"I look at you sometimes," said Valencia, "and I get a funny feeling that you're just full of secrets."
"I'm not," said Billy. This was a lie, of course. He hadn't told anybody about all the time-traveling he'd done, about Tralfamadore and so on.
"You must have secrets about the war. or, not secrets, I guess, but things you don't want to talk about."
"I'm proud you were a soldier. Do you know that?"
"Was it awful?"
"Sometimes." A crazy thought now occurred to Billy. The truth of it startled him. It would make a good epitaph for Billy Pilgrim--and for me, too.
"Would you talk about the war now, if I wanted you to?" said Valencia. In a tiny cavity in her great body she was assembling the materials for a Green Beret.
"It would sound like a dream," said Billy. "Other people's dreams aren't very interesting, usually."
"I heard you tell Father one time about a German firing squad." She was referring to the execution of poor old Edgar Derby.
"You had to bury him?"
"Did he see you with your shovels before he was shot?"
"Did he say anything?"
"Was he scared?"
"They had him doped up. He was sort of glassy-eyed."
"And they pinned a target to him?"
"A piece of paper," said Billy. He got out of bed, said, "Excuse me," went into the darkness of the bathroom to take a leak. He groped for the light, realized as he felt the rough walls that he had traveled back to 1944, to the prison hospital again.
Billy has a lot of secrets, things he doesn't talk to anybody about. Aliens. German prison camps. Flying saucers. Fire bombing. Time travel. If he opened his mouth and started telling Valencia his secrets, she, at best, wouldn't believe him. At worst, she would have him committed to the local psychiatric hospital for the rest of his life.
Secrets can be wonderful. For the first three months my wife was pregnant with our son, we didn't tell anyone. We just whispered about it at night, in bed. Sometimes, we would go out to breakfast on a Saturday morning, bring our baby name books, and try combinations on our tongues. Hailey Claire. Daniel Drake. It was a wonderful time.
In my experience, however, secrets are more often burdens. Things that sit inside you and gain mold, like old food in a refrigerator. Tonight, I am leading a poetry workshop at the Joy Center in Ishpeming. The theme of the workshop is "freedom," in honor Independence Day. But it's not the kind of freedom that inspires nationalism or impromptu singing of the "The Star Spangled Banner."
The main writing exercise tonight is about freeing yourself of things that hold you back. Bad memories. Old grudges. Slights. Angers. I am a firm believer in the therapeutic value of writing. Writing about a bad memory can help you release a lot of negative energy. That negative energy can be incredibly harmful, psychologically, spiritually, and physically. By the end of tonight, I'm hoping that participants will leave the Joy Center feeling lighter, happier, freer.
If I can do that for one person, I will count tonight's workshop as a success.
This afternoon, Saint Marty is thankful for the healing power of words and language.