She turned her wheel looking at me in my rearview mirror. What did she expect me to do? Who made eye contact for Christ’s sake? Doesn’t eye contact mean anything to anyone any more?
Bitch. My hands shook while I poured my coffee. Fucking bitch. I burnt my toast. My stomach grumbled. Fucking, self-serving bitch. Did she expect me to worship the ground she walked on? Or drove on rather?
As I thought it, I knew it was ridiculous.
It happened at the line of cars at the school drop off. Morning, people in a hurry to get to their next destination, shuffling kids around. I tried to let her go in front of me. She was in such a hurry, but then she got so pissed. We called each other names into our rear-view mirrors.
I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror. She’s probably forgotten all about it my now.
I thumbed through my mail. Abigail Tribly. I saw my name appear on bill after bill. No one called me Abigail, not even my parents. It was always Abby. Whenever I saw my name printed on a piece of mail, I thought of Abigail as the wrong addressee. Just who is Abigail? Could she let this whole drop off disaster go? How could I have lost such control in such a short amount of time?
If Doreen were here, she would make me feel better, the only decent person I could trust and who didn’t judge. Doreen Henderson, she’d tell me to buck up, thicken my skin, and drop it. If only I could hear it from her lips. I called her. No answer, so I left a voicemail.
An hour later, this woman’s face kept flashing before my eyes, even when I closed them and tried to meditate. Especially when I tried to meditate. I couldn’t seem to get away from her. She had that scowl, fuming at me, revealing the most uncomfortable expressions. Oh, if she could only see herself, she would stop making those expressions instantly, on the spot. Did she really think she was such a badass for yelling at me in a minivan packed full of kids. Way to set a good example for our youth; our promise for a brighter tomorrow.
My chest tightened when I saw her face. I exhaled deeply. Again and again. There she still was. Then I marveled and lambasted myself for wasting all my time on her; time this precious resource so easily thrown away. I could have confessed it to “The Confessional” by now and been done with it.
Doreen had told me all about it at her house over a glass of wine after the kids were in bed. The Confessional was an anonymous website where anyone could go to confess. It’s just like it sounds. So long as you’re at least 18 years old and have a credit card, and a pair of standard device glasses handy, you could sign up and participate. That’s the thing though. You must participate. You can’t sign up unless you agree to confess. Doreen made that clear. Besides, everyone was doing it these days.
“Like who?” I asked, dipping my pita chip in humus. Doreen was the kind of person who provided snacks with the wine. A decent person, as I said.
“I don’t know. A lot of people do it. Just people you wouldn’t expect. My boss did it.”
“Oh,” I was genuinely surprised she had known this intimate detail about her boss, even though I knew she was infatuated with him. Entirely innocent, of course. “Well…did you get any bits?”
Doreen’s eyes turned glassy, and she was absolutely still. She surveyed the room like it was new and unfamiliar.
“It’s not like anyone talks about it. It’s kind of secret. That’s kind of the point.” She poured more wine.
“What about murderers? Lurkers?”
“That’s not allowed,” Doreen said firmly. “That’s against the ‘Rules of Engagement.’”
“Is that like the Ten Commandments?” I teased.
Doreen pursed her lips. “Kind of.” She was deadly serious.
“So you’ve done it,” I said, surprised.
She didn’t respond with a verbal reply, but I saw it in her eyes as she greedily returned her wine glass to her lips. She’d done it, and more than once as I had suspected.
If she did it, why couldn’t I? Just one time.
I typed in “confessional.com” to a sea of happy, uplifted faces, posing by sailboats, riding bikes, and walking dogs. A family joined at a picnic. Everyone smiling, all ethnicities represented. It wasn’t the self-punishing, sinister, dark-alley confessional I had imagined. This was happiness, like fall colors or an ice cream cone enjoyed on the seashore with salt spray in your hair. A joy inflated with ear-to-ear grins. Something was unsettling, but Doreen had seemed to place so much value in it.
A yellow arrow indicated the starting place. One click and a video screen appeared. The presenter was a good-looking man, forties, wearing a business suit. He probably drank protein drinks every day, and his glowing white teeth looked like tall white shutters. If this guy accomplished nothing else in his lifetime, he would at least have this set of glossy veneers to flash for the screen.
He sat awkwardly on a stool, the background portrait studio tan. He spoke:
Confess it here among friends. Lighten your outlook on life. You are not alone. People are here, just like you, to get through a difficult time and to talk about how they’re feeling in the comfort of their own home. There’s no need to hunt down a therapist. If you’re here, I’m betting you have something to get off your chest.
A montage of more happy people and then a few testimonials from participants.
You’re going to love the Confessional. People here just want to share and help.
Since I’ve signed up, I rest easy at night.
Okay, I was ready. I wanted to just get it over with. I tried to stop the video and got flashing text: “It is highly recommended you watch this video. Opting out of the video requires you to sign a waiver to participate.”
Fine, I clicked to continue. A woman appeared onscreen now, Mr. Protein Drink’s counterpart, equally lovely, African-American, in a tan business suit.
This isn’t a gossip colony or a place to spread rumors like other websites. This is about you. Don’t worry. Your privacy is guaranteed.
More rambling about requirements of confessing, support groups, setting up a profile. I almost forgot my confessional altogether. The urgency was almost all but lost until the screen blinked, “Are you ready to confess?”
Had I not talked to Doreen about it, honestly I just as easily could have closed the site. I had work to do, deadlines, but I had already invested twenty minutes watching a video. I pressed on, as my confession loomed; but more than anything, I wanted to experience it.
Clicking the button brought on a whole new subset of conditions. I picked an avatar from a selection of homely looking cartoonish male and female characters. I could select from male or female and then dress them up with glasses, or ribbons, a tie, or a mustache. If desired, I could further accessorize with a dark cloak, much like a monk. A character was also capable of expressing emotion, indicated by emoticons on the screen: sad, happy, angry, fearful, or joyful. Just the five emotions.
After I positioned the glasses device on my head and pushed the green “Start” button, I was inside “The Confessional.” It appeared as a maze of rooms with dark hallways poorly lit by glowing candles; more for effect than function. The tunnels and stone walls resembled a castle. We were all knights and princesses now? I thought of role-playing games and wondered if there was a different setting. Instantly, I felt claustrophobic, surrounded by columns and dark cloaks milling about outside the rooms.
A bubble of text flashed onscreen dictating my next move. “You may now choose a room.”
I vaguely recall this got a mention in the instructional video, although it was a bit fuzzy. I hadn’t expected so many bodies.
As if feeling my unease, a new set of instructions surfaced asking me to rate my confession on a scale of 1 to 5: one, being soft and five, severe. What was soft? Severe? What about a middle ground? A reference would be helpful, and then I felt ridiculous for playing along with this obvious scam. Once again, I was on the ledge of jumping back and quietly shutting my computer down. Something told me it wasn’t going to be that simple anyway. They had all my information.
I wandered into a random room, not knowing the assigned category of soft to severe. It didn’t help that every time I thought of soft, I wanted to lay down on a pillow. A rambunctious fellow in a hooded cloak and red tie was in my face gesturing some kind of sign language, and I wanted to crouch in a corner; I saw others had flocked to the corner like wallflowers at a dance, their hoods in the shadows.
A red light glowed on my screen and within seconds a queue of texts formed on a sidebar. Another item I had glossed over in the video was that apparently I could write my confession, which would appear as text; I could have it spoken for me, or speak it myself. Undoubtedly, users chose to have their voices disguised, as this was also an option. A male or female voice was a choice, similar to the avatar selection.
Momentarily, the thought occurred to me that I could have a male avatar and select a female voice, not that anyone would really know. More blinking lights than a ride at Disneyland flickered on-screen. I laid back in my chair and watched. Showtime.
More text streamed and then one-by-one, a series of confessions:
I pissed on my sister’s plant.
I masturbated out in the parking lot.
I’m in love with my boss. I flirted with him in a meeting. Now everybody knows.
No doubt a sexual theme permeated this room. The “time remaining” ticked away and I clicked in another room worried about supply of minutes. In this new room, I noticed a change in mood with the voices more edgy and tentative.
I stole money from my mom again for a fix. She thinks it was for a doctor’s bill.
I stole underwear and pajamas. It’s not my fault if they’re not paying attention.
My confession was like a tickle fight on the playground and dwarfed in comparison to these maniacs. I wanted to run for the door, except there was no door. I was tempted to disband the eyewear and then a blinking button appeared as if a personal message, “Are you ready to confess?”
I slipped into yet another room with fewer participants, and for this reason, felt more calm. With less confessions, the time in between seemed more relaxed. There wasn’t this big jump to reveal your innermost secret. It appeared as if these confessions were a bit more drawn out, more conversational, more personal is how I would describe them. Here avatars were sitting on a couch as if in therapy. I listened in:
He doesn’t have to cry about it. It’s not my fault if the team lost the game. It’s just a goddamn game. Whoever thought people would let it rule their lives?
And then a few activated voices, most likely disguised but wavering.
I’m tired of my life. I want a happy Facebook life. I’m almost forty and got nothing to show for it.
This seemed more of a life crisis than admittance of any wrongdoing. I paused to look on the screen for more clues, still familiarizing myself with the dashboard.
I want to sleep with my therapist. What should I do? I need to be in therapy because of therapy. Therapy is never going to work.
This was juicy soap opera fodder and my mind referenced people in my own inner circle. Did I know anyone going to therapy? Was it someone I knew? Probably not, since these people could conceivably be from anywhere. On the other side of the world perhaps…or were they?
Another warning button flashed and then a voice articulated, “Confess or prepare to pay a penalty. Time remaining: two minutes.”
I clicked to the grey queue area and, within seconds, it was my turn. After all that listening in, I was completely unprepared to throw my confession into the ring.
I clicked for the voice option since my hands were shaking too much to type; my confession felt stupid and pointless. What did I want? Validation for confessing? Support for being a dumbass? I almost wanted to make up something else, something better, but my ability to form coherent thoughts was questionable. I could do nothing but go with my gut. What was the saying: if you told the truth you don’t have to remember the lie.
Here goes nothing.
I selected “Male” to generate my words as I spoke into the microphone on my computer. There was a slight delay in projecting my words to the group of avatars still posed on the couch, which gave me the sensation of speaking into a cavernous room, the voice echoing. It was unexpected and threw me off. I couldn’t even think straight, but the words left my lips:
I flipped off this woman in the parking lot at my kid’s school this morning. She got so pissed. We yelled at each other in our rear-view mirrors and I…I..I
my voice echoed….
I lost it. I called her names.
That was it? All this trouble and this was all I could muster? I continued, even though it looked like my turn was over.
I wanted to wring her neck.
I improvised that last remark, although certainly I had felt that way. Had I not? A group of five or six avatars nodded, and I felt reassured by their bobbing heads. No one expressed silly emoticons.
I clicked for feedback when the session was over, buying additional time as needed. The few that remained said things like everyone has their best intentions at drop off in the morning and that it could happen to anyone. It really could, too. I felt my face ease in a more relaxed position. I may have even been smiling.
And then there was this exchange:
I was a bitch this morning, too. I don’t even know what happened. I wasn’t being myself at all.
A pink heart landed in my avatar’s hand that said “hugs.” Could this hug-thrower actually be my accused? The woman I wished to inflict bodily harm upon only hours ago, and mentally bashed with insults? Could be or might as well be. Wasn’t it enough? Could it be enough?
How I could feel liberated by a bunch of pixellated images identified as mere numbers was beyond reason. It had felt like the most transparent exchange I had encountered in some time. A camaraderie of the spirit, of being human, of acceptance.
I felt cleansed, ready to take on the day.
I felt something else, too. I recognized it right away.
I wanted to do it again.