My whole life, I have struggled to keep a diary. It seemed too scary of an idea, to have all my vulnerabilities projected into cursive on a lined sheet of paper. When I was younger, I wasn’t able to do the work of being honest that having a diary requires, not even to myself out of fear that I wouldn’t like what I saw. But now that I have the self-esteem and self-awareness, I love writing in my diary and I love it even more when I can read what I have written and feel warmth. I can see the progression of a story where I am the protagonist of something, even if it is my own diary. Now, my diary has taped-in pictures, screenshots from text messages, and lines of my own handwriting documenting my life as I see it, a progression toward all the unknown lines that have yet to be filled in with tears and laughter and change and returns.
And in my diary, there are, of course, intimate things. My reflection on death, morality, religion, and, unsurprisingly, love are in my diary. When I fell in love for the first time, I wrote it down. The story went day by day in all of my diary entries. It was prior to leaving for Cuba my junior year, when I tried to make clear to a friend (let’s call her Augusta) that I wanted a pre-study abroad fling, but it kind of just turned into us hanging out more. Over the next year, with all the talking, effort, and vulnerability, I think I fell in love with her. Of course, I didn’t know this until I blurted it out in a CPS session.
I admitted to her that I had romantic feelings for her and nothing came of it, but I didn’t tell her I was in love with her. It was inconsequential because at that time I began to realize I didn’t want to be in love. There’s too much stress that comes with being in love, but for a while I thought maybe I could handle it and still be close with Augusta.
The moment I realized that I actually couldn’t handle the stress of being in love happened while eating with another friend who loved me—let’s call him Washington.
I realized there are just so many emotional and social tools that I don’t yet have to be in love, because to me, love requires being able to care for both yourself and others. I realized I couldn’t stay with anyone. I realized that to stay with Washington would be cruel and, that to stay with Augusta, who I loved, would be cruel to myself. Not soon after, I wrote down in my diary my intentions to leave both situations, because my goals are to do well in my classes and to balance that with my job. Love was an extracurricular that I didn’t have time for. Especially when it was so difficult for me.
I set out to tell both of them that I needed space and time. I said that in contrast to all the promises that I had made, saying that I wouldn’t leave them, I was going to be doing just that, unsure if I would ever come back.
I don’t like leaving, but I have left before, always situations where I felt like staying weren’t sustainable at the moment. And to be honest, I was kind of pissed because instead of continuing to cultivate the vulnerability we had between us, I felt like a stranger. It made me question what exactly our friendship had been based on.
That evening, I walked into the darkness away from the person I am in love with, and figuratively away from another friend who loved me, because these were steps away from something I don’t yet have the space for. I don’t have the space for love right now, not in my life and not in my diary. And I’m sure that one day, the love that I have with someone will fill up countless books, countless nights, countless houses, and I will be the protagonist in a diary other than my own, but right now it was too cruel for me to stay, too indulgent for me to willingly ignore the stress love has caused me.
When my Cuban host-mom, Maria, calls and she asks, “¿Todavía, buscas un novio?” I just laugh and tell her no, that I’m exhausted. She tells me to wish her luck in finding a boyfriend to pass the days in Havana. And when she asks me that, I always do, because I hope that in her 70s she has more space in her life and her diary for love than I do right now; even though she has lived through tears, laughter, change, revolutions, and death, she still finds the space to look for love again. That makes me happy. I truly hope that she finds what she’s looking for and I hope I find the passion to look for it again, one day in the future, when I’m sure that my diary and I can handle it.
Sabina Jones is a senior at Columbia College majoring in English & Hispanic studies.This is her final column for the semester. Please contact her with any comments, concerns, or questions you had about her column Transatlantic Trade, at email@example.com.
To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.