My collection started when I was just six years old. I was supposed to be collecting dolls and dresses, but the walls of my house were too thin. My parents were talking, getting louder and louder.
“I want another baby. It should be my decision – I’m the woman,” my mother yelled.
“We already have four kids. We don’t need and can’t afford another,” my father shot back.
“Sally needs someone. She’s odd. A younger sibling could help her.”
“Lack of a sibling is not why Sally is odd.”
My first secret to lock away in a special part of my mind: I was odd.
I never got a younger sibling and my parents soon began to sleep in separate rooms. I continued to grab at secrets as I grew older. Aunt Teri was so broke she was going to lose her home. My sister Margery’s new boyfriend made her smoke pot. My father had special pictures only he could see on the computer. Each secret as special as the next. I held them close to me – in my mind, in my heart – like treasured friends.
When I was eleven, I thought I could start to collect real friends. I sat by a group of three girls in class and followed behind them as they walked to lunch.
“Hi,” I meekly said to the one named Angela.
“Ya?” she answered.
Angela whispered to the girl named Christina.
“What?” I asked, wanting to be in on the conversation.
“Angela says you’re annoying,” Cristina said, just a little too loudly.
Another secret for the collection: I was annoying.
I spent most of middle and high school sitting in back corners of classrooms and eating at the farthest picnic table. No one spoke to me, but I listened. Jennifer didn’t get her period for two months. Mr. Daniels kept a couch in the back of his classroom for certain special girls. Elizabeth liked Greg but he liked Albert. I locked each secret away – secure in my mind’s vault.
“What are you going to do after high school?” my mother asked one day when I was a senior and just shy of eighteen.
“I’m going to go to college.”
“What do you want to do, though?”
“I want to study English.”
“I like to read. I’ve read over two hundred books in the past six years. That’s not nearly enough. I want more.”
“And what job will you get with a degree in English?”
“There are lots of possibilities. I could work in an office, be a teacher, or be a writer.”
“Sally, that’s just unrealistic. Study business.”
My next secret: I was unrealistic.
I went to college expecting some fresh and exciting new experience where I would show all those kids who wouldn’t look at me twice that I was amazing and important and smart. That only happens in sappy movies. College was basically a continuation of high school. And I really hated the business classes. One thing so obvious that it doesn’t belong in my collection is the non-secret that I am meek. Still, any electives I got – the two of them – went to literature classes.
College was a good time to add to my collection anyway. Dr. Samwell slept with all his graduate assistants. Professor White lowered a grade from any student who came dressed inappropriately and claimed it was “something” in their research paper. Angela and Christina started taking Adderall to get through their class load.
I was in my junior year of college when my family decided to take a trip. Just a weekend getaway to Walt Disney World – the happiest place on earth. Everything went rather nicely the first day, when we rode everything at Magic Kingdom from the Haunted Mansion to Space Mountain to Dumbo. We looked like an all-around, nice American family. Looks are deceiving.
The second day we went to Epcot. My three older sisters were all well out of college and well into boyfriends. Margery was engaged. They wanted to spend the day with their boyfriends, going on a whole strew of dark, slow-moving rides. This left lonely me with some one-on-one time with my parents. This was okay, until lunch time.
“Where do you want to eat?” my father asked.
“Definitely one of the countries,” my mother answered, indicating the pavilions for countries that make up a large portion of Epcot.
“How about Norway? I’ve never had Norwegian food,” I suggested.
“Ugh, no. It stinks like fish in there,” my mother answered.
“What about China?” my father suggested.
“That sounds good.”
“But we always have Chinese food,” I complained.
“Stop whining,” my mother scolded.
“Fine. Have what you want,” I said and took off toward the country pavilion for China. I like any food anyway; I just wanted to try something unusual.
Before I knew it, my father was grabbing my arm and pulling me to the side of the walkway.
“You need to stop,” he told me.
“I did,” I answered.
“Stop being so damn stupid all the time.”
Ahh . . . another secret: I was stupid.
Despite the secret that I was stupid, I managed to graduate from college the next year – with a degree in business administration to boot. My parents should have been so proud.
It was hard to find a job. I must have gone on dozens of interviews, but it was no secret that the job market was tough at the time. I finally had to take a job as a temp. For all this, my mother should have just let me study what I wanted.
The truth is, I didn’t care anyways. I was lonely – all I had to keep me company were secrets. Two colleagues at the PR firm were having an affair. The boss was lifting money from the accounts. The supervisor only got a promotion because she gave really good blow jobs. The guy in the cubicle next to me finished all his meals with Jack Daniels.
It was no longer enough. For the first time in my life I felt truly lonely. Suffocatingly lonely. I cried every day on the way to work and the minute I walked back into my parents’ house after work. I didn’t even want to read anymore and I had no friends to talk to. I didn’t leave the bed on weekends. I couldn’t explain what was happening to me.
“What are we going to do with her?” my father asked.
“What can we do? What’s wrong with her?” my mother asked.
“None of her sisters were like this.”
“Maybe we can take her to a doctor.”
“She needs more than that. She’s crazy.”
“Let’s try putting her away for a while,” my mother suggested.
All the secrets I kept scooted over to make room: I was crazy.
Well, it’s not so bad in here. The people are nice. The rooms are clean. I don’t have to worry about work. The loneliness slowly fades with every pill. And I still have my collection. I add to it every day. Ann cuts herself. Desiree tried to gas herself. Jonathan masturbates twenty hours a day. Isabel is making a plan to get us out of here . . .
Melissa Davis is a writer, doctoral student and teacher. She has had work published with journals such as Leaves of Ink, Fiction on the Web, and The Commonline Journal. She be found online at http://www.melissadavisauthor.com/.