Theodora Goss’s latest post cracked my head open, and thoughts have been pouring out ever since. There are at least three essays I could write in response to it.
This is one of them. It is about secrets.
I have forged myself into a receptacle for keeping secrets. I have been a reliable secret keeper for twenty-five years. I know things I wish no one would ever need to know.
People tell me their secrets. Mostly men, because I’ve made an inadvertent lifelong study of being the type of woman men confide in. I’ve only realized this recently, and I’m not quite sure what, if anything, I am going to do about it. Is it so bad to be a secret keeper for other people?
I think it actually might be, at least in certain circumstances, because after a while, I disappear in the sea of secrets. The narratives unfold, and I allow them so much space that eventually I compress into hardly anything at all. Being a secret keeper can be hazardous to your health. It takes a master to prevent their encroachment and hold them where they belong.
Can I be a master? Perhaps.
Do I want to be? This is an entirely different question. I think I do, but only when my own secrets get to be a part of the sea.
There are two types of people: those who, at the slightest hint of anything difficult in conversation, become distinctly and obviously uncomfortable, and those who aren’t afraid of talking about the hard stuff.
There are two types of people: those who know how to listen, and those who have never trained themselves to hold space for another person.
The ideal secret keeper doesn’t blink an eye at the hard stuff, and she holds space without a trace of judgment. The secret teller can then unburden himself in safety.
There is an art to creating trust.
I have plenty of secrets. I don’t think about them all of the time, even most of the time, but when I do, I feel like they might choke me.
I turned keeping secrets into a modus operandi back in middle school, and I never looked back. My survival, I was convinced, depended on my ability to keep all these secrets that no one would understand. The idea of gossip about me was unimaginably horrible.
So I simply never told anybody anything.
It worked, too. And to this day I don’t think I made the wrong choice.
Then again, I still sometimes say very little indeed. So of course I agree with my past self. Of course.
I have secrets I might be literally unable to talk about. I do not have the words. I am a writer without words, which as you might imagine, can be disconcerting. I might have to create a whole new language in order to express these secrets accurately.
I do not have the words because that’s what happens when something is traumatic enough. The trauma leaches words of meaning, and it blanches them bone white so they are hard to distinguish.
You read about avoidance of talking about trauma, and you think, oh, that must be like when you avoid cleaning your bathroom. But it is nothing like avoiding cleaning the bathroom. It is more like, your bathroom lacks the coherence and structural integrity to be able to clean. But it’s still sitting there needing to be cleaned all the same. So then you have to rebuild the entire freaking bathroom just so you can clean it.
Secrets are bad for your health. This seems relevant to the current discussion. It is why one bothers to go to all the trouble of rebuilding the bathroom. Which, any way you slice it, is a huge pain in the ass.
Right now this blog post is a secret. But tomorrow morning it will go out into the world, and the act of you reading it will transform it into something else.
Now that you have reached the end, it is no longer a secret. It is something we know together.