Sprawled out on my bed, a daisy-patterned comforter wrapped around my shoulders, I traced the cardboard-colored edges of the first PostSecret. It was borrowed (this kind of thing is best when it’s shared) from a girl who didn’t know me very well then, and yet she knew that it was something I would want to see.
On the Q-train one morning, she offered me the first of many books, a collection of secrets that were not hers to give, confessions so personal that they could only be publicly shared. I’d seen the book before; months earlier, waiting for friends waiting in the perpetual lines of an Urban Outfitters, I distractedly flipped through the so-called books they displayed at the front. I judgmentally examined the single-worded title, manufactured to look like it had been crafted by human hands. I didn’t even bother picking it up, having written it off as insubstantial.
But the girl with the book who stood on the train and both knew me and did not know me at all told me to read it, assured me I’d love it, said it was her favorite. She handed me the hardcover, the hint of the beginnings of camaraderie, and the snippets of stories within secrets. Nothing ruins a potential friendship like a hollow aversion towards another’s precious possessions. And it’s for this reason that I wanted to love PostSecret.
That night, I opened the book, the comfortably contenting crack of the spine like door chimes welcoming yet another visitor. Each painted on the canvas of a four-by-six postcard, the secrets and stories were all intertwined, and even though I did not understand all of them, and could only relate to a few, I understood completely what it meant to have submitted one.
Some of the secrets were silly and light-hearted. My dog winks at me sometimes. I always wink back in case it’s some sort of code. Some were confessions. I don’t love you anymore, but I can’t bear to break your heart, so I stay. Others were inspirational. “This is your moment. The right time is NOW!” I found this inside a magazine on an airplane. As soon as I arrived home, I took the ring I’ve had in my pocket for two years out and proposed to my girlfriend in the middle of the airport. SHE SAID YES. Quite a few were unbelievable. Everyone who knew me before 9/11 believes I’m dead. And some made you cry. I’m still in love with her. I hope she reads this, and recognizes my handwriting. This is also my last try.
As I read each one, I found myself thinking not about the secrets themselves, but the lives that led to them. PostSecrets are snapshots into people’s lives; even though they are anonymous, even though they are written by strangers, as I read these secrets I felt – for a moment – like I knew these people better than anyone around them.
That same night I lay staring at the section of the sky caught within the frame of my bedroom window. A light was on in my neighbor’s house; on the second floor, a box of dim yellow glow surrounding his silhouette. I wondered what he was doing up so late, wondered what he was wondering about. After an evening of reading secrets, it was in this moment that I realized that despite seeing him every day, despite the fact that he lived his life just a few feet away from where I lived mine, I knew absolutely nothing about him. He was a kind of Boo Radley to me, unfamiliar and a complete mystery. And yet, if someone were to ask me if I knew him, I realized I would say yes. But just because you know someone’s name, it doesn’t mean you know their story. For all I know, one of those secrets could belong to my neighbor, or to a distant relative, or a close friend.
I have my own secret. It’s nowhere near as interesting as the ones in the book. I stole your duck and took him to San Francisco. It’s nowhere near as dramatic. Sometimes I feel like I’m cheating on my boyfriend when I sleep with my husband. It’s clearly not as devastating. I am homeless and no one (not even my family) knows about it. It’s not life-changing. When Mum told me you had killed yourself I was so relieved I would never have to tell you I’m gay. But still, I wanted to send my secret in to 13345 Copper Ridge Road, Germantown, Maryland. I even got a blank postcard, but as I sat down to scribble down my secret, I realized that I couldn’t share it. I couldn’t release the facts that only I know to be true about myself. Because the truth is, this secret that weighs me down like an anchor is as important to me as recognition is to the hopeful handwriting. Every day I wake up to this secret, just like the person hiding his or her homelessness wakes up to his or her hidden reality. But I’m pretty sure that if I sent it in, it wouldn’t make it into one of the books. I’m almost positive that my wording isn’t shocking enough, my story isn’t heart-wrenching enough, and my attempts at making it pretty would just depict my inadequate artistic abilities. I’d rather have my PostSecret still mean something, even if only to me.
People say that it’s a small world. I have to disagree. There is very little that connects me to the people I’ve met, to the people I see every once in a while, or even to some of the people I see every day. But one thing we all have in common is that we all have a secret. Some will never be able to admit it to themselves, others will share it. And I will be sustained by other people’s secrets; I’ll commiserate and pity, laugh at the oddities, smile at the love and scorn the hatred. And I’ll feel like I know these people, all Boo Radleys, with their secrets that are mysteries.
I’ll be working towards the day when I’ll send my own secret in, because, on the very slim chance that it’s accepted, I’d like to give some girl somewhere the opportunity to understand her life in the context of mine.
Age 16, Grade 11
Hunter College High School