Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Secret is in the Telling

“Do you promise not to tell?” she asked me.

“Yes. I promise,” I said.

As a child, a secret was something innocent. A crush on a boy, a hidden treasure spot, or stealing a candy bar. But as I grew older, secrets became more serious. My friends stopped whispering in my ear about how they’d talked to their crush that day, or how they had broken their mom’s favorite lamp and blamed it on the dog. Instead, they whispered about other things: sexual encounters, pregnancy scares, depression, drinking and drugs.

And then there were the secrets that they didn’t tell. The ones I always knew but was too afraid to talk to them about. The secrets that left rippled seams, tiny as a stitch--but not invisible.

These were the kind of secrets that involved excusing oneself right after eating an extra large container of ice cream, and then returning with pink vomit on your collar. Like a magnet, my eyes would stare at the vomit: that imperfect stitch that unravels it all. But I dare not look at it for too long, so she doesn’t think I know. It’s a secret I have known for many years, but one that she glosses over with jokes about indigestion. A secret known but never told.

These were the kind of secrets involving a sadness so deep that you can’t speak it because you think no one could understand. “Please just come out and meet me for coffee?” I would ask. “I’m so sorry,” she would say through muffled tears. “Not tonight. I’m not feeling well.” And the next night would be the same. And the night after that too. Until every day and night she was trapped in sadness, and the sadness gripped her so tightly that no one could get their arms in anywhere, even to hug her.

They were the kind of secrets that are held for so many years, buried and confused with guilt and childhood. The ones she can barely tell you because what he did to her over and over again was so horrible. The secret she held on to, through childhood, and into adulthood, until she was out of the house. Away from him.

They were also the kind of secrets about a relationship filled with mean words, name calling, belittling, constant hurt, and the sad realization that she doesn’t want to leave. "I know I deserve better," she told me, carefully balancing the secrets above her head like the heaviest ceiling tiles. "But I love him."

The kind of secrets that were strategically hidden above her skirt on her upper leg and were only revealed on accident when the blood soaked through her gray leggings. “I don’t do it all the time,” she said casually. “Just sometimes, when life gets to be too much and I need to feel something real. They really aren’t even that deep.”

Some of these secrets resolve themselves. A step-father was imprisoned thanks to brave girls. A girl realized she needed support to overcome her anxiety and agoraphobia. And, after a cut a little too deep, a smart doctor intervened.

But some secrets remained.

As a friend, how do you respond to secrets when you do find them out (however they are revealed to you )? How do you help a friend who is too deeply entrenched in their secret to realize that they are loved, they are strong, they are brave, and they deserve happiness? How do you help them realize that unless they are willing to become accountable for their own life, and unless they are willing to face their darkest secret and leave that secret behind, the secret will win?

And letting the secret win means trading your life for a life of pain.

“Promise you won’t tell?” she asked again.

“This isn't an innocent secret anymore. You are an adult now, you choose your path. If you won't change your situation, no one will do it for you. But if you choose to let the secret win, the secret will escalate and the ceiling will fall in. It always does. You will have chosen pain as you wait for that inevitable moment when the ceiling falls in, and even worse pain when the moment arrives. All I can do for you is be here to hold your hand.

The secret is in the telling, but this life is yours to choose.”


  1. I seriously got tears in my eyes when reading this. This prose is so poetic in sound, and so deep with meaning. Well done, and well said. xoxo

  2. What a wonderful and beautifully written post! Lots of food for thought for some folks who might be needin' it. Thank you for sharing with us.

    Visiting from SITS! Have a blessed day!

  3. Beautiful post. Inspired me to commit to being more honest and - dare I say it, brave- in my own postings.

  4. got me all choked up. Beautifully written!

  5. Score one for bravery - great post!

  6. Beautiful, brave, and moving. Thank you for sharing this. Wonderful post!

  7. You really illustrated the shift in a friend role as life goes on. When we're starting out we do look for someone who can serve solely as a confidant, but I think as go about life we definitely need someone who can call us out on our shit. Maybe we don't look for it like we looked for someone to trade secrets with, but we definitely need it.

    We see ourselves through the eyes of others, and if a friend is keeping his or her eye's shut during the ugly moments, we'll never get the whole picture of who we're becoming.

  8. Wow, this was a powerful post. I was thinking of the secrets I've had throughout the years. They were always too painful to tell friends about. But, I also wonder what secrets they weren't telling me and how I would have been there for them NO MATTER WHAT. Which tells me they probably would have done the same for me.

    Great post.

  9. Mara, this is so well written! Incredibly moving. It might be the best thing I have ever read of your writing...and that is saying a lot, because I have read a lot of your writing and because it is all good! :)

  10. Wow Mara!!! That was a very powerfully and beautifully written piece. You always have a way with your words that really evokes and inspires thought.