DL Fowler's Blog

Fourth Random Installment – Lincoln’s Diary

Posted in Kindle, Lincoln's Diary, Lincoln's Melancholy, Nook, Print Edition, Reading by DLFowler on February 26, 2011

As Sarah coaxed the door open just a crack, she stiffened her resolve and squinted into the dimness, inhaling a whiff of stale, dusty air. She opened the door a bit wider and scanned for hiding places, shadows along the corners of stacked boxes or abandoned furniture. She even studied silhouetted edges of support posts, anywhere Mom could be lurking, ready to chastise her when she stepped across the threshold. Scratchy recordings of Mom’s scoldings echoed in her head.   Sarah always cringed at Mom’s voice telling her “No” for venturing up to the attic or for demanding the truth that was owed her. But of course, Mom wouldn’t be up there this time; Mom was dead.

One step across the threshold, Sarah opened her eyes wide, taking in everything at once. A few boxes next to the wardrobe caught her attention. She edged toward them and lifted the lid from the box on top of the stack; it was full of Grandma Cassie’s things. A dusty picture caught her attention and made her smile. The photograph showed her leaning playfully into Grandma’s side. Mom stood stiffly, half an arm’s length away from them.

Sarah couldn’t remember who snapped the photo, but she remembered the occasion.  It would have been her fourteenth birthday, the only time she got to wear that necklace. Mom yanked it off her neck the next morning when she finally noticed it. Mom was sure a boy had given it to her, and she was right. His name was Nick.

But boys were taboo, especially if they were black, or heaven forbid, mulatto. Mom’s racist paranoia was the catalyst for the rare conversations the two of them had that lasted more than two or three sentences. Those weren’t actually conversations though; verbal combat was a better description for it.

Sometimes things got physical. And when they did it was one sided, giving Sarah practice at a valuable life skill. She didn’t remember exactly when it happened for the first time, but at some point she discovered being alone in her imagination could be a good hiding place.  When Mom went on her rampages, Sarah would roll up like one of those roly-poly bugs, shutting herself into an imaginary world where she couldn’t feel anything that was real.

Hiding in her fantasies, Sarah Sue Morgan held a firm grip on aloneness. And she always seemed to be alone. Grandma Cassie had been dead for some ten years, and Mom had always seemed dead. The two men who no one ever talked about — one should have been her father, the other her grandfather — never touched her life except through the veil of secrecy that shrouded their absence. In truth, they were probably dead as well, and sometimes she almost accepted the idea that they should stay that way.

Most of the time Sarah’s reality sucked, so she camouflaged herself in layers of aloofness.   People could compliment her complexion or exotic features, but their sentiments didn’t register. Underneath, she was just the freak her father didn’t love. Who knows? Maybe there was too much of Mom in her. Or worse, maybe he had … no, don’t go there. She didn’t want that to be true.  

Sarah shuddered. The chill came out of nowhere.  It was as if December’s icy breath chased off the Indian summer afternoon.   She shut her eyes and struggled to swallow, pushing back thoughts about her father that sprang out of images from a recurring nightmare. Had he been some terrible monster? It was possible.   After all, someone had to have done a real number on Mom to make her crawl into the deep hole she cowered in all her life.

Maybe neither Grandma nor Mom ever talked about her father to protect her from the ugly truth. But that didn’t stop Sarah’s questions from having minds of their own. Was he the brute in her nightmare? Did he force himself on Mom? If that had been the case, why didn’t Mom just get rid of her? Why did Mom keep a constant reminder of her worst horror? An abortion would have saved all three Morgan women a lot of grief.  

Sarah’s shoulders drooped as she let her slender fingers caress the picture frame once more before she laid it down on her lap and lifted the next item from the box, a leather bound portfolio.   As she thumbed through it, she found a few pages of notes in Grandma Cassie’s handwriting. She let out a long sigh. Grandma’s half-empty journal reminded her of the sporadic effort she put into following her counselor’s mantra, “journal every day.”   The third page caught her attention.

 

Uncle Joe is a jewel. He brought me and Lake together.  I’ll never forget the summer of 1953.  It has been the best ever. Lake teaches at the college, just like Uncle Joe. Of course, no one is  thrilled about us — except me and Lake. That’s because I’m 19 and he’s … well, he’s older.

Lake can be awful moody. And when he is, his eyes turn dark and hollow like bottomless pits.  Not that they look empty; it just seems that whatever’s behind them is a galaxy away. You can’t even see the shadows of his soul.

But he’s so mature and intelligent.  He hypnotizes me with ideas I’ve never imagined and can barely understand.  He says his moods are a necessary burden. They help him see things that others can’t. He said he got that idea from the diary he’s always talking about.

Sarah flashed back to her freshman year in college. She had a flame and he was a professor, too. Back then, she wanted to believe he seduced her for her mind, not her body. She dealt with being bright and female differently back then, treating intelligence like a pimple that you covered with makeup.  But at some point, she started thinking of men as if they were a bad case of acne. Sarah flipped a few more pages.

Lake and I fought today. I told him his sad moods weren’t necessary. He pulled a book off his bookshelf and waved it in my face.  He said an old woman gave it to him. He met her on a train from out West during the war. He said it was a diary that belonged to President Lincoln. It talked about how he suffered from depression even when he was president.  He called his depression melancholy.

Lake said there were details about the ugliness Mr. Lincoln touched in those moments of despair that he was afraid to talk about with others.  He read me one of Lincoln’s entries, “… great inspirations are forged in the cauldron of deep misery.”

When he first showed the diary to me, I only pretended to believe it really was Mr. Lincoln’s.  I couldn’t believe a teacher in Wicomico County would have a national treasure tucked away on his bookshelf.  The more I fell in love with Lake, though, the more I wanted to believe in him, so I let myself believe in the diary, too.

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