A Night of Secrets and Voices

At the end of every PostSecret Live! event, I invite audience members to stand at a microphone and share a secret they have never told a soul. One night at a large university, the confessions included tears from a woman who was not there, a poignant message from a dead loved one, and a student who described an early sexual misadventure . . . with his parents!

The night starts early with me on stage for a sound-check. I test the mic and watch the projector display a secrets in my presentation that the publisher has banned from the books. I ask the stage manager about the text scrolling under the postcard images on the screen.

“Events here are live captioned for our deaf students who’ll be sitting in the first two rows.” She says. “It may feel strange at first that everything you say will appear on the screen for the audience to read, especially because it’s done remotely. We don’t know who the transcribers are or even what state they’re in.”

I try to imagine this mysterious stranger who will be listening to my voice reading anonymous postcards mailed to me from around the world, typing secrets for people they will never see.

That night I tell stories of how courage, vulnerability and secrets have transformed lives, including my own. I tell one of my secrets then open the floor for anyone to share theirs. A brave young man approaches the microphone, carried by the encouraging applause of over a thousand people. His voice starts nervously.

So when, um, when I was in seventh grade, my parents asked me to go into their closet to retrieve something for them. And not knowing where it was I decided to go through some of their drawers and look for it. In doing so, I found a full drawer full of porn magazines and toys that I still to this day don’t really know what they do, um… So I quickly closed the drawer up, and then every day after middle school I would rush home and I would open it before my parents got back, I would experience, and I would explore, and it was great fun. They had a lot of VHS tapes they recorded off of television. So I got to experience the eighties muff without every actually being there, um… But, this continued on for weeks and months at a time, until I found the homemade video of my parents. And the real tragedy is it took me four or five minutes to realize what was going on, and realize who they were, to turn it off. I haven’t been in my parent’s closet since.

Laughter washes up on stage from the audience and a few beats later, after his last sentence moves across the bottom of the screen, a second wave of laughter comes from the deaf students reading in front. I take a moment to appreciate the uninhibited expression of joy from a group of young people, some of whom may never have heard their own voice.

I turn away from the students and look over my shoulder to see the last vestige of the young man’s story suspended on the screen:

. . . I haven’t been in my parent’s closet since . . .

I’m wondering about the captionist again and I get the idea to ask her a question.

“To the person typing this.” I say as I watch my words run across the screen. “Thank you for helping us share secrets tonight. If it’s okay, can you tell me your name?”

. . . My name is Tracy . . .

The surprised audience roars its approval. Tracy dutifully types that too:

. . . Applause! . . .

I thank Tracy and return to the people standing in line waiting to share. Many stories were told that night but none more touching than the last from a woman whose breaking voice reveals her anguish.

“I have a secret voicemail message from my Grandmother I keep on my phone. She started calling me at school when she learned I was struggling with a personal problem. She just wanted to make sure I was doing okay. The last time she called I was watching TV and when I saw her name come up on caller ID I didn’t answer. At the time, I never thought there would be a final call.”

Hi Princess, I miss you, I love you, and I miss you for supper and for Everything! You’re just the sweetest. Take care and say ‘hi’ to mommy. Bye.

She held her phone up to the microphone and played it for us. It was haunting to see the dead woman’s final message appear as Tracy transcribed it from an unknown location.

The usher began to move the microphone away when someone in the back jumped up and started running. I see the person and pause; the heads of audience members turn and follow the young man as he gets to the microphone and says, “Frank, can you ask Tracy if she wants to share a secret?”

The audience turns from him and looks at me. I really have no choice.

“Tracy, do you have a secret?”

Silence. People are leaning forward, staring at the bottom of the screen, smiling at friends. Waiting.

This appears on the screen. . .

I’m still crying from typing the last secret

Applause breaks out from the audience at this unexpected confession. I reach into my pocket to get my smartphone so I can take a picture of Tracy’s secret on the screen. Just as I hold up my camera I thank her, which I regret immediately.

At that instant – just before I taking my picture – I watch helplessly as her poignant words get pushed off the right side of the screen by what I just said:

. . . Thanks for trusting us with your secret Tracy . . .

I blurt-out something impulsively as I witness how my own voice just erased Tracy’s extraordinary secret forever. Tracy types that too:

. . . Oh Shit!


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