We should all have a place to put our secrets.
A few years ago, my mom found my very first diary somewhere in my old childhood bedroom. It had been written on in various colors of gel pen, erasable pen, and pencil. My handwriting went from blocky print to cursive and back to print again. Entries ranged from what I got for Christmas and how I celebrated my birthday to questioning my existence to unfinished rants about life and love that trailed off into cliffhangers. If ever there was a single documentation of leaving childhood and entering adulthood, it was this diary, complete with a portrait of the Little Princess smiling naively on the cover in her prim little hat and her matching overcoat.
Before I wrote this post, I searched my whole house for this diary, only to discover that it's gone. I hid it so well that even I can't find it. I'm a bit sad about it, mostly because I had an enviable Lisa Frank sticker collection inside, but I'm sure I'll find it eventually. I am not as ferociously protective of my diary as others. That's what double password-protected documents on Microsoft Word are for.
From late high school through most of college, I did not keep a diary. Instead, I held my secrets inside of me. I only let them out in dramatic ways--carving names into walls, writing letters I'd never send, or hidden in my fiction.
I used to have a lot of secrets. There were so many things that I didn't tell anyone for many years, and they consumed corners of my brain that should've been reserved for other things. Nothing akin to working for the mafia, having a taboo affair, or secretly being a stripper (if you've seen the movie City Island, it covers all three bases). But it was enough to keep me from any sort of healthy catharsis.
As I started sharing more of my secrets--this year being my record year--I learned that some of them weren't really secrets after all. Some were lingering questions that could've been answered and resolved years ago. Some were obvious truths that I'd built up in my mind. Others were so long ago that their secrecy no longer held any power.
In sharing some of these secrets, some of my relationships with others got stronger. Other relationships' true natures were revealed, and faded into the background or disappeared entirely. In the past year, I've even participated in the best kind of secret sharing: telling a total stranger. It's probably no coincidence that I am an avid reader of Post Secret. Although I have never sent in a secret myself, I look for secrets that I think could be similar to mine, or secrets that I like to imagine that people I know could've written. Strangers sharing secrets, now that's the stuff that great romance, literature, and film is made of.
The last time I wrote a secret somewhere, I stuffed it under my bed for two years in the first apartment I lived in when I came to Philly. I threw it out along with the bed that literally had to be chopped up because it couldn't be disassembled or fit down the stairs. I still remember most of what I wrote, and as it turned out, the letter served its purpose; it helped me to forget the secret for a little while. The act of writing it down made it lose some of its power, and for a time, rendered it untrue. Changing secrets into solids makes them too clunky for us to carry around.
A few years ago, my mom discovered something else in addition to my diary: she unearthed floppy discs with writing files on them whose contents I will never know unless I bother to convert them into something belonging in the 21st century. Buried deep on old computer hard drives, she found angry letters that I'd typed about certain family members back when I figured my parents were never going to really learn how to use computers. It's funny how something like a floppy disc or a totally unprotected hard drive seemed like safe hiding places to me at the time. Hiding our secrets is very dependent now on our evolving technology.
Another favorite location for my secrets was inside the drop ceiling of my room. I hid everything from cold hard cash to well...things I'd rather not talk about :) It was a rather ingenious hiding place, since I used to rotate the location of these various items from tile to tile to throw anyone off my scent. I still harbor some of this desire to hide things out of sight, shoving my laptop under piles of clothes when I know I'm going to be out of the house for a while, or pushing journals behind other books on my shelf.
I'm also good at finding other people's secrets. My brother and I loved snooping through my grandmother's closets, hosting our own contest for who could find the most obsolete or questionable object. All we discovered were old versions of Monopoly, Life, and hundreds of loose jacks, all missing their corresponding balls. I've also rummaged through more drawers and nightstands than I can count, and I can say unabashedly that I try to piece together people's lives when I frequent Air BnBs, although I usually restrain myself from doing more than carefully scrutinizing their photos and building a plausible backstory. Mostly, I just pet their dogs and plot how I can smuggle them back home with me.
I've experimented with messages in bottles and writing secrets in the sand. I've released secrets to the wind, and I've told secrets in foreign languages. I've whispered them to people I loved when I thought they were sleeping. I've said them directly to people's faces, but changed certain details so that no one would know they belonged to me. It feels strange at times that there is and never will be one home for all of our secrets, even for the most diligent journal keepers among us.
The truth is, most of the places where I kept my secrets as a child are gone. They're either obsolete or they simply no longer exist. My grandmother's old cabin, a bastion of out-of-print books and M&Ms of questionable age and origin, has been razed to the ground, along with the little red folding table where I watched my grandfather scream at my brother for the way he was eating. As a little girl, one of my first secrets was this: I did not love certain people very much, even if I was supposed to.
My parents' backyard has disassembled some of our secrets too--the swing set where I almost cracked my head open has had the chains and swings removed. The clubhouse where my brother conducted experiments of unknown safety and high flammability is now a storage unit. The crystal that my brother buried in the backyard (and that I secretly dug up later) is unaccounted for, the holes of my brother's burial sites all smoothed over with gravel and fresh grass. The rooms where we burrowed contraband have been turned into guest rooms, and now we enter the first space we ever learn to make secrets--in our childhood rooms--as strangers.
And then there are the things we hide in ice, hoping that they will melt along with it. Last year, I visited my college campus for the first time in nearly seven years. My college campus is known for its long winters, the kinds where hair freezes and snaps off and your eyes water the moment you step outside. As I walked around on that beautiful fall day, I marveled at how many secrets were dependent upon the snow--secrets exhaled in an elaborate igloo that students built behind one of the dorms, or the winter coat of someone we didn't like and buried so deep that it became fossilized with the ice.
Now, when I keep secrets, I think more carefully about why they're secrets in the first place. Am I protecting myself, or someone else? Am I keeping my word to someone else? Or, more likely, I am not protecting anything other than my own pride.
Someday, I might relocate my childhood diary in the black hole of mismatched socks and obnoxious leggings that comprise my dresser drawers, and when I do, I'm going to hide it in the most obvious place: in prominent view on my bookshelf, where I hope it can't run too far away from me.