As a mail carrier, I got used to seeing unusual things come through the mail. I have delivered ashes of deceased pets and humans to teary-eyed customers, tons of certified letters sent by bill collectors to equally teary-eyed customers, valuables in registered mail, live baby chicks, ducklings, worms, crickets, car tires and wheels, steamer trunks, and even packages that are broken and oozing with unknown materials. I have even been known to pick up a dog or two on my route, who had broken out of their yards and returned them to their owners. You’d think I’d be immune to odd things. But nothing prepared me for PostSecret!
In 2004, a customer of mine, Frank Warren, began receiving a few post cards in his daily mail. They were preprinted with his address and looked like a card that a dentist office would send reminding you of an upcoming appointment. It was just something I subconsciously noticed. There were only a few every day, and they all looked the same. I never turned them over to look on the other side. So, for a while I didn’t pay much attention. We deal with thousands upon thousands of letters during our mornings of casing our mail and don’t look to see who a letter is from or what it is. One day that all changed for me.
While handling one of Frank’s post cards, one fell out of my hands and landed upside down on the floor. I gasped when I read in huge bold letters, I LIKE TO HAVE SEX WITH STRANGERS. You can imagine my shock. That’s all it said. It had bold, bright coloring as a background. I’ll never forget it. I immediately showed some of my friends what I had found in the mail. One guy was so shocked he said, “Did a girl write it?” I was like, “how the heck do I know, who cares?” I then turned it over and looked on the address side of the card. I read the preprinted instructions next to Frank’s address. It invited you to participate in a group art project by writing a secret (that no one else knows) on the other side of this postcard and mail it anonymously to the printed address. I don’t have to tell you that I pulled the few postcards that were in his address slot that day and began reading them immediately! From that day forward, me, (and a few friends at work), began reading all the cards daily. I still didn’t really know what was going on, but I was intrigued.
A few weeks later I happened to meet Frank’s lovely wife Jan at the mailbox. She had a knowing little smile on her face and looked as if she knew what I was going to ask. She explained that Frank started this little “experiment” a while ago, handing out these preprinted postcards at metro stations, art exhibits, and shops in the Georgetown and Washington, D.C. area. I believe he also went to local libraries and put them inside various books for people to find. The postcards began to trickle in. Jan said that he was enjoying reading the cards and really didn’t expect much more from his experiment.
However, as time went on, the postcards were coming at a steady pace. They were silly, funny, serious, sad, lonely, hateful, every kind of emotion you could imagine on these little postcards. The exceptionally funny ones were passed around the office for everyone to share. One of my co-workers said she couldn’t believe that this person lived on MY route. She said, “of all people to get this on their route, YOU!” I took it to mean that she knew I was thoroughly enjoying it, and maybe she was a tad jealous! I have to say that it was fun and a great conversation topic, but despite all that, I began to learn from it. There are so many sad and lonely people out there. Some of these postcards would break my heart. Suddenly the problems that I had seemed small in comparison to the ones I was reading. It certainly made me look at my life and realize how lucky I was.
Some of these postcards would break my heart. Suddenly the problems that I had seemed small in comparison to the ones I was reading.Kathy
By now I had also talked to Frank about his project. He came out to the mailbox one day and said, “I hope some of these postcards aren’t too unsettling for you”. I thought it was such a perfect statement. Some of them were crude, and he had to know that I was seeing them and possibly becoming offended. I assured him that I could handle it, and thought the whole thing was a unique idea. Shortly thereafter Frank started a website for his cards. He began by posting several cards on the website every Sunday from his weekly bundle…and the whole thing got bigger and bigger.
Soon I was getting postcards from overseas, homemade cards, extravagant cards that took hours to create. I remember one that had paper clips and office supplies taped all over it and said something to the effect of “I hate my boss, so I waste office supplies”. So many people hate their bosses! I wish I could remember all the tricks that have been played on them. I loved the one from a person who wrote “When I was a young man in Florida, I used to work in a post office as part time Christmas help. We used to read all the postcards that came through. Do you all still do that?” I wanted to scream, “Yes, we still do!” I also read ones that left me feeling depressed, like the one that wrote about watching her neighbor starve his dog to death in his backyard and she hadn’t done anything about it. She felt so guilty and was unable to get over it. I could feel her sadness right through her words on the card. There were quite a few that were actual photographs where a whole family would be standing in the photo and one member would be scratched out and something like “thanks Mom for ruining my life” over the photo. A lot of them about family dysfunction. There were some that were so bad I can’t even repeat here. I was getting a glimpse into strangers’ minds and souls. It was heartbreaking at times, and other times inspiring.
I don’t know which happened first, the media got wind of the website or Frank put out his first book. All I know is that suddenly PostSecret was everywhere. I rolled up in my truck one day and there were cameras and a reporter interviewing Frank by the mailbox. They were so excited that they happened to be there when the secrets were actually being delivered. I never wanted to be on camera though, but many of them have pictures of my truck slowly pulling up to the box and my hand putting the mail in.
I have been interviewed and asked all kinds of questions like, “do you read the postcards?” which at that time my reply was, “well, we’re not allowed to read the mail, but sometimes they accidentally get turned over” or “does Frank treat you well at Christmas?”, which I respond with a resounding “YES” (even though we aren’t supposed to accept tips, yeah right). One asked me if I’d ever written in a secret. I HAD written and mailed in a secret, but his question took me off guard and I suddenly felt flustered, like somehow, he would KNOW which one was mine, so I said “No”. Now I realize how silly that was. I never told that to Frank, I guess I should have. Anyway, Frank would stand by with a proud smile knowing that I was enjoying my little moment of fame. He’d go on a radio talk show and my phone would start buzzing, “that guy on your route is on the radio right now!”
There were some friends at the post office who thought of Frank as a kind of a celebrity. One of the substitute carriers who used to help deliver my packages during the holidays was SO excited that I had one for his house. She couldn’t wait to deliver it and meet him. The next day she said, “Kathy, I went to the door with the package, and answered it. I was so star struck that I couldn’t speak! I stood there and didn’t say a word! You didn’t tell me he was so handsome!” It was funny. She was so mad at herself. Frank had a good laugh at it too when I told him.
One day Frank got me at a weak moment and snapped a picture of me delivering his mail. The next book that came out had that picture right in the front! Was I ever shocked! But it was a fun surprise. My daughter was reading the website one day and clicked on a video clip of one of Frank’s speeches. She was amazed to see ME up on the screen behind Frank. She said, “hey, that’s my mom!”
I DID get a little fame from it! Some of the postcards started coming with “Hi Kathy” on the front. Frank has a large mailbox with a marker inside where people can come and sign his mailbox. There were some messages written on it to me, thanking me for delivering the secrets. Frank even organized an Internet Christmas letter to me with messages from his followers online and then he printed it out for me at Christmas time. It was very special. He was always quick to acknowledge me as an important part of PostSecret. He has also given me all his books, signed to me by him of course. He even signed one for my daughter. I have friends from other states who have asked me if there was any way that I was “Kathy the mail carrier” that they had read about on this new website for secrets they found.
I told Frank a funny story once. I was about a half a mile from his house serving another customer one day and she asked me the “are you the Kathy from PostSecret?” question. I told her I was, and she was SO excited. She had just bought one of his books for her daughter who is a huge fan of PostSecret. She asked me if I would sign the book for her. I told her that I could do better than that. If she would give it to me, I’d take it to Frank and have him sign it. She responded, “Oh, no, I want YOUR signature!” How funny is that? Frank laughed when I told him.
Sometimes when I arrived at his mailbox there would be a postcard just lying in there that someone had driven to his house and dropped off for him. I often wondered if it made him nervous to have his address “out there” to millions of people. But he never seemed worried about it. One day when I got to the box there was a note. I picked it up and read it. To paraphrase, the note said, “Our parents think we are sleeping in the tent in my backyard, but we took a road trip to see your mailbox instead!” and was signed by two girls from Ohio!! Crazy!
One morning at work I received a call from the Postal Inspection Service. Now that’s big! They were concerned about some things they’d heard coming through the mail to Frank’s address. Odd things attached to postcards, and I think they’d been told that there might be some blood or other bodily fluids coming through the mail. I had to tell them, yes, some people did put stuff on the postcards, but since they were all anonymous, we had no way of knowing who sent those things. Thankfully there weren’t many that gross. Eventually the guy stopped asking questions, I guess figuring it was a lost cause.
I took an early retirement from the Post Office in January 2010, to move to England for 2 years. My husband took a work assignment there. The secrets had been coming fast and furious for a while by then. Towards the end of my time at the post office there were so many that I could not possibly read them all.
PostSecret has opened my eyes to the lives of people all around us. If we could be as open to each other as the people who pour out their secrets, it would be a different world. But too often people are afraid to show their inhibitions, sufferings and well, their secrets. As long as we have PostSecret, there is an outlet for those who want to share. I have no doubt that it has been a good thing.
If we could be as open to each other as the people who pour out their secrets, it would be a different world.
Frank’s website is one of the most visited websites in the whole world. www.postsecret.com Even with that popularity he has never allowed any advertising on it. He hopes to keep it this way. His books and have raised thousands of dollars for suicide prevention, a cause he cares about deeply. His travels have taken him all over the world, delivering PostSecret to fans. His speeches are very popular and draw huge crowds.
As happy as I was to retire from the post office, I was very sad to leave the PostSecret project and my friends, Frank and Jan, their daughter Hailey, and their wonderful, funny, lovable, dog Shadow! I couldn’t have asked for nicer customers and a more interesting experience.
Shortly after I quit work Frank had an exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum. I was invited to attend but was traveling at the time. The Art Museum made me a brightly colored tiara with “USPS Wonder Woman” written on it. Frank sent it to me, and I will always cherish it.
I hope everyone who reads this will know how much their secrets meant to me.