December 17, 2001


I never intended to read her journal. This is key: I didn’t enter her room with the intention of doing what I did. I’m not saying this excuses what I did, but I believe it places the violation in a slightly less serious category.

So goes excuse #1.

Excuse #2: She left the journal in plain view. Again I’m not defending my actions; it’s just that if she hadn’t left the journal on her night table, I wouldn’t have read it. In other words, I did not seek out the journal but rather fell prey to its temptations.

This is not a case of blaming the victim. Rather my point (and I realize I’ve said this in several ways already) is that I don’t normally read other people’s journals and so it took an extraordinary circumstance for me to do so.

Excuse #3: I was young and didn’t know better.

Some exposition: This happened twenty years ago while I was visiting a friend in California. My friend had a roommate, Molly, who I soon developed a crush on – a crush, it seemed, that was reciprocated. So one day, after a protracted and nearly unbearable build-up, I kissed Molly. We kissed for perhaps a minute, and that was pretty much that. Subsequently Molly’s interest in me seemed to wane, although it was hard to tell for certain because she was a difficult read.

A few days later, while Molly was at work, I went into her room to retrieve a book I’d left there, and it was then that I noticed her journal on the night table.

Excuse #4: I only read the parts about me.

As should be oblivious to the reader by now, my excuses are actually diminishments. I intend to whittle down my crime to its smallest possible size. It’s like that game in which you split a piece of food in half, then split one of the halfs in half, again and again, until the thing that remains is so small it cannot be split in half anymore.

At any rate I began reading her journal from the entry she wrote on the day we met, and I continued through to the present, skipping her reflections on other people and other events. In doing so I confirmed two key facts:

  1. She was immediately attracted to me.
  2. She didn’t feel much while kissing me, which surprised her but which she nonetheless considered an unassailable truth.

This was precisely what I had suspected, and it was a relief to have it confirmed. Satisfied, I carefully replaced the journal on Molly’s night table and left the room.

However, the next day I returned to see if she had written anything new about me. Without question, this return trip was a more serious violation of her privacy, given that I now knew how she felt (excuse #5: I didn’t know how she felt).

Excuse #6, apropos of nothing: People do worse things.

Excuse #7: At least I’m being honest about it.

For better or worse, my return trip bore fruit, for Molly wrote that she was experiencing a surge in her feelings for me and was wondering if a second round of kissing might be in order. This was both thrilling and confusing as Molly hadn’t done anything to indicate such a shift. Guilt struck (excuse #8: I feel guilt about what I did) as I now knew something I wasn’t supposed to know. This was in contrast to discovering that Molly’s feelings for me had waned – which was something I already suspected. The new information was different because Molly had clearly intended to keep her feelings secret from me, at least for the present.

Perhaps due to the awkward circumstance of knowing Molly’s secret, I did not kiss her that night (excuse #9: I suffered for my crime).

The next morning I returned to her journal for the third and last time. Here is what I found written there:

Michael, I know you’re reading my journal because I’m reading yours. I don’t want to do this anymore. Truce.