“Are you ready Sara?” my stepson Ethan called up to me.
“Almost. Give me five more minutes,” I yelled back.
I looked back at the screen, cursor hovering over the POST button on my blog. My article Little Me, sitting, waiting, ready to be released to the wider world. I took a few steadying breaths.
“I can do this. It will be good to do this. I’ve kept this memory a secret for too long.”
I re-read the first couple of lines for the thousandth time as anxious thoughts circled.
“What if people judge me? What if he finds out what I’ve written and gets mad at me?”
I’d spent hours working on the piece, reliving the shame-filled memory it described, trying to capture the depth of how it felt in words. I’d written and rewritten it, agonizing over how it would be received, wondering if I should share it with others and open my experience up to their critique.
“SARA!! We’re waiting!” my husband Kris called.
“Coming!” I yelled back, hurrying downstairs, hitting “post” before I could change my mind.
“What are we watching?” I asked grabbing a blanket and settling into the couch.
“Leaving Neverland,” Ethan replied as he hit play.
“It’s the two part documentary about Michael Jackson,” my husband added handing me the popcorn bowl.
I was aware of the film. In fact, I’d been actively avoiding it, afraid the accusations of abuse it contained would impact my love of Michael’s music.
“Just try it,” Kris said sensing my hesitation.
An hour later, Ethan broke in over the narrative, “Most people don’t think these accusations of abuse are true. Online, they’re saying these guys have testified for Michael in the past. They said under oath nothing happened to them. Why would they lie?”
“Maybe they will talk about that,” I half-heartedly answered, but in my own way, I already understood why they would lie to protect someone who was bad for them. I had done the same thing until an hour ago when I posted Little Me.
But–why did I lie? Why did I go to such great lengths to hide a secret? Those were questions I could try to answer, and hopefully learn from.
I lied because I was afraid of what the truth would reveal about me. But I also lied to protect him, the boyfriend who had caused me serious pain and self doubt. I lied because, at times, despite his cruelty, I still loved and admired him. Or maybe, I just wanted to save him, hoping that his redemption would somehow mean my own. I lied because my feelings were so complicated, so firmly rooted in the gray of life, I didn’t know how to process them and I was certain others wouldn’t understand. So instead I kept secrets, until, finally, I found the courage to write about it.
After the movie, I lay awake wondering how my post would be received, and what the fallout would be in the coming days. And I imagined the men in the film feeling that same anticipatory fear. What would people say when the truth came out? Would they be compassionate or condemning? Would they only see the prior lies?
“I watched the Michael Jackson documentary,” I said to my friend two weeks later.
“What did you think?” she asked.
“Well…” I said, remembering my blog-anxiety from the night we watched it, suddenly realizing how much had changed since then. I had started to laugh more frequently. I had more energy. I no longer tried to maintain an illusion of perfection with my friends, making our interactions more authentic. I remembered how others had shared their experiences in response to my article, making me feel understood and less lonely. Most importantly, I felt lighter and more peaceful. Sharing my secret had released me from its tenacious hold.
I smiled at her. “I think in telling their truths after all these years– they might finally feel free.”