language. I think I’m going to cut my hair and dye it darker.”
Like, is that not the most brilliantly relevant paragraph you’ve ever read as a young woman?? I thought so too.
Much of her entries were normal, early-adult thoughts. She misses her best friend who moved away for college, she’s trying to balance school and work, she’s trying to forget about a boy who didn’t treat her very well, and she’s wondering what else life has to offer beyond her current circumstances.
In preparation for a crying scene she had to do in Fiddler, she made a playlist of sad songs to listen to. Such commitment, I know! The songs were:
Sleep by Azure Ray
The predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us by Sufjan Stevens
Wake Up by Arcade Fire
The Last Time I Saw Richard by Joni Mitchell
You better believe I listened to all of these as I read the following entries, and as I did, I imagined her in a dressing room before this show, listening to these melodies and lyrics, and wondering what sort of emotions they elicited in her, and if it was the same that was provoked in me?
As I read through this diary, it was hard for me to not imagine it as being a BOOK. This isn’t something that someone put a lot of effort and energy into creating – there’s no planned climax or arc or conflict/resolution. Just small glimpses into the life of another human.
One of the consistent motifs in all of her journal entries was a boy. It’s clear that they dated for a considerable amount of time and that the relationship ended without her consent. She talks of being strong and mentally recognizing that she should keep her distance from him, but also confesses to their casual sexual encounters, and how she’s okay with them despite their inconsistent dynamic. As tough and passive as this girl pretends to be on the surface, I can tell through her writing that she feels serious hurt from this person that she isn’t allowing herself to feel. CAN ANYONE ELSE RELATE!? She has exactly one super-vulnerable entry that had me in actual tears:
“I felt like I was part of his goddamn circus – his idiots and fools. But still, there was a part of him, the part that made him nervous and anxious – the part that was deep and genuine and could have serious conversations – that was dead on. That was the guy I fell in love with. Not the ring leader. This guy, this soft-spoken and self-doubting, quiet guy. He was impressed by me when I didn’t try. He said that he’d never met a funnier girl.”
Are you sobbing? Me too. I think anyone who has seen someone they love go through changes and become someone they don’t really recognize anymore can relate.
Later, she has two more entries, one right after the other regarding seeing this boy again when he comes home from college.
“Forget the memories, WHATEVER. This is just for fun. It doesn’t have to freak me out.”
HOW OFTEN HAVE YOU SAID THAT TO YOURSELF? AM I THE ONLY ONE? #ItDoesn’tHaveToFreakMeOut. New life motto.
“He came and went. Good times. Can’t really help talking about it. We had sex on the floor.”
Live your life, girl.
She then talks of her newfound self-appreciation, and how she needs to protect that:
“I don’t want to feel vulnerable, but now I think I might know how to handle it – the loneliness and such. I just can’t handle him. If I start to feel that way, I need to go home and start over. I love myself now. I’m more assertive, more defensive, I can look after myself and my own needs. I don’t want to lose that again.”
Umm…. can I get an amen!? Are we all living the same life? (More on that later…)
Then she says:
“He is done. I say this with the most reassurance that my body can muster. There is not much more of a choice than to regress back into apathy. I will be okay. I will be okay. What will I do now for myself after being rejected time and time again? After being used over and over again? What will I do for myself NOW? I can choose to acknowledge that he is dead to me. If he wanted me, he would fight for me. I’m allowed to grieve and be upset. I will get through this. Woody Allen’s girl from Manhattan rings in my head. She says, ‘I can’t believe you found someone that you like more than me.’”
A couple weeks later, the climax and ending of this little glimpse into her life, she talks of her upcoming twentieth birthday, and says, “I’m supposed to be at this supposed ‘high point’ in my life, and all I can think about is how fucking messy things are.”
I loved this line because “messy” is a word I’ve been using to describe my life throughout the last couple months. Just living day to day, unsure of your decisions, your direction, and trying not to make sense of it to avoid some sort of existential crisis.
Her next and final entry is one of determination, declaration, and bravery:
“I got an email from my friend about her recent adventures in Russia. She quit her stable, American job and is now acting reckless and independent. Most of the time, I see myself envying her – she is doing what I want to do, being who I want to be. I say this so much about people who are out there, living fantastic lives, while I’m here, living life in ordinary world. Perhaps I should pursue an internship somewhere. This college bubble full of mundane activities and early-life sexcapades, boy-worshipping, and classroom discussion is so safe. This was one thing that he was right about. I saw this play on Friday about revolution, color, and independence from “the man.” When am I going to go on my adventures? I can see my life looming ahead of me like a death sentence: graduate college -> grad. school -> job. Where are my adventures? Where do I get to go? I want to be hungry, live life to the fullest, crave information, meet crazy people, visit museums all day, read all day, smoke cigarettes and drink coffee all day. Get stoned and amazingly drunk. Ugh.”
And that’s (quite literally) all she wrote, folks.
I want to believe that she stopped writing about her dreams and started living them, and that’s how I ended up with her half-full journal. This girl is two years older than I am, and I wonder what she’s up to. I hope she’s overseas somewhere living an extravagant life of abandon and passion. One where she is so secure in herself and in what she’s doing that the pressures of her circumstances or the opinions of men can’t touch her. I hope she’s happy and content, and even though I’ll never have any way of knowing for sure, I feel that she is.
When I originally had the idea for this post, it was in early-January. Due to life and work and other events, I hadn’t had time to actually sit down and dedicate my full attention to it until now, and I think that was for a reason. I am in a much different head-space at this point in my life than I was two months ago. This girl and I have so much in common, more than I had expected, and her words have landed on me in a way that makes me feel connected not only to her, but to all the young women in my life, and not in my life for that matter.
There’s a social and societal pressure put on young women to have everything figured out – what you’re doing, what you’re GOING to be doing, where you’ll be doing it, and who you’ll be doing it with. It gave me great comfort to know that I’m not alone in NOT knowing the answers to these questions.
I wish I knew this girl at this time in her life, so that I could tell her not to wish this time away. Yes, the messy, contained days of school and work and boys and decisions and mistakes are monotonous and seemingly boring and safe, but so, SO much more happens in the little moments of introspection than those large, regal moments of euphoria.
I am grateful to have encountered the words of this stranger who I’ll always feel connected to. I am grateful to have a mirror held up to my own life that makes me feel aware of myself and that I’m not alone in navigating the maze of young-adulthood. I am grateful for the timing of the universe, and the people, experiences, ideas, and things that are placed in our lives exactly when we need them.
If you need to hear it, IT’S OKAY TO NOT KNOW. It’s okay to make decisions you are unsure of. It’s okay to pursue something or someone that no one understands or supports. At the end of the day, the only person who has to be okay with your decisions is you. After all, you are the one living your life, no one else. In the same respect, do not lessen the moments of your life as they happen to you. It is only in hindsight that we are able to truly see the impact of the present circumstances. Everything that happens to you – the good, the bad, the ugly, the boring, the dramatic, the messy, the confusing, the frustrating, the painful – all make up your heart and soul.