Daddy’s Text

by Ashley Chou //

This piece was originally published in Issue 1: Secret Edition (Spring 2022). To see past print publications, click here.

Every generation grows up with a new set of generational issues. My great-great-grandmother used to tightly wrap my great-grandmother’s feet with cloth bandages to stunt the growth of her daughter’s feet. Apparently, large feet for young girls during the time of my great-grandmother’s youth were not a huge selling point for male suitors. My great-grandmother was the living definition of a matriarch. Since the eighties, she lived mostly alone (by choice), in an apartment in San Francisco until she passed at 103 years old. My great-grandmother’s son (my paternal grandfather), escaped on a boat from China to Taiwan during the Chinese civil war. My grandfather was the oldest of three siblings. On a day to day basis during the war, he struggled to find food and clean water for his younger siblings. My grandfather became a diplomat. Because of my grandfather’s job, my dad grew up in Spain, Bolivia, and Columbia. His first language was Spanish. In case you don’t believe me, my little sister’s name is Marisol.

I grew up the eldest of four sisters. I was born and raised in Silicon Valley where kids speak in Java, college drop-outs are inventing flying cars in their moms’ garages, and CEOs are getting sued on a daily basis. My mom graduated Berkeley Econ, and my dad graduated Berkeley Computer Science (shocker, I couldn’t believe it either).

My dad and I were never very close. One of my three younger sisters, Natalie, was born with Asperger’s Syndrome. Understandably, Natalie’s needs were more dire than mine. She had weekly occupational therapy, behavioral therapy… you get the gist. But as Natalie’s only older sister, I carried the grunt weight of Natalie’s responsibilities. When caretakers and therapists took breaks during the week, I spent my weekends caring for her. My parents, who were still learning how to parent during this time, were often upset at me when I couldn’t manage Natalie’s needs. I was diagnosed with panic disorder at 17 years old. In hindsight, the panic attacks started around 4th grade. I came out as part B of the LGBTQ+ community in the seventh grade to my dearest middle school friend (PS, if you’re reading this, I haven’t talked to you in years, but I miss you!). My first love, a girlfriend from early high school, revolutionized my second coming out after I started attending a private Christian high school.

I didn’t tell my parents until the last couple of years. I resented my parents for most of high school. We had a tumultuous relationship. They’re trying to make amends now, especially my dad, who I love dearly. I came home drunk from a frat party and admitted to him on the phone that I once hotboxed his Tesla. He didn’t mind too much I don’t think. He sent me this the other day.

I’ll share some things in the hopes that it’s useful to you. None of these stories are likely to be what you are experiencing, but hopefully they help.

My college friend Oliver told me once that a boy in his high school asked Oliver to go out on a date. It was never clear to me whether Oliver was gay or bisexual. It was also unclear why he told me that story, but he never brought it up again. You met Oliver once. Oliver is blonde with blue eyes, athletic, tall, a good student and generally considered good looking during our generation. He dated a number of girls that were very good looking. But he ended up marrying a girl that is less conventionally attractive in terms of looks but is super nice, fun and very competent. I’ve never spoken to him about this, but I think if you’d ask him, he would feel that he’s had a very good life and made good choices. He’s the one that was on the Berkeley tennis team and used to do crazy things. He doesn’t do anything crazy anymore. If he was bisexual or gay, he definitely ended up taking the “safe” path when it comes to what society was willing to accept but he also didn’t take the path that was “expected” of him.

I don’t have anything similar in experience to you.

When we were about to leave Taiwan, I was 15 finishing my first semester in high school. I was doing well in school. I attended an allboys school (with Uncle Connor) and we would arrange hangouts with other girls’ schools. I started dating a girl a few months before leaving Taiwan. It was weird as I meant to date her friend but I can’t really remember what happened. At the time I fell deeply in love, but afterward, I realized I barely knew her and that I really liked her friend better. When I was leaving, I fought with my dad because I wanted to stay in Taiwan. I asked around about what it would take to get an apartment for myself and all. Not for the girlfriend, but because I felt I liked Taiwan and was doing well. My dad forced me to leave with him. In hindsight, opportunities in the US were vastly superior to those in Taiwan and that was a good decision. Leaving was the “safer path.”

Once in Spain, I had very good grades and was very good at soccer. I attended an American school and the kids were generally nice. I never dated anyone in Spain, as I wanted to be loyal to my girlfriend in Taiwan. That was generally stupid as I barely knew her, and later we stopped writing letters to each other. I stopped thinking that I had a girlfriend after a few months, but I never dated in Spain. Then my dad got a stroke and spent every dollar he had on medical care so I had to leave, as the school in Spain was very expensive. Same tuition as Berkeley.

In sharing all this, I think what I’m hoping to do here is that you go and discover yourself and find your own path. We all have what we think are things we must do when we are young. Figuring out which of those feelings we must act on is a difficult thing to do. I think as humans, we are wired to want to feel that we have conviction for everything. But the choices lead us to very different paths and outcomes. Regrets about one’s choices are the hardest on us later on in life. So I would advise you to be flexible when you can be and pick the battles very carefully one way or another. And be flexible with the people around you that may not share your convictions. It’s hard for everyone, especially when we are young. Every path seems like we should die for it. Every relationship feels like one we will stay in for the rest of our lives. Be patient and honest in figuring that out.

Now, I must admit this is an excerpt of a very long essay that he drafted for me one day. It took 19 years for my dad to open up to me, and when he did, I did too. I’m not sure why. I still need to ask my therapist about that, but this is my theory: there are secrets hidden between every generation. Secrets that are devastating to tell, secrets that are just for a mother and son to know… But for my dad, I think he felt it was time for him to tell me his secrets as I left for college. And perhaps that is exactly the point of secrets—to be revealed when they need to be. And maybe the timing of my dad’s revelation was what mattered most.


by Natalie Brennan //

This piece was originally published in Issue 1: Secret Edition (Spring 2022). To see past print publications, click here.

Months I won’t get back
When I slept with your silence
And danced with your ego
I let your words hang like hooks in my chest

I was a net
And your insecurities buzzed like flies
Catching my breath in your mirror
Burned like shards of glass in my lungs
In your library of lies, I collected dust
volumes of being cherished, valued, loved

Your secret lies there too

I won’t tell them
the way your words, your sex
would drip like hot wax
Burning guilt onto my skin
Convincing me
To exist was to owe you pleasure

I won’t tell them
All the money I spent
To scrub away your stains
To bleach and dry my sheets
Your idolization dissolving off
But the residual grime, the sting of being bled dry
Lingering, like dust in the air

Rug burn tattooing my knees
Commiserating with the shower head
as it saw me
while you just watched, tangled under covers
your fingerprints soaked into the light switch

I was your sounding board
And you bounced the names of my friends
Off my bare chest
Dreaming of your future endeavors
While shattering what could have been mine
in some sort of twisted performance art
The audience remaining silent
As their mouths were full

Your secret tried to scream its own name

I won’t tell them
how easy it was for you
To transmit your disease from person to person
Like some sort of cold, calculating tick
Latching onto her care
As soon as you had sucked me dry

I won’t tell them
About your validation cravings
How you foraged greedily for new sources
while you already had it all
You took a knife to someone who loves like no other
And reopened her wounds
She inconsolably bleeds
Yet still shows you more kindness than you deserve
Showed you more kindness than you’ll ever see again

I won’t tell them
how you couldn’t protect either of us
From your lack of satisfaction
So you burned both of us
And left us to deal with the flames
Leaving a trail of damage
As you smolder, monstrously

I would wish you nothing but peace
If I believed it was something you’d find
Pity is not even something I could force myself to feel
Yet I am grateful that we are clean from you
But don’t worry.

I won’t tell them.

Secret Pain

by Aditi Hukerikar //

This piece was originally published in Issue 1: Secret Edition (Spring 2022). To see past print publications, click here.

Where do secrets and pain intersect? For me, my pain became my secrets: not only did I internalize my pain, keeping it a secret from the world, but I tried to deny my pain in the hopes that I wouldn’t feel it anymore. Maybe I was trying to keep it a secret to myself.

The best kept secrets might be the ones you never tell, but they also become the most painful. I can’t share my pain the same way I could share a more mundane secret, but I can try to share the way that it felt, the way that it still feels, and maybe that would be enough.

I learned the hard way that the only thing more painful than keeping your pain a secret was taking the risk to share it and not being believed.

Even now, I write vaguely, I ask rhetorical questions to an unknown reader because if I were to give answers the secrets I have guarded for so long would no longer be mine. Because when I made the mistake of letting my secrets slip, what I got for my troubles was worse than the years of pain I had experienced before. I learned the hard way that the only thing more painful than keeping your pain a secret was taking the risk to share it and not being believed.

“Maybe I handled my secrets so well that my struggles and pain weren’t even believable,” says the nicer part of me. But the hidden anger that I harbor knows better, and it rages on because all I can hear are the same people who contributed to my pain telling me that I don’t deserve to claim it. But if my pain was always a secret then of course, how could anyone understand what it felt like if I never showed it? Or was it that I always showed it but they didn’t want to see it so it stayed a secret by force and not my choice?

These words are dedicated to the secret pain that has persisted through so many stages of my life. This is an ode to silent tears behind closed doors, to learning how to swipe my fingers quickly under my eyes so nobody could tell I was crying in public. This is a love letter to the girl who weakly insisted that her puffy eyes were from allergies in the dead of winter, who learned early that the only way to guarantee that you weren’t hurt is if there was nobody around to hurt you. This is for the fake smiles and caked on makeup, for the sickly sweet “I’m great” in response to a casual “how are you?” Because my pain has always been a secret, because the alternative would be to appear weak or crazy, and when people get the chance to label you as one of those, it leads to a whole new type of pain that becomes harder to keep secret.

As women, we internalize our pain because the second that even a bit of negative emotion peaks through, it becomes weaponized against us.

It’s a tale as old as time. As women, we internalize our pain because the second that even a bit of negative emotion peaks through, it becomes weaponized against us. If she’s crying, it means that she’s too sensitive, that she’s not strong enough to overcome her challenges or that she can’t be trusted with serious responsibility. If she’s angry, or even the tiniest bit frustrated, then obviously she’s a raging bitch who makes it difficult for anyone to deal with her.

But the timing starts earlier, starting from the compliment, “she’s such a quiet child,” or “she’s so mature” for the kid who doesn’t talk to anyone. We praise silence, we praise secrets, and we praise keeping any sort of pain internalized, because we learn how showing pain is punished with more pain, so we try to reduce the pain, but it reverberates inside of us and amplifies. What do you do when you want to scream your secrets instead of whispering them but you can’t? And why can’t you?

Maybe you can’t because you understand the consequences of letting your negative emotions show. You’ve learned from the time you were young, either directly or by watching others, that there are consequences for letting your pain show. Even though women generally tend to express their emotions more, negative emotions tend to be internalized among women, including young girls. A large part of this is how women are treated when they show emotions like anger or sadness, being told that they’re “too-sensitive,” which leads to less emotional expression and fuels this vicious cycle of repressed feelings and hurt.

Essentially, we’re fueling a culture in which women learn from a young age that only positive emotions are acceptable to show on the outside; still, joy isn’t the only emotion in existence. It’s impossible for us as humans not to feel hurt, sad, angry, or a plethora of emotions all together. So why do we place so much emphasis on never feeling pain, as if it were some kind of future rather than an unachievable goal?

Keeping all this pain to ourselves without letting it out lets it fester inside of us, turning into something more sinister with the capacity to cause longterm damage to our bodies and minds.

Besides the overwhelming frustration of having your pain and accompanying negative emotions belittled or brushed off, keeping in negative emotions causes a multitude of mental and physical health issues. Accumulating emotional stress can lead to mental illnesses–like depression and anxiety—as well as heart disease, intestinal problems, and more. Keeping all this pain to ourselves without letting it out lets it fester inside of us, turning into something more sinister with the capacity to cause longterm damage to our bodies and minds. So yes, letting out your pain might seem daunting, and you might be intimidated by the thought of the repercussions. But with the expense of your own wellbeing, the alternative is no better, and you owe it to yourself to accept your pain and all the emotions that accompany it for nobody’s sake but your own.

Secrets hurt us, not just the ones we keep about others but the ones we keep to ourselves. If we pretend that our pain isn’t there, if we try to hide it away in the back of our mind and mask it with fake smiles and honeyed words, we end up hurting ourselves. We shouldn’t expect ourselves to hide their pain for others’ benefit, because it’s unfair to force ourselves to take on the resultant threats to our health.

Let me tell you one last secret. There’s something I’ve always wanted to hear about my pain, something that nobody has ever told me, and right now, I want to make sure I tell it to you. If you are holding onto any secret pain, I want you to know that I believe you. I believe that you’ve struggled, that you’ve been hurt by those things you seemingly brushed off, and that you’ve so desperately wanted to release the ugly flood of emotions that you have held back for so long. I’ve divulged the truth behind my pain to you, anonymous reader, and only ask that in return, you allow yourself to accept your own truth and stop keeping secrets from yourself.

Works Cited

Chaplin, Tara M. “Gender and Emotion Expression: A Developmental Contextual Perspective.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, 16 June 2015, Accessed 9 March 2022.

Greene, Mark. “Women Are Better At Expressing Emotions, Right? Why It’s Not That Simple.” Yes Magazine, 28 January 2016, Accessed 9 March 2022.

Hendel, Hilary Jacobs. “Ignoring Your Emotions Is Bad for Your Health. Here’s What to Do About It.” Time, Accessed 9 March 2022.