‘Oh, come on,” she said. “You know how to drive. You just don’t have your license yet.”

I wasn’t particularly anxious to get my license, but I had my permit. One day after school Debbie had her mother’s car, which was a brand-new dark-green Cadillac, the envy of all our friends. We were “riding around town” when Debbie said, “Why don’t you drive?” I was reluctant, but we headed out of town. She pulled over and I slid into the driver’s seat. I tried to follow her instructions, and I gained confidence as we drove along.

After a bit, she said, “Turn in here and I’ll take over.” My eyes followed where she pointed and I was distressed to see a row of about six parking spaces. At the end of the row, the graded area dropped off into a potato field. Most of the spaces were filled with trucks in various states of disrepair. The truck at the end had a homemade bumper that looked like a rusty I-beam.

I said, “What do I do now?” Debbie, still full of confidence in my driving ability, said, “Just turn left.” I did that, eyeing the truck and its bumper and the drop-off. I heard the scraping noise before I knew what I had done. It was apparent that the truck’s bumper had gouged a 2-foot-long dent into the driver’s side door. My heart sank and I backed the car out of the parking space and surveyed the damage. It was awful.

Debbie took over as I slunk into the passenger’s seat. On the way home, we concocted an explanation. Debbie nobly volunteered to take the blame. We slid the car into the garage as if nothing had happened. Debbie told her mother that someone must have hit her while she was parked somewhere. But, of course, this was not the end of the story, but the beginning.

Within days, my father, an insurance agent, reported that our neighbors had had a most unfortunate accident with their new Cadillac. Normally, I was a compulsive truth-teller, so keeping a secret made me painfully aware of the distance it was putting between me and my parents. I felt guilt and shame. We finally admitted what we had done. The insurance company paid for the damage, so I was relieved of having my allowance confiscated until eternity. But I did have to pay a price. I went to Debbie’s father to confess and apologize. We received a very stern talking-to, which was amplified by the fact that her father was a lawyer.

The lesson? “If you mess up, ‘fess up.” The old adage “Confession is good for the soul” could not have been more true. Secrets create barriers. And they can eat you alive. Accepting responsibility for your actions can be a painful part of growing up. But, oh, the relief of a clear conscience!

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