Someone Else’s Secret

Published in June, 2023, by ezine WOW!

Sometimes there’s a secret, like the one I’m going to tell you now, that you carry around for years. Probably because it’s not yours to tell, or not entirely yours. At least that’s the reason you tell yourself for keeping the secret. Like that friend we’ve all had who’s presently thousands of dollars in your debt but continues to accept invitations to expensive dinners and even insists on buying a round for the table, if not the house, and you can feel your eyes about to burst out of their sockets onto his wagyu in peppercorn demiglaze. But you can’t tell them not to accept his round, so you drink it down with a hard gulp, trying not to think about the money you could sure stand to have back.

Or it could be you carry the secret like lead in your belly because telling it could cause senseless harm to others, or at least that’s what you choose to believe. Like the time my mother packed up all our earthly possessions and all six of us kids and was about to hit the road back to Kansas, where her people were, rather than stay in the godforsaken land of Iowa where my dad’s beef-packing job had landed (she would have said stranded) us. She didn’t tell any of us that she was leaving dad—that we all were, whether we liked it or not. And it turned out she didn’t have to because at the last minute he fired up his engine, helped her throw the last boxes into the back of the truck, and made the move with us. It was decades before I learned that she’d been prepared to leave him there. I’m still unclear as to whether she didn’t tell us because she knew, or at least wagered, that he’d eventually come to his senses and join us so what was the point in upsetting us, or because telling us might incense him, thereby jeopardizing the chances of his last-minute conversion. There are so many things that go unspoken among a family.

On the other hand, there’s reason to suspect you keep a secret because you’ve told yourself it’s someone else’s, not yours, and because you’re such a goddamn magnanimous person, and the person who rightfully owns the secret entrusted it to you. It’s almost like you’re this super pious priest, like Father Dollinger from your childhood parish, who you know is bound by a sacred oath to god almighty so you can go ahead and tell him everything—everything—and he’ll never tell a soul. Except in this case, it’s you who is Father Dollinger, and someone just entered your confessional and reached through the dividing screen into your private cell and tore your friggin arm off at the elbow, but they confessed the deed to you at the same time, so there you go, you’re bound by an oath of secrecy so sacred that you can’t even go to the Emergency Room and get the care you need because doing so would be a breach of that oath so you have no choice but to wrap the bloody stump the best as you can in the sanctuary curtain and stuff it back inside your jacket sleeve, and maybe you even go so far as to carry around a stuffed glove for the rest of your life to give the illusion of wholeness.

Eventually though, you’re gonna wanna get rid of that secret. Even priests, I’ve heard, are by canon law entitled to tell their higher ups—their bishops or their private confessors, I guess—the secrets others have confided in them that weigh too heavily on their souls. They can tell generalities, that is, for the sake of their psychic well-being, so long as they don’t reveal any names.

What’s it to me anyway if I reveal a name? It ain’t my secret, at least not originally. I didn’t know it was supposed to be a secret the morning after waking up in a roomful of kids whose parents had played poker upstairs all night when I’d had a wild dream that didn’t turn out to be a dream I guess because when I went upstairs to ask mom why he would have peed on my stomach, well, that launched the investigation of the century! Followed swiftly by the coverup of the millennium. So see there, even before the age of reason I’d outed someone else’s secret. But why the fuck won’t I say his name?