For the most part, I can't stand secrets. Sometimes they are necessary, but many times they are excruciatingly destructive. Knowing a secret is never easy. I know. Keeping one is even harder for some, but shockingly simple for others. Secrets buried along with people haunt me the most. People go to the grave with secrets that must have burned inside them, and they never, ever shared them. Or perhaps they didn't burn them inside at all. Maybe they stuffed them under the mattress tightly enough that they never had to look at them again.
There are things I will never know, and maybe I shouldn't because the secrets aren't mine.
My immediate family members are extraordinary secret keepers. It is significant, but not that surprising, that this skill can be tied with the talent of lying. My relatives are private, guarded and able to be mysterious about almost everything they do. I didn't learn the art of lying very well, and while I certainly can keep secrets of others to myself, I don't have many of my own. I guess that is why I'm so fascinated but annoyed by them. My mother says I have a very easy tell when I lie; I do something weird with my mouth/lips.
Me: Well, like what do I do when I lie?
Mom: I don't know how to describe it.
Me: Then how do you notice it?
Mom: I just do. Your lips curve a certain way.
Me: No they don't! How do they curve? Like, in what way do they curve?
Mom: Christ, leave me the fuck alone.
For the most part, that's not necessarily a problem, but it was a pain in the ass whenever I tried to say I was going to the movies when I was really going to Brad's house for beer pong (not kidding, I really knew a Brad. He didn't even look like a Brad. I just feel like that's important to note.). It also doesn't help me come off as all that mysterious. Usually I'm neurotically and unnecessarily blabbing about even the most insignificant thing that happened to me that day. "I mispronounced 'tousled' and now she'll never look at me the same way again."
There is an entire branch of my family tree unknown to me. Secrets wrapped themselves around it like thick cobwebs, and even my parents still search for answers in their late 60's. There are things we must accept we will never know, but maybe we should know them, don't you think? I don't know one person from that branch. What kinds of attributes do they have? Are they famous? Infamous? Does anyone need help? Are there any diseases I should be looking out for? I will likely never know. And so these secrets, that were perhaps not mine to keep, seem like they are ones I should know. Were the secrets held so ferociously to protect us, the descendants? Or protected in order to hide shameful things, to creep away from any responsibility and to deny what gave those involved pain?
The Scarlet Letter comes to mind. That red "A" that burned on Hester Prynne's chest was misleading, the more I think about it. It certainly told every Puritan prude in town she was an adulteress (as if they would have forgotten, pft. What else did they have to do but sit around and think about everyone else's sins? Sew?), and reminded Hester every day of what she did (which was her punishment.... Thank God I wasn't around. I forget to put my name tag on almost every day. Imagine me being responsible for something like that?), but it also cloaked a secret. The Reverend Dimmesdale, the original emo, carved his own "A" into his chest but Hester kept the secret of their child's paternity to protect him. While he made a few fancy speeches about how the secret haunted him and he didn't think it was cool Hester wanted him to pretend like he hadn't been a total hypocrite, he could have easily gone to the town square and been like, "Yo. I'm the one that knocked up Hester. Boom. Now you can't think of me as a god anymore. Oh, wait...."
Many secrets are kept in that novel. Hester doesn't notify anyone that her creepy husband is in town, no one has any idea who Pearl's daddy is, Dimmesdale delivers Sermons every weekend and looks into his flock's eyes (even though he's sooo tormented about it, you guys), the women Hester hangs out with have pretty cool covert conversations considering the society they were being suffocated in, and everyone basically lies about how good they are because they're fundamentally a hypocritical, oppressive and assholish town. What dicks.
Sorry. Deep breaths. I went off on a tangent.
Anyway, speaking of novels-- I've been reading a few books lately about familial relationships. What we inherit. If we are doomed to be the recreations of people already in the ground. If you know someone in your family has schizophrenia, and there is evidence that this disorder is something you could inherit, that colors your interpretation of your own actions. You might become a self-fulfilling prophesy. You might think you're developing it, when really you're just terrified about what Psychology Today says. Then there is the possibility you do get diagnosed--do you feel anger? Do you think about the person in your family who has it with fury or sympathy/empathy? What if it had been kept secret until your diagnosis that the Uncle Charles you never, ever even heard much about was schizophrenic and no one told you? This didn't happen to me, but Jesus.
I've mentioned my struggles with depression and anxiety. I see the connections between what I've gone through and the lives of members of my family--extended and immediate. Two in particular come to mind who are now in their late 50's. They have completely deteriorated. One almost became homeless. The other, who removed himself entirely from his family, supposedly did become homeless for a while. What is interesting is both were presented with options. Jobs, support, etc., but neither took advantage. Both felt that the jobs they were offered were beneath them. Both possess a sort of entitlement and a resentment of the efforts some have made to improve their quality of life. It baffles many in my family, and a lot of my family members look at them with a mixed sort of sadness and contempt. I personally feel bad for them, but I don't know them like the others do. I just know that it's been hard at times for me to work, let alone leave my bedroom. I wonder if their excuses that the jobs are beneath them are really ways to get out of interacting with people. I do acknowledge that there comes a point where you know you need to seek help, and at that crossroads it's all too easy to sink back into the cushiony and familiar haze of darkness.
And then I have a few family members I know fairly well. One or two in fact that I was close with at different points in my life. All were viewed as oddballs in the family, irresponsible and unpredictable wild cards capable of doing anything. One treated me badly, and since then things have been strained. She isn't well, though now she is married with a baby and could be stamped "normal" by certain circles. She's still off kilter. But instead of sympathizing with her or trying to understand her (things I've done in the past), now I feel a hollow indifference and occasional disdain. So in that sense, I see both sides.
Sometimes I'll be driving someplace simple. Dunkin' Donuts. Nothing is expected of me there. There aren't any philosophical thoughts that should be prompted. Yet I'll feel a flash of gray that stays with me a while. It doesn't matter how many different colored paintbrushes I pick up; everything just turns to that concrete-like gray. It hangs with me for hours. Sometimes days. Then there are moments of exquisite light and I feel warm and relatively okay. Other days I'm too busy to get stuck in my head or to feel too many things, and I always consider those good days. One of our greatest gifts but sometimes biggest failings is hanging out too much in our mind, thinking and overthinking and thinking and obsessing and stewing and overthinking again. Yes, I have my tendencies to have dark thoughts, but I think all of us do. In that regard, what I experience isn't all that different from someone who people could think of as "optimistic". We all feel everything, or at least we should. And so after those moments, the sympathy I feel for those family members some of my relatives look at as moping mooches who take no responsibility for their actions swells and I wish I could contact them. I even look at those that I am not so forgiving towards with more softness.
But the secrets. They make more sense as I get older, and they also become even more puzzling at the same time. I say that because I've gotten older and have matured (somewhat) and perhaps I didn't live fully enough to create my own secrets. The secrets in some instances, I believe, are wrapped up with the depression and sadness that echoes down the hallway of my family lineage. Suicide attempts were kept hush-hush, until one day someone let a secret slip. It would be easy to see why something like that would be kept secret, just as easy as it would be to see why someone would keep a broken heart and the devastation that follows secret. It is that fallout, I assume, that explains the frustrating blind spot in one vein of ancestry that made me Me.
Secrets. So many different kinds. There is that example of a secret that comes up often--adultery. Not Hester's kind, really. If you see your best friend's spouse kissing someone else in a fancy restaurant, do you tell them? If you have a one night stand that meant nothing, would you confess to your spouse, even if some people argue that confessing something like that only serves to alleviate your own guilt? If you know your good friend at work is about to get fired, do you give him a head's up? What about the topic of many songs-- you fall in love with your best friend's boyfriend or girlfriend (yikes)? Can we bear to hold these secrets? How would we feel if we found out others kept secrets like these to themselves?
I've wrapped up two thoughts together--the concept of secrets and the inheritance of things (particularly mental health issues). Every family has secrets. Every person has secrets. Every secret doesn't need to be known, maybe shouldn't even be known. Maybe we deserve to have our secrets, even if it can be selfish. Does it matter, really matter, that my family has immense secrets and untold stories?
No. It doesn't. It doesn't matter that I don't know, even if it's sad. I know that in a little bit I have a quick errand to run, that I have to go buy white-out and see if I can get a decent fucking tote bag somewhere. I also need to think about what's for dinner tonight. I know that tomorrow I have to wake up earlier than I like. If I ever get married, yeah, I want to know if my husband is cheating on me. Yeah, I want a head's up if I'm getting fired. But could I do the same for someone else? I always say yes. Then someone else always plays Devil's Advocate and says, "You say that now, but wait until you're actually faced with that situation." And maybe the Devil's Advocate is right. Secrets are sticky, and troubling, and heavy, and sometimes thrilling. Sometimes it's easier to say we wouldn't hold onto a secret and go to the grave with it.
But fuck the Devil's Advocate. I'm feeling an exquisite burst of light coming.