The Diary of Olivia James
I found the diary on a bookshelf in the backroom of a dusty thrift shop. The cover was near torn off, and the pages were yellowed and starting to release from the binding.
Normally, I don't buy old books, but I picked this one up and a picture fell out of young girl dressed in Victorian style looking wistfully at the camera. I turned the picture over, and it read, "Olivia James on occasion of her 18th birthday, April 9th, 1887."
She was a very pretty girl with long dark hair and large, light colored eyes. Her was face was long and narrow with high cheekbones and an aquiline nose, the bridge of which made her face somewhat alluring and exotic looking.
I checked the inside cover of the diary, and, sure enough, it read "Olivia James - April 9th 1887." She had gotten the diary on her 18th birthday and taken the picture that same day.
Curious, I bought the diary for 25 cents along with a slightly battered copy of James Joyce's Ulysses and Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. All three books cost me less than a dollar.
I placed the books on my dining room table and forgot all about them. That night I had drinks with some friends from work, and we ended up in a ridiculous argument concerning the relative merits of the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers. I was a lifelong Giants fan and one of my friends loved the Dodgers. The other friend was the mediator because he loved the Detroit Tigers.
I initiated the conversation by saying, "I don't think our pitching will be able to hold up, so I have hard time believing that we'll be in it at the end."
Al, my boss, jumped on it, "That's where we got you, man. Our pitching is the best in baseball. This is our year!"
"All I know is that I rather kiss a pig on the ass than wear Dodger blue." This caused Jacob to blow beer out of his nose, and the rest of our party to start yelling in an effort to get in their two cents.
Once I got home, I noticed the books and went and picked up the diary to look at picture of the girl. I then opened up the first page and read, "I am eighteen years old today. Mama gave me this diary; my father bought me, surprise, surprise, a book of Bible verses aimed at the guidance of a young woman as she reaches her maturity. It was written by a man, a minister in fact. I resolved never to open the book as long as I live. In this diary, however, I have resolved to faithfully record my thoughts, especially those that I can never give voice to in public. My mother looked at me with anticipation to see how I would react to her gift. My father, on the other hand, went about his business, not ending his florid speech until a full five minutes later. I kept looking at my mother, and she would look back at me with a great deal of mirth in her eyes, and I could tell that she was biting her cheeks to keep from laughing."
I turned the lights off and went and sat down on the living room sofa. It was like every other night of the year in that I was all alone and lonely. It had been like this for three years ever since Jennie had left me.
I had come home late one night from a meeting and all the lights were out. I checked the bedroom and Jennie wasn't there. I knew she was home because her car was in the driveway. So, I opened the back door and walked outside. It was pitch black out there, but I could make out her outline sitting by the patio table.
"Hey, babe. What are you doing sitting out here in the dark?"
Her response came out of the darkness like a hissing snake, the words like razor blades. She said, "I don't love you anymore, Danny. I never will again. I deserve someone better, so I'm leaving you."
I don't recall ever reading about anyone ever being punched in the gut, slapped upside the head, stabbed in the heart, and cut to pieces at the same time, but that's the only way I can describe my feeling at that moment.
Jennie got up and swiftly and silently glided past me in the dark.
"I don't understand, Jennie."
"Yeah, I know. That's why I'm leaving."
She left me that same evening. Apparently, her bags were already packed and loaded in the car. She went upstairs, came down, and walked out the front door. I heard the car start up and her backing out of the driveway. I looked out the door just in time to see her brake lights go off as she turned the corner.
I didn't like being at home alone, at night, so I went out to bars, movies, games, and casinos almost every night. The silence in the house drove me crazy, so I took to playing music the whole time that I was home. Only, I didn't like music with words, so it was classical and jazz all the time, usually Miles Davis.
I went out the next evening, and this time the argument hinged on who was the better fighter Roberto Duran or Sugar Ray Leonard. I loved Duran. He was tough, punched hard, and often threw punches to the place where his opponent's head hadn't even moved yet.
When I returned home, I sat down in the living room with a cold beer and read the diary out loud. Turns out, Olivia was a college student, a great student, in fact. Much of the diary centered upon her frustrations with being a woman in a man's world. Her father was both a minister and something of a dick. Many days, Olivia would just write down fragments of his dinner table lectures to her. During the lectures, Olivia's mother usually said nothing, and it was mainly that which prompted Olivia's hatred of her father. Her mother had once been a promising student herself before dropping out of college to marry Olivia's father.
"I asked mother why? I had read her some of her poems and they revealed a birdlike creature with an enchanting voice trapped in gilded cage being interminably lectured by a very abrasive crow. She never answered me directly, just said the situation demanded sacrifice, so she sacrificed."
The diary talked about Olivia's own frustrations particularly with a professor of the Classics that she liked, Mr. Lumis. One day, he had written down some remarks about a poem she had written where he chastised her for using some mythological reference for "profane ends." Olivia took exception to the remarks and barged into the professor's office one day demanding an explanation. She wrote of how she had charged him with being a typical misogynist and unwilling to listen to the voice of a female.
"He leaned back into his seat and his eyes grew sad. When he spoke, it was almost in a whisper. 'I never said anything about your theme, or that I disagreed with your major points. I just said that poetry is like an unveiling. The Greeks believed that it was a gift from the gods. They would never understand your references because you are twisting them to make them fit an argument. That's the difference between the sacred usage and the profane. You have a sacred viewpoint. I just want you to get it right.' I left his office in tears and cried the whole way home. That night, I interrupted my father during the delivery of a very boring discussion on the subject of tithing. I asked my mother to recite one of her poems. Of course, it caused an argument. My father was in the midst of a lecture on rudeness when suddenly my mother began to recite, 'I sat and watched the light seep through the silent clouds.' The room went silent except for the voice of my mother. Toward the end she stood up and spoke directly to my father, then turned her face toward me to finish, 'the summer winds whispered and wandered away.' Mother left the room in tears. I sat there and etched the image of my father's frightened eyes into my memory."
I set the diary down upon the coffee table and took a short journey in time back to the night that Jenny had left me standing on the pool deck gaping like a fish out of water. I had bled profusely that night, in fact, I was like a hemophiliac, and the slightest touch would cause those wounds to bleed again.
But I knew that I was lucky in one regard. It was only a few fragments of our lost love and the complete and utter darkness of the night that had saved me from being turned into a stone.