I was having a conversation last night with someone about guilty secrets. Most of the stuff we exchanged was tame, if not downright lame, but partway through the conversation a memory was recalled, which I then relayed.
Is this a guilty secret? In a way, yes, though perhaps it could be best described as a dark secret. This is not fessing up to a love for Barbra Streisand’s music. It’s not lame, and it’s certainly not tame. Anyway, judge for yourself.
This was way back when, quite possibly in the tail-end of the eighties. I had been induced by my girlfriend of the time to spend a couple of weekends attending something called the Forum – an update of Est.
This was not really my thing, but I was in love, and when you’re love – in the heady, romantic, early stages of it anyway – you’ll do all sorts of things that aren’t yours. And so it was with me.
I went along and sat in a large room in South Melbourne over a weekend from 8am to 6pm. To say it was an interesting experience would be a nice touch of Aussie understatement. I was young then, a bit more sophisticated than meat and potatoes, but in my strident virility there was more than a touch of naivety.
Like is so often the case the woman I was with, M, was a tad more developed than me. Not only was she aware of this thing I had never heard of, she had actually identified aspects of herself she wanted to address in the Forum. When I signed up I didn’t know what I was in for.
What I recall best are the stories. Basically we were encouraged to dig deep inside ourselves to expose the fundamental stories of our life and to go at them with a forensic honesty. As part of that people were asked to stand up and share their stories.
Some of the stories were doozies. I sat there feeling increasing bewildered, and out of my depth. I was, after all, just a boy from the suburbs back then, with big ambitions and ideas beyond my station and a youthful swagger untested as yet in the wider world – and here I was hearing the most extraordinary tales.
I listened with the most rapt attention as a woman revealed how she had been abused as a child; another spoke of how he was the sole survivor of a murder suicide; another man of how his daughter had been killed in a hit-run accident. Not all the stories were like that, but I remember being surprised at how common such deep tragedy and misfortune was. I felt positively innocent.
Most of the stories were more commonplace, if they could be called that, stories of depression or doubt, about unhappy marriages, suicidal impulses, lost souls, despair. People cried as they spoke, their voices broke or fell to a whisper. The physical wrench of sharing such deeply held secrets and fears was plain to see, but in many cases the experience seemed cathartic, at least in that moment. Everyone sat down to a round of applause.
For me it was a revelatory experience in so many ways, but I didn’t feel part of it. I felt like a witness to it. I sat quietly. I felt little inclination to share as enthusiastically even when my girlfriend shot up and to my amazed fascination shared her story.
Then came the unexpected punchline to all of this. There was almost a gospel feel to the gathering at this point. Hands went up all over the room from people wanting to share their story. We sat there bearing witness to these extraordinary tales, and as in a church hall encouraged them verbally as they told their stories, praise be to God.
Then it was a young man’s turn, about 22 at a guess. He was good-looking in a way, slender, from Israel it turned out, and knowing it we could see it in his features. He was filled with the spirit to share, to unburden himself of his tale – and what an unexpected tale it turned out to be.
As he spoke the room quietened. We had heard all sorts of stories throughout the afternoon, but even with the darkest of them we knew how we should respond. Suddenly though, listening to the unlikely tale of this young Israeli, you could sense people didn’t know how to act. What to think. Silence pervaded the crowded room as he concluded his story and sat down to subdued and cursory applause.
In hindsight it seems he got carried away and shared something he probably should have really kept to himself. I know how that can happen. I remember once sitting in a bathtub with a new girl and telling her how I had been fired from a job for telling my manager to fuck off, twice. She was delighted, and seeking to top me confessed to having embezzled money from her place of work. Um…
So what did this guy say? Actually he admitted to repeated acts of bestiality. You know what that is. As he told it he would climb the walls of nearby Tel Aviv zoo after closing and, over a period of nights, fuck various animals. I don’t recall if he specified which actual animals, but I suspect a detail like that would have stuck in my mind.
Guilty secret? Or something a bit more than that?