Cataloguing Secrets

The poetry workshop book I’m reading starts with the easiest topic. Work on past memories and experiences. List out different memories. The first was easy. Almost too easy. I was supposed to write/list “pleasant past experiences.”

I wrote down memories of Mermaid Rock. A dolphin show in the Netherlands. Exploring a creek with my brother. The births of my children. Memories of my nieces and nephews. Beckon. Hiking. My wedding.

I needed to write about a building I lived in. Immediately, I remembered the apartment building in Munich. How it used to be white. When it was painted a pale goldenrod. The recessed sections where the stairwells were located were painted olive green. I hated that green. I wanted something different. The red maybe? I just remember hating the green.

I need to list people who were “magical” in my life. Mrs. Harding. Mrs. Fox. Mrs. Williams. My parents. My sister-in-law. My sister-in-law’s parents. I wonder if I’m allowed to include book characters. I can see myself including Jacques Cousteau because of the dolphin book he wrote (the one my aunt gave me that I still have after 40 years).

But I haven’t actually hit that list yet because the next point were secrets that I have kept.

I folded the book closed. Set my pen down. I tried to summon up the words. Surely after decades, I could write about childhood secrets. Like the first time I did the middle finger. Under a blanket because I was trying to hide that from God. But I wanted to save that moment for the list about a time I “sinned” or did something wrong.

I don’t really remember the secrets of my childhood. If anything, they would be rather innocuous. The time I stole candy from my grandmother’s candy bar basket (the one she kept for her piano students). I hid in the “forbidden room,” her immaculate living room, and snarfed down the candy bar behind the white curtains. Because no one would look for me there.

But it’s the clam shell opening. The idea of the secrets that I know still exist.

No. Nothing horrible. No abuse. No assaults. Nothing like that.

But. Moments of my life that I am not proud of. Moments when I..

And even now. The words sputter to a halt. I don’t want to dwell on those points. Those moments when I was a teenager and…

Words. Actions. They all have weight and meaning. Even when they are cancelled out by time and age. When they are just calcified silences tucked into the back of my mind where I will nudge them back into the darkness when they are disturbed and roll out into the light.

I don’t want to confront those points. I don’t want to look at my ugliness and feel them slink up against me in my writing. Even now. Sitting in my comfy chair in my living room. My husband clicking through Youtube videos. I don’t want to nudge into my secrets. Because my gut curdles with those memories.

I notice that secrets infantize us (interesting how I’ve transitioned over to first person plural pronoun). The fear of being discovered. Of having those nuances exposed ignites a protective shame-fear. Defend at all costs. Keep the intruders out. Even if those individuals are ourselves. Or our loved ones. And they only offer healing. Love. Acceptance.

I don’t know that I will catalogue my secrets. Likely, they are mostly innocuous. But, in the end. They are still mine. Tucked up against me. Within me. My own little horde of moments that I stuff one into another. Like Russian nesting dolls that can’t speak.

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