Issue 35, Final Fringe

Secrets and Lies

by Kelly Sundberg Issue 24 11.01.2010

I get on my bike and ride back into the street.  The truck is gone, so I keep riding towards my friend’s house.  It’s dark now, and a dry breeze is ruffling my hair.  I look around me and realize that I’m surrounded by homes with no lights on.  As I near the turn to Jackie’s cul-de-sac, I ride underneath a streetlamp.  At that moment, I see him.  He is sitting in his truck facing me with the headlights off, but the brake lights are glowing.  At the same moment I see him, he sees me, and he guns for me.  I hear the sound of his truck engine revving and he is driving straight at me.  Fortunately, I am right outside another classmate’s house.  I throw my bike down into the yard and run to the door.  As I bang on the door, the truck speeds by.  I don’t know what to do.  I don’t want to get back on my bike, but there is no one home.  Running to my friend’s house isn’t an option.  I can see the lights off there too, and a football field sized empty lot lays between the two houses.  I crawl underneath my classmate’s porch with my skin crawling.

I’ve been afraid of small, dark spaces ever since I attended an Assembly of God daycare.  They had a big stage in the corner of the gymnasium where the daycare was held.  We were allowed to play anywhere in the gymnasium but on the stage that seemed both mythical and inaccessible.  One day, I defiantly ran over to play on the stage, and I was immediately yanked back by a woman with frizzy hair who smelled of licorice and cigarette smoke.  She looked in my eyes and hissed, “Don’t play over there.  The devil lives under that stage.”   I imagined the devil crouching, hidden in the dusty darkness below the stage—just waiting to get his hands on me.  After that, when I would play on my parents large, brass bed, I would stretch my legs out and jump off, while praying that the devil’s skinny arms wouldn’t snake out from under the dust ruffle to snatch at my legs.

I’m thinking of a different kind of devil as I crawl under the porch, pushing aside wetsuits and kayaks, inhaling the smell of dirt and sweat.  The earth is damp beneath my bare knees, and I can hear my heartbeat pounding in that dark space. I force thoughts of spider eyes out of my head.   Tall grass is scratching my face, and I shakily push it aside as I watch the road.  The truck drives by again, then makes a U-turn and cruises by the other way.  I can see it clearly now.  It’s an old green flatbed truck.  The hood is a different color, a sort of mixture between grey and rust.  Through a dusty window, I can see the outline of a man and a dog seated next to him.  I can’t make out the details of his face, but I can tell that he is smoking a cigarette.  I now know who he is.

I spent a lot of time moralizing to my friends about the dangers of bulimia, but at some point, in the silence of my own bathroom, I tried it—just to see what it would feel like.  It was relief; I vomited my dinner and felt absolved, forgiven for my sins.  In this single moment of release, I was forgiven for being a glutton.  Over the years, the bulimia became worse, but no one knew.  I never really lost any weight.

I lost some weight when I ran cross-country or track, but the amount wasn’t significant.  Still, with every pound I lost, my mom or her friends would tell me how great I looked, and I would continue to believe that the secret to my happiness was in being skinny.

But most bulimics aren’t skinny, and that’s why we’re all so great at keeping the secret.  And the secret is the worst part—such an affliction—every incident is accompanied by toxicity—the shame that seeps into the entire body.  Every time someone complimented me on weight loss, I would love the affirmation but know all the while that I had fooled them and taken the easy way out.  Then, I started to think I had fooled people on all kinds of things.  I started lying to hide the really big lie, but the big lie was like a mushroom cloud hanging over my head, and the small lies were just distractions.

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Kelly Sundberg

Kelly Sundberg

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Kelly Sundberg grew up in a remote, one-stoplight town sloped up against the mountains of Idaho.  Living in her husband’s home state of West Virginia has further deepened her attraction to stories about small communities with a complex, often uneasy connection with the surrounding landscape and each other.  She is currently pursuing her MFA in nonfiction at West Virginia University where she also teaches composition.