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When Alteration Finds

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Even before the time I was able to hold a pencil with my tiny fingers, I kept a diary.

“You've got it, Mads!” My dad would exclaim as he helped me move my crayon across the page. “Soon you'll be able to do it on your own!”

My obsession began as scraps of paper, scribblings of the one and a half year old version of myself. It originated quickly into hundreds of capital A's and lowercase B's, streaming across a sheet in my mini composition notebook, until I received my first official diary: a cheap, hand-held journal draped with fake zebra print fur. My dad presented it to me on my first day of kindergarten and I was elated.

I immediately began writing about my days—what I accomplished, what my favorite things were, who I liked, who I disliked. However, whenever my parents asked what I was writing, I would quickly tell them, “It's a secret.” My journal became a hidden place for me to say things that I was scared to tell other people, like who I had a crush on, what I wanted for my birthday, or how I secretly wished my brother was a sister. It even had a small lock, which I kept nestled neatly in the bottom of my top drawer.

Just as my scribbles evolved into letters, my letters into words, and my words into sentences, the type of writing that I chose also changed with time. At nine years old, I became very interested in poetry. Even though I still kept a journal, now a slightly larger notebook with a photo of Hilary Duff plastered on the cover, my free time was spent drafting hundreds of fragmented poems, following no guidelines but my own. I began to realize that more than loving the feeling of pencil against paper, I adored the way letters and sentences could work together.

At that time I lived in a gorgeous, brick home on Lake Norman, my backyard complete with a sandy beach and large boulders on either side. The nature surrounding my home easily provided me with much inspiration for my writing. It became my hobby: everyday after school I would rush my books up to my room and run outside with a snack in one hand and my notepad in the other. I would look around and wait for the coast to be clear, then hurry down the path, scuffle through the sand, and tramp my way down the dock. Of course, it was only later that my mom told me that everyone in the family knew where I was during my writing sessions. Finishing my snack, and being sure to feed all dropped crumbs to the brim so that my presence would go undiscovered, I would take a seat at the very end of the dock, splashing the water with my painted toes. My notepad set beside me, I would take my special, purple pen and rapidly scratch down my thoughts. It would begin as a summary of my school day, almost journal-like as I furiously scripted my life. Slowly, as if I was slipping into a deep dream, my mind would begin to relax and my pen would move at a slightly slower pace. The slow moments were exactly what made me subconsciously cherish the time I made for writing; it was the only time I had without screaming babies or fighting parents.

Divorce is a scary word. Add “my parents are getting a...” before it and it becomes much scarier. My parents told me that they were getting a divorce when I was nine years old, my youngest brother just six months old. The night they told us the news, my dad moved into our lake house an hour away and that was it. He never lived with us again.

Immediately after my parents had sat my me and my brothers down in the piano room, I ran up the stairs and pried my journal from underneath my bed. Without thinking I wrote the same word hundreds of times; the only word that I could manage to spread against the page of paper.

“No.”

Pages and pages of no's, my tears smudging the death black ink. I sat crouched on the floor next to my white nightstand, in the exact position as the previous night, when my brothers had startled me.

“Madi?” I had jumped at the sound of my brother Will's voice. The door creaked open as my two youngest brothers, sniffling and dressed in superman pajamas, entered my room.

They did not have to say a thing, I could easily decipher what was wrong. “They're fighting aren't they?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

They nodded sadly as I glanced at the clock: 10:30 PM. “Why don't you guys fall asleep in my bed for tonight, okay?”

While I waited for them to drift off, I eagerly opened my journal, yanked the cap off of my blue marker, and began writing furiously. Dear Mom, the page read, I know you and Dad don't get along much lately, but it makes us sad when you fight. Can you please give him a hug? Love, Madi

I constructed a similar letter to my dad as well and then carefully placed the letters underneath their pillows.

They told me they were getting divorced the next day.

For about six months I refused to see my dad, and during those six months my journal became nothing more than a dust collector. I wrote only for school, instead filling my free time with activities such as basketball and cheerleading. For six months, I secretly refused to visit my spot down at the dock, because subconsciously I knew that place was for writing, and to write would mean to face what was really going on inside my mind.


March 2003 Entry: Counseling. One of my least favorite words. I'm not a big fan of counseling. If you're scared of counseling, though, don't be. Everyone cries, and you're probably going through something hard. Counselors are used to seeing people cry.


Within a year, we moved out of the brick house with the sandy beach and into a smaller home in a middle class neighborhood. In many ways it was exactly the change that I needed to accept my parents divorce and to move on. However, as much as I vigorously tried to deny it, I missed having a dad in my life. I had only seen him a few times since that night, and those times had been in a therapist's office, where I refused to mutter as much as one syllable to him.

It is eight years later, and here I sit, crouched next to my white nightstand. I am in yet another new house, where we have lived for the past five years, and for the first time this one actually feels like home to me. Splayed in front of me is a massive pile of journals—some bulky and drenched in letters, others thin and sparse. As I skim through the yellow pages, a sea of images splashes through my mind; cheerful images, devastating images, hilarious images. Suddenly I am sitting on the edge of the dock, hearing ospreys call and feeling the damp breeze swipe my cheeks. Suddenly, I am hidden in my black closet, tears dripping onto the pages. Suddenly, I am right here, right now, picking up a blank journal, flipping to a blank page, and starting right where I left off.





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