A short note on secrets


A note on secretsI’ll tell you a secret. One time I made out with a girl in a bus as her best friend, my date, smoking a cigarette, waited for us outside the bus, and when I got off the bus my date took one look at my face and tried to put her cigarette out in my eye. I don’t know how she knew what had to be the shortest-lived secret ever and I still don’t know. She never spoke to me again, and neither did her friend.

This was not the first time women and secrets led me to murky confusion, where I have lived ever since. The first girl I ever kissed swore me to secrecy, but we were fourteen years old then and I didn’t actually have anyone to tell the secret to, since my brothers and friends would have fallen down laughing at the very idea that a girl had kissed me, and besides the whole actual kissing event was a muddle, I had major spectacles and she had complicated braces, and neither of us knew how to breathe while kissing, did you come up for air every thirty seconds like swimming, or take turns breathing, or breathe like walruses through your noses or what, and our shy clinking kisses, in a dank dark basement with peeling paneling and moaning music and moist potato chips in a sad chipped bowl, were more like spaceships docking in the vast silence of deep space than they were heated or romantic or anything like that, and anyway our few tentative kisses were ended abruptly by her roaring father who was supposed to be elsewhere but suddenly and definitively wasn’t.

After that it seemed that every girl I met was webbed with secrets, and whenever a girl told me a secret, or we did something that was supposed to be secret, soon there were bad plot devices and furious friends and car keys thrown in creeks and I was an idiot. This happened all the time, even with my cool sister, who liked to smoke and swore me to secrecy and soon there were various smoking implements and implications on the kitchen table and our dad simmering and somehow this was all my fault and my sister threatened to snap my pinkies like twigs but thankfully she didn’t, or hasn’t yet.

As I got older the secrets got harder. By the time I was thirty I had been told heartbreaking secrets, rapes and abortions and arrests and addictions and betrayals on a dizzying scale, and I grew seared and salted by secrets, seasoned by them, forced to understand that everyone has wounds and burdens, that everyone has scars slashed on their hearts; and it turns out the most amazing thing about our species isn’t that we all have secret pains but that everyone carries their loads with such grace and endurance. That’s astonishing. Not a day goes by, not an hour, when I am not knocked out by grace under duress, the greatest secret of all.

Now I am fifty, older than dirt, with children who are sure I voted for Lincoln for president, but I am still nailed by secrets, all of them starting with the same six chilling words, I have something to tell you, the words that flank secrets like cops around a motorcade; and the secrets are more unbearable than ever: wars hatched by lies, children raped by priests, wives who stare out the window at the rain as their husbands make love to them.

A note on secretsAnd more than ever I am absorbed by women and their secrets, though I no longer find cigarettes aimed at my eye; my mom, for example, a riveting woman with a thousand tales to tell, recently told me that I had two brothers I never knew, Patrick and Christopher, each dying after mere minutes in this world, which makes three brothers I never knew, my brother Seamus dying suddenly when he was five months old, a secret I discovered when I was fifteen years old and found a book of photographs one day in the attic and wondered who the baby was and when I showed the book to my mom her face fell in a way that I still, all these years later, cannot explain very well.

My daughter just turned fifteen years old and she is an ocean of secrets and sometimes I stand in the kitchen ostensibly doing the dishes but really thinking about all the things I don’t know about her and never will know. I used to know everything about her, every flicker of her face, every note of every sound that issued from the bud of her lips, I rocked her and bathed her and heard her first words and saw her first staggering steps and wept when she went to kindergarten that first day with her bright dress and brighter smile, and now she is all willowy and sneery and womanish and I don’t know anything at all really about what she does all day and late into the night except what she tells me, which is not much, and what her mother tells me, which is a secret, so after nearly four decades of careful study I am more muddled by women than ever before, which sometimes seems like a roaring accomplishment to me, on the theory that whenever you are sure about anything, you are certainly wrong, isn’t that so?



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Existing comments

You're lovely in your vulnerability; but it's all right, they have their own lives to live and they love you in spite of it.

Michael Grounds | 14 June 2007  

Brian, as usual, you have excelled yourself. Stunning prose. more please.

maryrose thoms | 14 June 2007  

thank you Brian for your warm reflections, and for saying just what I think about my 16 yo daughter!

Ian Dallas | 22 June 2007  

i so loved the topic and the lyrical approach to it. Thank you for improving my morning.

Kaye Grayson | 04 March 2008  

This story is intriguing - it starts with a light touch, delves deeper into the pain we can experience in life and ends on a lighter note, while including a profound comment about human endurance, i.e. '...everyone carries their loads with such grace and endurance.'

The author successfully combines humour and the blackest pain, weaving a wide variety of experiences into an unexpected but fascinating tapestry.
Boldly done - well done.

Gabrielle Bridges | 13 June 2008  

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