I’ve heard it said that everyone has their secrets, but is that really true? Because carrying around a secret gets pretty tough. They get heavy, weighing down on you, accumulating every day. Sure, maybe you can get away for a while with stuffing them to the back of your consciousness, but they always have a way of popping up just when you think life is finally going to be OK.
That’s what it’s like for me, anyway. I have so many secrets. I’ve never told anybody about any of these, not even my wife. But they’re getting to be too much, and I need to let them free. Maybe if I just get out with it, maybe if I’m just honest, they’ll stop haunting every waking second of my life. I hope so. I’ve been carrying around this baggage for too long.
1. I killed my family’s pet fish
I think everyone’s family had a fish tank at one point or another. I remember when my dad came home with the mini aquarium, my brothers and sisters and I were all so excited. There were more than a dozen fish in there, swimming in between the fake rocks, not really paying attention to the plastic treasure chest lying decoratively in the corner. The fish were a big deal at first, we’d all stand around and give them names. Later, we’d fight and scream about which fish had what name, or about who’s turn it was to drop in the little fish flakes they were only supposed to eat twice every day.
But after a couple of weeks it got old. The fish never really did anything. If they swam through the little plastic hoop suspended from the roof of the tank, it was totally random, and not because we’d trained them to do any tricks. Plus, if you stood around the tank long enough, eventually one of the fish would poop, and then another fish would swim over and eat it, so that was kind of unpleasant to watch.
One day I was just really, really bored. It wasn’t my intention to kill them, but I wound up killing all of them. I took out a piece of gum that I’d been chewing for like half an hour or so, and I stretched it out into little tiny balls. And then I put those balls in the fish tank. When I say it like that, it’s obvious that nothing good was coming out of it, but I really can’t stress enough that, if I knew then what I know now, I’m pretty confident that I wouldn’t have gone ahead and done what I did. I fed them the gum, they all ate up, and within fifteen minutes, they were all floating belly-up at the surface. I hid in the closet for the rest of the day, and when my mom came home later that night, she just said, “Huh, all of the fish died,” and the whole family watched in the hallway as she unceremoniously flushed them down the toilet. Maybe she didn’t care. I knew that she hated cleaning out that tank. But still, I felt really bad.
2. I broke my friend’s mom’s antique clock
One time when I was in the fifth grade, I was hanging out at my friend Mike’s house. It was one of those middle-of-the-week school days, so there wasn’t anything going on except for sitting in the living room watching TV. Mike’s older sister was there too. I forget how it started exactly, but all three of us started throwing pillows at each other. And you know how little kids get, right? They get into it. We were diving behind the couch, using armchairs as forts to hide behind. It was just three dumb, silly kids throwing around a bunch of couch pillows.
But then I threw one and it went wild, flying past the furniture, right into this really fancy looking antique clock. The whole base of the clock was made of porcelain, and I can still remember the crash as it fell to the floor and shattered into hundreds of pieces. Everybody froze, the frenzied joy instantly sucked out of the room, turned off like a light switch.
Mike and his sister panicked. “I’m sorry,” I tried to say, but they started trembling. “That was a really, really old clock,” Mike’s sister said. “Mom is going to be so pissed.” I needed some sort of assurance, that this was just a mistake, that you can’t cry over spilt milk or whatever. But no, ten seconds went by, and then a minute, and it sank in that this was huge deal. “I’ll say it was me,” Mike’s sister offered. “No,” I said, “I was the one who broke it.” But Mike’s sister got really serious, she told me, “No, she’ll get pissed off at me. But she’ll kill you. You won’t be allowed to hang out with Mike ever again. And she’ll go after your parents. She’ll never ever let this go. You know what? Just leave now, just get out of here and I’ll deal with this.” And I did, I just got out, I picked up my backpack and ran. We never spoke about it ever again, and I’d be lying if I said that I still don’t look at my cell phone every day half expecting the phone to ring, for Mike’s mom to start screaming at me, “I just found out the truth about that clock!”
3. I stole the class of 2004
What I mean is, there was this bar right off campus where, every year, the owner did a class photo. Any senior who wanted to be in it could show up, but it was mostly just bar regulars, a group of like fifty or sixty kids. They took the photo, it was blown up, framed, and hung on the wall. There had to have been twenty or thirty or thirty of them, all lined up in a row, a memorial to those who came before us, ordering six dollar pitchers of Coors Light and waiting for their songs to play on the jukebox, even though they put a dollar into the machine like three hours ago.
Anyway, one night I was hanging out, and it was packed, and I was drunk, and something came over me that I couldn’t explain. It caused me to reach up and grab the Class of 2004. I really have no idea why I did it, but I did, I lifted it up and bolted out of the emergency exit, sprinting the five or six blocks back to my off-campus apartment. When I got to the front door, I looked back, my adrenaline just pumping through my body, but nobody was chasing after me. Nobody else had seen me. And now I looked at this photo. What had I done? What was I hoping to get out of this stupid stunt?
I brought it back at the end of the semester. I closed my eyes, hoping that the owner wouldn’t call bullshit on my story of having found it lying in a trashcan outside of my apartment building. But he totally bought it. “No way! I thought I’d lost it forever!” he was almost kind of emotional. “Please, sit down, have some drinks, on the house!” And I couldn’t, there was no way I was going to accept any free drinks for stealing a photo and then lying about it months later. But I said no, and he said, “Come on!” and I said, “OK, maybe just one or two,” and then I wound up staying there until really late, and I drank a ton of free drinks, and when I went to tip the bartender at the end of the night, I realized that I didn’t have any cash on me, and so I kind of just made it like I was going to go to the bathroom, but I slinked out the emergency exit and ran home and overslept for class the next day.
4. I’m not really allergic to peanuts
It started off innocently enough. I started dating this girl in college, and her parents came to visit one weekend. It wasn’t like we were serious enough for her to have introduced me to her folks yet, but we lived in the same dorm, and I happened to be walking down the hall one day when there they all were. “Why don’t you come out with us for lunch?” her mom offered, and I said, “OK, sure, that sounds great.”
But I was super awkward and nervous and for whatever reason none of the words were coming out of my mouth the way that I thought they would come out in my head. We went out to some Thai restaurant, and I’d never eaten Thai food before. Also, I was really hungover. Also, I had just eaten two extra value meals from McDonald’s. So when they put all of these plates of food that I couldn’t imagine putting into my stomach, I lied, I said that I was allergic to peanuts, and that I didn’t feel comfortable eating anything.
It was a mistake that day, yes, because her super nice parents insisted that all of the food be sent back and remade with special attention to my peanut allergy, so I wound up having to eat all of the food anyway. But it’s also a mistake that’s haunted me ever since, because I wound up getting married to that girl, and both she and all of her family members still think I’m allergic to peanuts. It’s always a huge to-do. One time her mom even made me spit out a bite of some dessert, screaming, “Rob! No! That has peanuts!” and then I had to fake that I couldn’t breathe, and her dad insisted on driving me to the hospital where they pumped me full of epinephrine, all while I sat there praying that whatever tests they were running on me wouldn’t reveal in front of everyone else that I wasn’t really allergic to peanuts. Can this stop now? I’m sorry I made one mistake all of those years ago. But mom, dad, honey, if you’re reading this, can I please not be fake allergic to peanuts anymore?
5. I never really served in the Peace Corps
This one got so out of hand, so fast. I really did intend on serving in the Peace Corps. It’s just that, I never made it past any of the interviews or background checks. But by that point, I’d already told all of my friends and family members that I’d be leaving any day now, off to spend two years of service in some developing country. Weeks and months would go by, and I just hoped it would all go away, that people might forget about it. But they’d keep asking, “So, what’s going on with the Peace Corps?” or “Hear anything back from the Peace Corps yet?” And I’d just say stuff like, “No, not yet. It’s a really long process. It just takes a really long time.”
And then after a year or so, I finally just decided to pretend to go to the Peace Corps. I packed all of my bags and my family and friends threw these big going away parties. And it all just felt so real, like my mom was crying and telling me to be careful. And then after they dropped me off at the airport, I waited to make sure they were gone, and then I took a cab and went to my friend Bill’s house in Queens.
And I basically just hung out in his basement for two years, smoking pot and playing video games. It was really tough, and I’m sure if I actually had gone to the Peace Corps, my struggle might have been comparable to that of an actual volunteer’s. Because sure, it sounds really easy, just hanging out and drinking beer and watching Netflix. But I had to go on the Internet, and write all of these letters home, and make up all of these stories about learning a foreign language. I guess it worked, because nobody’s ever come up to me and straight up questioned the validity of my story. But I just feel like a huge phony, you know? Like it’s the first thing on my resume, “Rob Gunther, Peace Corps.” And every once in a while I’ll run into someone who really went, and they’re talking all about these life changing experiences, and I’m just like, “I know, right?”
So yeah, I really feel bad, about all of this. I’m really sorry. I just wanted to get all of this out. And you know what? I actually feel a lot better. Yeah, I think it worked. Whew! I feel totally better. You should get rid of your secrets too. Wow, I can’t believe I held it in for so long. Come on, what have you got to hide?