I started collecting secrets when I was just six years old. My first secret transpired the night I walked into my brother’s room unannounced and saw him with a girl smoking something with an unpleasant smell. It made my eyes tear and smelled downright awful. I didn’t know then it was called marijuana, pot, or weed. Once inside, he grabbed me by the collar of my shirt and shouted in my face with his stinking breath, “You tell mom or dad about this, and I will hide your blanket and rip up your Tender Heart bear. Got that?”
I ran to my room and hid my blanket and bear just in case I couldn’t keep his secret knowing how Mom and Dad could be terribly investigative and convincing when they were scouting my face for tell-tale signs of mischief and searching the atmosphere to see if I was too quiet or too talkative. They were kind of scary. Dad would sniff around my room dictating how his dad had found things out about him, but first, he’d storm into my room unexpectedly and toss my stuff around looking for any clue or hidden object. Not knowing what he was looking for meant anything he could accuse me of or misconstrue into something that really wasn’t anything. Dad would shout, “Where is it? What are you hiding this time? The last time it was a can opener, and the time before that, it was my shaving cream. So, you better cough it up before I find anything that’s not supposed to be in this room.” And guess who had to clean up the mess he made? Yeah, right. Me.
Parents get a star for acting like they’re on something or they ate the fruit loops, especially when it comes to seeking out the truth or following their agendas. Suspecting us of being on drugs, I get. But the frequent room visits and third degree? I needed the shaving cream to shave my legs. And the can opener wasn’t being used as a weapon, only to open my snack can when the pull back flip top broke. Dad’s suspicious behavior resembled the eeriness of the twilight zone, you know, being really out there, way out there in space. He was the alien dad from some unknown planet. And Mom was no better except she would knock first before entering. I have to give her that. She at least had some manners.
I collected secrets. Secrets about my brother, about my friends, and then there were the ones I kept about myself. On the night before my sixteenth birthday, a friend of mine, Beth, came over to study for a test. We often talked more than studied. The rule was that we would study in fifteen minute segments and then talk for fifteen, which usually lasted longer. We managed to get in at least an hour of studying and then two hours of talking. That’s how I found out Beth was carrying secrets too and she wanted me to unburden myself of anything I was hiding. Since I was becoming sixteen, she said I should start off with a clean slate. Sweet sixteen meant dumping secrets. So, I unloaded and so did Beth.
The secrets we had in common: our brothers smoked pot; our brothers climbed out their windows at night to meet up with girls; our brothers hid our toys; and as we got older, our cell phones, books, shoes, and anything from our rooms sized to hide without getting caught, would disappear. Beth confessed she never told on her brother. Me neither because mine would threaten to light up and smoke in my room, nail my windows shut, and tattle. Beth’s brother tried setting her cat on fire and then let it run outside and she would spend hours trying to find it. My brother never did that to me, but he threw a bunch of my stuff out the window once when I got caught rummaging around in his room and I didn’t hear him come home.
The uncommon secrets we held were sad and funny. Like the day I forgot to put the lid on the blender while making a breakfast shake and the shutoff button lost connection and popped out. The kitchen was a mess and so was my hair by the time I disconnected the plug. It took hours to wash away my liquid breakfast while our parents were away for the day.
The not so funny secret was seeing my dad kissing a woman who wasn’t my mom on the block where he worked when he didn’t know I would be making a visit. My secret collection also included stolen lipstick, having parties when our parents went on couples vacations, when my friend stole stuff from another’s locker, when they couldn’t find the missing trophy in the school’s award case and I never told who did the stealing, and I cheated once on a spelling test. The worst secret was knowing about my father kissing someone other than my mom. The best secret was when I told a boy who liked me a lot that I had my period when I didn’t because he wanted to have sex and I was still a virgin, nor did I want to. I didn’t hang with him after that. As far as my Dad, I never told Mom what I saw. I didn’t want to hurt her, but not too long ago, she found out from someone else what was going on. I don’t regret the secrets I’ve kept when I thought then that they would hurt someone or get them in trouble.
When Beth left that night, she said I should have had sex when I didn’t because she did before she was sixteen. That was her big secret. She thought I was a big chicken. I didn’t want to be like Beth. Beth and I broke up as friends that night after she confessed her early escapades and what she did behind my back, that she had sex with a boyfriend of mine. I realized that night that keeping secrets hurt me too, quite a lot, because you never forget they’re there and when you have kept too many of them, even if you don’t have regrets, they don’t go away. I think now it’s better to get rid of them and stop taking them in so you can get over whatever happens after that as soon as possible.
I often would think, what if? What if I had told my mom what I saw? Maybe it would have been easier hearing it from me than from someone else because she would have me to think about then, not just herself. And if I had told on my brother, maybe he’d be alive today instead of overdosing. That was the worst of the worst. I stopped collecting secrets that night because secrets hurt, they hide the truth and live in the dark, where help doesn’t exist for you or anyone.