Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Jacqueline Doyle
My meditations on confession started, I suppose, with an essay I wrote on my unresolved feelings about disclosing or protecting secrets. The essay alternates between an "I"-narrator resisting confession, and third-person revelations of secrets. It opens at an AA meeting. In our era of celebrity rehab, "I'm a recovering alcoholic" isn't much of a confession, especially in the enlightened Bay Area where I live. But it's a confession I still avoid, something I prefer to keep to myself. Twenty years ago "she" shrank from it too:
It is 1991. She looks around the room in the church basement furtively to see if there's anyone she knows. The room is cold. The Styrofoam cup of coffee with powdered creamer floating in it leaves an acid taste, and she feels a twinge of nausea. "Hi, I'm Jackie. I'm an alcoholic." She thinks of the dark confessional box of her childhood, the shadowy silhouette of the priest on the other side of the screen. "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been one week since my last confession." Here under the stark fluorescent lights, she feels exposed. Someone is telling his story, pausing after each slogan for applause. She's finding it hard to focus and looks at the faded twelve-step poster on the wall. "1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable." She's not sure she's gotten beyond the first step, and wonders if she really has to admit to others what she's admitted to herself. She shifts uneasily on the cold plastic chair, hoping no one calls on her to speak.
You'd think that growing up with nuns and Catechism classes and required weekly confessions I'd be used to self-disclosure. The Catholic sacrament of Confession has changed a lot, though. Shortly after my 1950s suburban Catholic childhood, the priest became Dr. Phil, a kind of pop therapist you chat with face to face. And the private sacrament of Confession went public, with a voyeuristic audience glued to the TV. And that's part of what concerns me. Sometimes it's hard to know the difference between appearing on the Jerry Springer Show and writing memoir. The difference between exhibitionism and honest self-reflection.
In telling secrets, I don't know whether I've bared myself, or simply shed myself, and to what end. It's quite possible that my painful self-revelations are not important to anyone but me. In keeping secrets, I may be holding on to something that's trivial, after all, exerting effort to carry something to the grave when no one cares about my burden. You can't confess a secret without telling it to someone, but I'm still not sure what that means.
The stage lights are off, the theater is dark and empty. I'm ready for my confession. "There's more," I whisper, "not just the alcoholism." I clear my throat, tense, breaking out in a sweat. And then say, louder, "Hello, is anybody out there?"
Jacqueline Doyle's personal essays, creative nonfiction and flash memoir have appeared in elimae, flashquake, Glossolalia, SNReview, River Poets Journal, Pear Noir!, and numerous other journals. She has begun to publish fiction, and finds it something of a relief. She teaches at California State University, East Bay.
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