Selections from the Journal of Peter Marshall Bell (July 12, 1959 — November 14, 1994)

The first journal entry is dated November 1, 1987

Beginning from an enormous desire to write—and then?  Thoughts escape me like so many days, and where is the journal then?

My ears are clogged up from swimming and it’s hard to think.

The ostensible reason for this journal is my current crisis—J’s diagnosis.  Was “La Plaie” a premonition?  How much more difficult it will be to live the scenario, not having any control over the denouement.  And how empty that story seems now.  And here am I on these pages now, trying to objectify the experience.  Since I wrote “I” in the short story, why not “he” here?  “He is very sad, very confused.  He sometimes looks at J when he is asleep and imagines him dead a second later.  When will that moment come, he wonders?  He is sometimes distraught in public places.  He is on edge at work.  But all in all he is holding himself together remarkably well.  But he is only going through the motions.  Going through them so well, that he doubts whether a single gesture of his is at all genuine.  ‘I am a cliché.’  His imperfect modesty sometimes reminds him that he is not alone in this mess.  But in his life he feels that he has had an immoderate share of the mess.  How many ghosts can one man support, especially on a teacher’s salary?  Well, we’ve seen repeating patterns before and we shall see yet some more.  The well-seasoned survivor always plods on and, as Samuel Beckett wrote, only grieves for himself.

Autumn is here, and the weather is appreciably colder. The sun hasn’t warmed the ground for a few days.

“He returns to the front line—will he tarry on the way?”

~ ~ ~

From February 1993

A few years after her death, I found an old picture of my mother as a young woman.  In that perfectly frozen moment in time, she is caught walking down a city street—probably in Manhattan for the weekend, on leave from the Nursing School in Manhattan.  The photo reveals much about her which marriage and children and time robbed—her youth, hopefulness and courage.  Feeling the burden of her memory was enough, I left the photograph behind, not knowing how much I might want it later.

Years went by after my abandoning the photo to a box of relics in my sister’s possession.  The house where I’d grown up, and where my mother died, was torn down and replaced by a garish condominium development.  Seeing the changes on that property reminded me of my abandonment of the photo—I had run away from an artifact, foolishly believing that memory was more than enough, only to find that those pieces of physical, tangible memories could wound me by their vanishing as much as any memory by its endurance.  All evidence of my mother’s existence was vanishing, and I would follow in its wake.

Although the women in that now demolished house did indeed die, the young woman in the photo remained alive; at first dormant in the recesses of my conscience for many years, she patiently waited for her encounter with her unsuspecting son.

We lived through an age of terrible sadness, but

slowly reopened our eyes one day to discover

a new age of grace.

We lived through a time of terrible sadness,

and yet, somehow, after the grieving and regret,

we were able to wake up one fine morning, knowing

that the worst was over and the best just beyond

the bedpost.

I cannot tell my story in fine and fancy language because I didn’t get that kind of education, but since my young days I’ve had the habit of sorting my ideas out on paper.  I’d write a letter to a friend who had moved away, and somehow just my describing one old thing or another would help me see it all more clearly.  When I first went to work I was too tired at night to write even a post card.

I cannot tell my story in fine and fancy language because I did not receive that kind of education.  The priest here told me that keeping a journal might help me put my thoughts in order and find the best way to pray for forgiveness.

~ ~ ~

And the last journal entry, dated August 15, 1994

“Hum a few bars and fake it.”


Filed under Memoir

6 responses to “Selections from the Journal of Peter Marshall Bell (July 12, 1959 — November 14, 1994)


    Ray Peter must have been a wonderful person. Would he have liked me, as much as I would have liked him? I would have liked to have known him Ray. Was he a fun person, friendly, serious, joker, piano player like you? Did Jack meet him? I world like to read all of his stories. Have you sent all to me? Thanks Ray. I know you must have been crushed when Peter died. I can’t imagine. Did Grammy know him? Did he have kids? Sorry so many ??. Well gotta go, we’re almost to the bar where Scott has a gig tonight, in Wooster, MA.Love  youSheila

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

  2. Norman Jacobs

    Sometimes we need pictures to help our memory of those who have left us. But for me, who never met Peter, the journal selections help me see him as a a full person. His insights, his phrases, his emotions all there even so many years later, for you to share with your friends. I am fortunate to have you in my life, and fortunate to get a glimpse of why Peter was so special.

  3. Dear Ray,

    I’ve just finished re-reading Peter’s journal entries, posted last week on the anniversary of his passing, and was struck again by the following line: “I cannot tell my story in fine and fancy language”. And although I think Peter managed his accounting beautifully, I understand his feelings when it comes to story telling. That is because I experience the same feelings of inadequacy whenever I think of the story of our lives together – yours and mine.

    The thing is, I am so easily distracted from the moment, my attentions so often focused elsewhere (usually on some triviality or less often, a profundity beyond my control and or comprehension—think Paris attacks) that I fail to attend adequately to the storylines that, thanks to you, are unfolding right under my nose: a thoughtfully prepared meal, a kind word of encouragement or comfort, a self-deprecatory jest—or a loving remembrance like the one you’ve established here in Peter’s memory. What can I say—I am a vastly imperfect partner. So it’s important that I take this opportunity to express my love and appreciation for you, and to express how proud I am to be partnered to the kind of man whose affections and loyalties extend beyond the boundaries of life on earth. I want you to know that in honoring Peter here, you remind me of how fortunate I am to have you, the leading man in the story of my life.

  4. My dear Jack, my dearest man,
    I feel absolutely no lack of attention, of being attended to, of being cared for and loved and supported. Never have. Can not imagine that I ever will. You are no less perfect a partner, no more an imperfect one than I am, to be sure. I do believe we are incredibly well matched. Who could possibly ask for more? I am so glad to share this life with you, come what may. And I thank you yet again for your kind words, for your understanding.

Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s