Deep Tissue Secrets

Secrets are sneaky.

They get out.

Others pull them out of you.

Here’s how it happened to me.

It was 1988.

It was a Friday night.

In the Fall.

In Ohio.

We were gathered in the cage. 

Pads on. 

Helmets off. 

Taking a knee.

We seniors were minutes away from playing our last home game.

Most of us had been playing together for four years.

A lot of us longer. 

Some of us since the fourth grade.

Our offensive coordinator was holding the floor and getting reflective.

He went from senior to senior, named them and shared a story about them.

He named me and started his story with “We almost lost Hump.”

I looked up at him with surprise.

“He almost had to move away” he continued as if to remind me. 

I had no idea what he was talking about. 

You see, I have a superpower. 

When a bad things happen.

Things I would never let happen to or do to my son happen.

Things that want to, need to be acknowledged in order to heal happen.

I muzzle those mother *#@%!, roll them up in a thick ass Persian rug of denial, and tie off each end with a knot of rope so tight that even someone with the grip strength of professional rock climber has to go looking for knife.

And, then I bury them.

Deep.

Deep tissue deep.

No map.

No markings.

No bread crumbs.

I turn my back on them and walk away.

My body is a burial ground full of secrets.

Me and my secrets.

We have a deal.

I keep busy.

They keep quiet.

I buried this particular secret so amnesia-inducing deep that I fooled myself into believing that whatever happened never happened.

That is, until our overly sentimental offensive coordinator inadvertently strolled over its burial site.

It started rumbling.

Rising. 

It was a secret that wanted to be spoken.

But, I had a team to lead and a game to play.

So, I did what I do with all things that unsettle me.

I stomped on it.

Did not speak of it.  

Ignored anyone who asked me about.

And, it worked.

Of course it worked.

I am good at this.

That secret went quiet again.

For decades.

Until 2013.

It was late at night.

I was standing shoulder to shoulder in a line with my students in the middle of campus. 

We were living on $2 a day and doing the Privilege Walk Exercise.

The Privilege Walk is a series of questions like:

“If your parents remained married when you were growing up, step forward.”

I had done this with them before. 

Either leading it or facilitating it; but, never participating. 

However, this time I was.

With each question, my students were moving ahead, away from me.

I was in the very back with two other students.

We hadn’t moved much.

The last question was asked: 

“If one of your parents spent time in jail please take two steps back?”

No one moved.

The students staggered in front of me looked back over their shoulders at the three of us.

That secret that wanted to be spoken back in 1988 started rumbling.

So, I went looking for it. 

Put on my work boots to go stomp on it.

But, here’s the thing.

I cannot lie to my students.

I took two steps back.

The student on my left followed suit.

We looked at each other and gave one another a reassuring smile.

The facilitator concluded the exercise.

We all dispersed.

I did not speak aloud about it.

Today, it’s June 19, 2019 and I want to.

My step-father (whom I called “Dad”) spent time in jail.

He managed the Jiffy Lube on Western Hills Avenue.

We had a lot of bills. Bills that were overdue. Bills that we could not pay. Bills that if we did not pay would lead to us losing our home to foreclosure. 

So, he stole from the store he managed.

He got caught, arrested, tried, and convicted.

And, in the summer of 1986, he was sentenced to go to jail. 

My other Dad called from Canada to tell me and my older sister (Amber) that he was coming down to take us back with him.

We set up a time meet him.

It was late in August, during two-a-days for football.

I would have to miss part of the afternoon practice to make the meet. 

So, after the morning practice, I climbed the concrete steps up to the coach’s office to get permission to leave early.

There was a lot of raucous laughter on the other side of the office door.

I knocked tentatively. 

They yelled “Come on in.”

I was 15, a barely soon-to-be-sophomore, intimidated and struggling to hold it together.

Seeing this, our head coach (Coach Haag) walked me out of the office and into the neighboring gym. 

I told him how my Dad wanted me to move to Canada. 

I’m not sure if I told him anything else.

But, I started crying.

Cried into his chest.

“It’s all right, Hump” he said.

Another player stepped through the doorway and into the gym.

He took a step to shield me from his view.

“Come on Hump, not here” he said.

I gathered myself.  

Met up with Amber.

And, we met our Dad along the river at Sawyer Park. 

Once again, I don’t remember the conversation we had. 

However, Amber and I decided to stay with our Mom and little sister (Heather).

My Dad went back to Canada.

My other Dad went to jail.

Amber, Heather and I were told to tell everyone that Dad was visiting his Mother in Florida.

So, we did.

He wrote letters from jail.

I tried reading one.

I didn’t read any of the others.

I threw them into the bottom drawer.

I covered them up with second hand tee shirts.

And, when he came back, we did not talk about it.

No one did.

As far as the family was concerned, it did not happen.

The letters vanished.

We kept the lie going.

We lied to each other.

Lied to ourselves.

Lied to others.

We kept the secret.

I’ve been a liar for almost 33 years.

Here’s the thing.

I don’t feel any shame for my Dad going to jail.

I’m not sure I ever did.

He made a bad choice.

And, while I’ll never know the full context of that choice.

I do know that it was a bad choice made under significant financial pressure and stress.

However, I did feel shame for telling a lie.

I still do.

Hell, I’m still a liar.

A liar of omission.

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PS I shared this post with my Mom before sharing it with others. Here’s her reply to having been invited to read it:

Hon, it made me cry, not for me or Dad, but for you. I had no idea the pain it caused you, I’m so sorry. The thing is both sides of the family knew, not many friends. Kept it secret so as not to embarrass you kids. Didn’t want you stigmatized and talked about. It’s a good story, run it darlin, I’m not embarrassed, I want you to let this one sneak out. You know the holding in of things is a big time Schoonover thing, privacy is all about the Schoonover clan, I have it. I hold in a lot, don’t want to look as if I’m weak. The best thing is I thank God you and Amber wanted to stay with me.

– Mom

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Questions or comments? Just fill out the CONTACT form on my ABOUT page and I will get back with you right away. Thanks. – shawn

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