i was here

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One of the casualties I personally suffered in Hurricane Harvey were the 50 or so journals I’d completed over the past decade. The only one I managed to save was the one I was using at the time of the flood (the journal at the top of the stack in the image above).

I am an avid journaler, for many reasons, so it might surprise people to learn that while I got several messages from readers who were heartbroken for my loss on my behalf, I actually was pretty ambivalent about it all. I rarely re-read what I’ve written in my journal, other than sometimes trying to remember when an event occurred. I use my journal more as a tool, to hold my to-do lists, or brainstorm ideas — I rarely think of it as a record (even though that’s what it ends up being). My journals aren’t precious to me. They’re just scribbles.

So it’s ironic that, while we were cleaning out our flood-ravaged house, I came across a journal I didn’t recognize, and had the complete opposite reaction. I opened the pages, only to discover that it wasn’t my journal — in fact, it was previously owned by a dear friend, one who had lost his battle with an AIDS-related illness several years before. For many years, particularly when I was single, E and I were inseparable. His illness ravaged his body — I remember that the last time I saw him, he’d come over for lunch with Marcus and me, and could barely stay alert. He ended up having to take a long nap in our guest room. I suspect he left his journal in our house on that day.

When I realized that the journal was his, I immediately shut it. It seemed disrespectful to read his words, even though he died over 5 years ago. But for some reason, it also seemed wrong to throw it away. So I kept it. I have it. I’ve never opened it again, but it’s locked away in my closet.

Since the hurricane, I’ve filled 7 journals, and am in the middle of my 8th. And I still have sort of a throw-away attitude to them all. But I realize that despite my cavalier attitude toward them, they somehow leave a mark. After I’m gone, if they still exist, they’re evidence that I was here.

I don’t plan on changing my journaling attitude, but it’s a bit of a reminder that what we put out in the world makes a mark — whether it’s handwritten, like my journals, or on social media. And while this fact might tend to make us feel more self-conscious of what we put out there, I think the bigger, more comforting, more encouraging thing to note is that we matter. E mattered, and I have physical proof. I matter, and I’m creating physical proof.

You matter, and every day, you create physical proof.