Priyanka liked writing long before she read The Princess Diaries. When she was younger, she had flowery diaries that she would carry in colorful purses, but as she got older, she switched to journaling. Even her best friend Gina didn’t understand that.
“Aren’t they the same thing?” she asked exasperated.
Despite a flare of annoyance at that comment, Priyanka tried to explain. She hoped to show how therapeutic writing could be in contrast to the stress all students came to know with essays. “Diaries are great for jotting down memories, essentially beginning a cathartic or healing process. It’s a great place for divulging secrets too. But journals are more than that. Think of scientific journals or academic journals – when I journal I try to write observations and analysis of events and actions in my life to better understand myself.”
Gina snorted. “That sounds boring. You need a better hobby.”
“No -” But Gina’s attention was diverted by the girls crocheting in study hall. Priyanka was left with the value to herself: journaling allowed her to have a clear mind to assess her problems and find a solution. But not always.
The kids at school saw her as the girl in the back of the class hidden behind her marble notebook. Her family didn’t understand it either. The less people she talked to, the more she poured herself onto lined pages.
Nonna did not like to see her granddaughter reclusive. She was proud of Priyanka for having a hobby that benefited her academics but she feared having a notebook as a confidant would perpetuate her lack of social skills. Constantly Nonna encouraged the whole family to have a weekly session of sharing of their feelings, but it never caught on.
Priyanka did not trust her grandmother. She saw the disapproving tilt in her smile when she wrote in fancy leather-bound journals. Sometimes Nonna would quietly stand over as she wrote and when she tried to cover up her inner thoughts, Nonna would pry. “Aren’t you going to share what you wrote?” Evading the question, Priyanka was faced with her parents wondering what she was always scribbling down.
“It’s not ready,” Priyanka said every time. She would never be ready to share all her feelings with anyone. Partly because most were transient, something she needed to work through. Sick of the constant barrage, she began writing in marble notebooks – they blended in with other school notebooks very well. It quelled her family’s unease. For a safety measure, Priyanka came up with a code word. While writing in the pages of her journal, she would also insert her published school articles and loose leaf that she’d use under the guise of taking class notes. It beefed up her personal notebook – like a fat sandwich. “I’m going to the grease truck in the park to get a fat sandwich!” Once out of the house, depending on the weather she would write sitting in a tree or in the dusty corner of foreign novels in the library. Her plan in successful motion, Priyanka left out her journal on her pillow.
Later Nonna said she was apprehensive of her granddaughter’s eating habits; fat sandwiches were not healthy to eat every day, much less be around! It was as if she purposefully overlooked the fact that Priyanka hadn’t put on weight or had all the money she earned from working at an ice cream parlor locked away in savings for college. But she crept into her room and flipped the pages of Priyanka’s truth.
She didn’t expect it when she came home from school that day. Her notebook was on her pillow seemingly untouched. But before dinner, her mom insisted the three adults have a talk with her about her behavior. Amma forefronted the discussion; Dad could not look at her and Nonna had a gleam in her eyes that made Priyanka want to lunge at her. Such a dark thought she would have expelled from her soul by writing it down along with its causation and a brainstormed solution, but now she didn’t have her best friend, her only friend. Her face contorted as her crimes were listed – having a crush, not paying attention in class, having a Facebook account open to talk to her crush, her struggles to maintain her grades, making plans to go on a date –
Amma told her firmly, “You have to clear your mind.”
Priyanka had bottled up her feelings for so long because she thought no one wanted to hear what she had to say. Her anger bubbled over. Her parents thought she didn’t hear how they fought, but now she tapped into the learned verbal lashing. “But what about my heart? I can’t just dispel feelings away!”
“You shouldn’t be thinking about boys. You should be thinking about how to earn back our trust.”
“Your trust? You invaded my privacy. You broke my trust. You could have just asked -” It was hard to make a case when tears are threatening to spill. Priyanka swallowed back her sob. “You never made the effort to ask what was going in my life. It was always ‘how was school?’ or ‘did you do your homework?’ or ‘go study more’. Of course I have more of a life than that! I’m a sentient sixteen year old! And you’re going to judge me on that? And you don’t get to choose parts of my journal to hold over me! The boy is actually Gina’s boyfriend now. But you care too much of what people will think of me to see there’s more to me! I’m great ice cream vendor! Maybe my grades are suffering in what you want to get A’s in but I have A’s in English and History. I’m actually working with the Drama teacher to come up with a modern version of Odysseus. Maybe I’m not the daughter you want, but you’re not the family I want!”
Priyanka stormed to her room. For effect, she slammed her door and her rackety sobs were just as loud. All she wanted to do was write, but as she looked at her overextended journal, she couldn’t trust herself to work a pen. She’d make the ink bleed.
When she was in third grade, Priyanka’s teacher had given the class Harry Potter journals as a holiday present. Her classmates hadn’t known what to do with them, but Priyanka was thrilled. The chronicling of her life was very addicting. It was only when she was rereading an entry, did she find an entry about having a crush but only liking him “less than 3 percent”. It had bothered her that she’d let her fear of what other people thought keep her from fully admitting in her journal that she wanted Samuel Sargeant to be her best friend. Since then her commitment to bettering herself was exploring her flaws in her notebook. But she’d overlooked her hope as a weakness; she wanted to believe that Nonna and her parents would eventually come around to her writing as both a strong character strength and a fortuitous future career.
They didn’t trust her? She’d never trust them again. She’d never look to her family to understand or accept or support her. She was on her own, she and her fat sandwich.