After I wrote the post about my mother, The Choices We Make: My Mom The Spy, my friend Eric was over at my house and read it, so my seven-year-old daughter wanted to a turn to read it. She said liked the part “Instead of secret meetings at night, she was called to hold our hair when we threw up and calm our fears when the bad dreams came.”
Eric asked if she give him one reason I’d make a good spy and one reason I’d be a bad spy. She immediately retorted that I would be a bad spy because I don’t do secrets. It took a little longer but then she said, I’d be a good spy because of my memory.
Wow, she’s listening. The other day that I told her that I learned through life not to keep secrets. My own, that is. I’ll keep other people’s secrets if they confide in me, but when I find myself doing something that I don’t want anyone to know about, I know I’m taking on an emotional load that’ll separate me little by little from life.
Perhaps we come with an aptitude for holding secrets and if that’s true, I know mine is pretty low. When I was a kid, I’d buy a gift for someone and then, if you mapped my trajectory, I’d go almost directly to the recipient to ask if I could tell them what I’d gotten them. No need to waterboard me, just a little tickling will get me to spill the beans in ten seconds or less.
Which isn’t to say that I haven’t tried to keep secrets, or am unfamiliar with the power and intrigue of something clandestine. I remember when I cheated on my boyfriend when I was in my 20’s, it caused me extreme angst. But the furtive calls and messages, the power of the drama, and the emotional charge that came from each time believing it would be the last, also added so much extra spice to the relationship.
I’ve also noticed the implied closeness that sharing a secret brings as a sign of trust, whether merited or not. Or the drama of betrayal when it turns out your friend values popularity more than trust. I remember telling a secret to a friend in my college sorority and the next day realizing most of the 80 girls in the house knew. It was terrible but if I’m totally honest, also incredibly powerful to be at the center of that storm.
The most damaging secrets that I’ve kept, the ones that have held the most charge, are the ones from myself. The times in my 30’s when I switched to drinking boxed wine so that it was harder to tell how much I was drinking. Or tried to hide that I ate cookies for breakfast. Just to be clear, I still sometimes eat cookies for breakfast, but now I just laugh about it instead of pretending that I didn’t.
But there came an inflection point when I noticed that the secrets I was keeping were a barrier between me and life. It was like each secret wrapped me in a layer of plastic wrap and over time, I had become encased. I could no longer feel the wind on my skin.
I started not keeping new secrets. And then one by one, I meditated, wrote, talked, and eventually came to chuckle knowingly about all the stupid things I’d kept to myself.
Coming to know this about myself now gives me a litmus test. Recently, when a long-time friend suggested a torrid affair, I had to gently remind him that I don’t do complicated. Sure, it sounded like fun, especially because I’m unattached. But he’s married. In addition to the fact it didn’t match my ethics, and believing that it would add to the unkindness in the world, it would also have to be a secret. Nope, not for me.
My daughter’s right – there’s no way I could be a spy.
(featured photo from Pexels)