Disclaimer: All quotes are from memory. Fuck off.

Everybody loves PostSecret. It’s the little artsy project that could. You take (or make) a postcard, bedazzle it to your liking, write a secret on it, then mail the thing to a friendly stranger named Frank. Your secret (hopefully) is then uploaded to a website and maybe even gets included in a book of secrets, where everyone can read it and think, “Wow, I’m not the only one.” PostSecret is comforting and validating. That’s why the website is so popular and why the book collections are so many and available everywhere.

I’m a PostSecret fan and have been since it became a big deal back in the oughts. But there’s no denying that the curation of these secrets (only a small fraction of them ever reaches the public) is somewhat cutesy. A lot of them are funny and not too big a deal: “I pee in the shower,” “I love pooping at the office. It’s like getting paid to use the bathroom,” “I was high at my son’s Bar Mitzvah.” Many others are affirmational clichés: “It took two years and four notebooks of suicide notes, but I finally feel better,” “Thank you for leaving me. I never would have done it, and my life is so much better without you in it,” “Today was the day I realized I don’t need to cut myself anymore.” Then there’s the generic existential stuff: “I don’t believe in God but I pray to him every day.” And the annoying liberal stuff: “Watching Stephen Colbert every day improves my mental health.”

However, PostSecret is always worth keeping up with because amongst the chaff is not just wheat, but gold. Authentic descriptions of the unbearable realities of existence, expressed so succinctly, can’t be found just anywhere. One of my favorite secrets reads, “I tell people my dad died fighting in Iraq. But really, he killed himself after coming home.” How many novels, even by the greats, can make you cry like that secret can? It also sends my mind reeling thinking about the all the times, all the situations, this person delivers such a protective lie. At what point in a relationship does he or she tell the truth? At what point in a friendship?

The best of PostSecret is great. There are secrets that make you wonder and wonder: “I miss you more than I love my husband.” Others that demand you confront your own demons: “I want to fall in love again, but I know that won’t actually make all my problems go away.” And even a few that make you shiver and question how much you really know about people.

But there is another source for secrets, and it’s the seedy pawn shop on the other side of town from the ritzy PostSecret boutique. It’s the random board on 4Chan, better known as /b/. Unlike PostSecret, /b/ is not moderated by a trustworthy Democrat named Frank. It has a handful of anonymous moderators who are there to delete child porn so the FBI doesn’t shut the whole website down. But aside from hard candy, anything goes.

And in fact, on /b/, anything very much does go, and go, and go, and go. “Secrets” threads are common there, especially on Friday and Saturday nights when all us losers are at home but thirsting for some meaningful human connections. Those threads never feature any cutesy “I pee in the shower” confessions, dumb liberal virtue-signaling, or well-tread existential angst. The secrets on /b/ are savage safaris into the hellscape of the human.

In one thread, someone asked, “Anybody here rape somebody?” Several people said they had. One guy talked about “getting” a jogger recently and that years earlier he’d raped “a buddy’s wife.” If there’s one person whose mind I want to crawl into, it’s that wife. Imagine that predicament. You could tell your husband, hope he believes you, then shatter one of his friendships and blow up your whole social circle’s reality by taking it to court. Maybe you’re too humiliated and you don’t want to take it to court. What then? Tell your husband, “Let’s keep this quiet, but don’t hang out with him anymore.” What is he supposed to tell the friend group when they learn of the rift? Or, apparently, you can stay silent…and deal with your rapist in a friendly way, indefinitely. This is something so horrible, you’ll never find a novel or a movie about it. And you certainly won’t see it on PostSecret. But on /b/, you can discover these sorts of things about your fellow man.

Some people on /b/ detail childhoods of horrible abuse, unspeakable things. Others post their desire to commit suicide and ask for advice on methods. Plenty of people deliver pointers. Perhaps Jesus died for your sins, but there’s no way him or his dad wanted the sacrifice to cover these guys. Another type of post is the kind where someone (often with autism) details how dysfunctional they are, how they’re incapable of maintaining friendships, holding down jobs, or starting romantic relationships. These are the micro-autobiographies of the damned, our untouchables. These folks are such uninteresting and unimportant losers, the only place their story could ever possibly get published is on an unmoderated forum. The strata they occupy is far too low to ever be profiled in a magazine, especially since they can’t write worth a shit.

That’s the wonder of /b/: it is the one portal we have into the “lived experiences” of rapists, McDonald’s employees with Asperger’s, teenagers who want to fuck their moms, and wannabe child predators. Not even Hubert Selby, Jr. wrote about people this messed up, and not even John Waters would put them in front of a movie camera. But we live in a time when we can learn all about them: you’ve just got to cruise over to 4Chan and hunt down a Secrets thread. You can glean a lot about your fellow Americans from PostSecret, but that website only occasionally glimpses into the gutter, while /b/ bathes in the sludge.

But the confessional similarity between /b/ and PostSecret is very real. And that begs the question: if reading PostSecret makes most of us feel less alone, how many people read /b/ and likewise think to themselves, “cool, It’s not just me?” I realized this upon reading a rare post from a female. She explained, to the hungry eyes of /b/, that she had just graduated from high school and was still living at home with her parents and her brother. She had the hots for her brother, too, and always had. She figured that since she’d be moving out soon enough, her window of opportunity was likely closing. She wanted advice. I guess the gods were frowning upon this poor girl because on that day, advice is what she got. All the boys on /b/ reassured her that incestuous desires are perfectly natural and that all of them would jump at the chance to fuck their sisters, meaning her brother was probably on the same page. “Just go for it,” they all urged. With newfound confidence, the girl from /b/ told everyone she’d start putting the moves on her only sibling and report back to us.

As it turns out, her brother did not want to fuck her. Not at all. Not even a little bit. He freaked out so hard that he told his parents. The parents freaked out, too. And since their slutty and depraved daughter was no longer a minor, instead of sending her to therapy, they threw her out of the family home. She took that pretty badly, as she didn’t have a job, had never had a job, and wasn’t sure if there would be anyone who’d lend her their couch once word got out as to why her family gave her the boot. When she informed /b/ of all of this, she seemed upset. But what the fuck was she going to do about it? Call the Internet police and whine about /b/ leading her, unfruitfully, down the road of temptation? For its part, /b/ didn’t feel it had wronged this girl. Many of them congratulated her for her courage and complimented her for at least trying. It wasn’t really her fault that she failed, they consoled.

There’s a real lesson in this story. When you spelunk into the absolute bottom recesses of mankind, take it all in. Really look around and smell the roses; there’s a lot to learn. But do not, under any circumstances, grab any souvenirs on your way out.