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“Did that samosa go bad in the car?”

My mom asked me this after I drove her home from the north side of town. She was standing in the kitchen sniffing the samosa we’d driven around all day in the event we’d need a snack.

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Because I think there was some sort of a bad smell I was smelling and I can’t figure out what it was.”

“Really? That’s odd.”

Secrets are an awful, inevitable thing, aren’t they?

You see, I fart often.  More often than anyone else I know, as far as I’ve been able to tell.  Reliable averages are hard to come by.  The medical literature is noticeably thin when it comes to the subject of what is a usual amount of farts for a Canadian male age 30-35.  I’ve asked those friends I felt I could, but even the most frequent flautist says he (you knew he would be a ‘he’) has many small farts, while I seem to have many, many big ones.

The recent diet Susie went on did have one remarkable side effect.  I was eating far fewer carbs, and I noticed a corresponding decrease in the volume of SmEL2 I was producing.

Regardless of what my precise standard deviation from normal is, the fact remains: I pass gas frequently.  I try to do it places where it won’t be noticed—like parking garages and well-ventilated lobbies—or places where I won’t be fingered as the source—revolving doors, movie theaters, lines at the bank.

But sometimes, a long car ride, after you’ve eaten five fresh pepperoni sticks, and some booster potato chips, there’s just nothing you can do.  Except keep it a secret.

* * *

Secrets are different than lies (which are different than unspoken truths, but let’s keep it simple).  Secrets are romantic. “Listen, do you want to know a secret, do you promise not tell?”  Secrets are a means of control.  “I know what you did last summer.”  They are encouraged by society. “Can’t you keep a secret? Nobody likes a tattle tale.”

Secrets are a source of strength and power. “Secret’s strong enough for a man, but made for a woman.”  They’re exciting. “Top secret—for your eyes only.” Secrets are magical keys. “The secret to happiness, the secret to weight loss, the secret to good health” or my personal favorite, from Nietzsche: “The secret of reaping the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment from life is…”

But I think that secrets are most like marshmallows.  They seem small. They’re kind of sweet. They feel delightful when held in the palm of your hand.  They’re light and fluffy—there’s almost nothing to them, they’re a special treat. And they seem harmless, or even like they might protect you from harm.

But secrets never go away.  Once you know a secret, it continues to be a secret forever, even if it becomes unimportant and obsolete, unless and until it is revealed.  And so you carry each secret around with you.  As the years go by, they pile on like marshmallows would if you had 1,000 of them.

The newer ones press down ever so slightly more on you, the weight build, and the previous layers of secrets, the ones on the bottom, compress and thicken.  They get sticky.  They start to go stale and rot.  And they attract small creatures that live off secrets and those who bear them in quantity.

* * *

Tonight, I looked in on a sweet baby girl in a crib, sleeping on her back.  Her patterned cotton blanket was pulled up to her chin, and she had one arm extended across her coverlet, fingers half-curled around her palm.  She breathed evenly and quickly.  She had no secrets to trouble her sleep.  She probably won’t have any secrets for many years.

Her parents will keep secrets from her, though, from the day she’s old enough to understand them—having a child makes you into a guardian of secrets and lies as sure as it makes you reverent and overly cautious.  You lie to your child because the world is unfair and you lie because sometimes you make mistakes and you lie because Santa isn’t real and there’s a long way left to drive and kids can be too cruel and because yes, bad things can happen at the hospital.

But eventually, one day, her parents won’t be the only guardian of secrets.  That little girl will learn to keep a secret of her own.  Maybe she’ll be teased.  Maybe she’ll do something wrong and not want to be found out.  Maybe she’ll just have a private joy and want to cherish it herself.  And she’ll see this fluffy little marshmallow secret in front of her and she’ll reach out and take it, wrap her hand around it and slowly close her fingers until nothing of it can be seen, just felt.

That day she’ll start growing up.

* * *

There’s only one difference between a secret and a lie.  A secret is a lie that no one has asked you about.  But each secret is a lie ready to happen because, of course, if someone did ask you about a secret, by definition, you have to lie.  If you aren’t ready to lie to protect each secret, then it’s not a secret, it’s just a story you haven’t bothered to tell yet.

* * *

And that brings this around to me.  I have so many secrets in my life, perhaps more than most because of the way I intereact with people, both collecting confidences and then choosing to protect them.  But so many secrets make me tired.

I think that’s what I find so refreshing about blogging.  It’s a way to tell the stories I haven’t told yet, and it’s a safer way to reveal myself, piece by piece, brick by brick.  Perhaps I blog because I’m not ready yet to become old, to move slower with the sticky weight of secrets spread across my shoulders and down my back and sticking to my shoes like life’s a stale movie house and I’m sitting with my sneakers are stuck to the floor.

Teenagers have secrets galore, but they don’t let them pile up.  They blurt them out, they confide them, they make promises and break them and spill secrets on the ground like icing sugar.  They somehow intuit that a midnight conversation, a shocked outburst, a new best friend, helps to scrape away the secrets that build up and paralyze.

Few people are able to take that natural wisdom with them through life.  I only have one or two friends who are capable of not keeping secrets.  They tell me (and their other friends) about the good and the bad, their evil thoughts, their family strife, their illicit affairs, their uncommon foibles.  I find that I want to, but I’m not able to, open myself that way, to let people see the warts and the mistakes.

And I don’t think it’s my place to pass along the warts and mistakes and private ponderings of the people I know, and those are secrets, too, aren’t they?  And if I share my secrets, aren’t I just creating a burden for others? What makes the marshmallows melt and not just go from person to person?

* * *

After all this, shouldn’t I tell you a secret? I think so.

Last year, in October, we moved into our apartment downtown.  We were told it was at least 1,100 square feet by our landlord.  Moving in all our stuff, and getting all set up, we started to look more closely at the situation.  We found a link online to a floor plan of our place that said the square footage was really 1,055 square feet.  And so we spent most of the year being upset that we were paying for less than what we were promised.

But in November of last year, I went down to the property manager’s office and I got in a conversation with our building manager and the person who lived in an identical unit several floors below ours.  It came up that I was a little upset that our apartment was only 1,055 square feet when really we had been told it was about 1,100.  Oh, no, they both said, it’s smaller than that.  It’s 985 square feet.

I never told that to Susie or to our friends.  I never wanted her to feel more frustrated with our place than she already was, and I didn’t want friends to figure out what we were paying per square foot and shake their heads or feel bad for us.  And I also knew that knowing the truth wouldn’t change anything, our couch would still be too big for the space we had, whatever it was.

Perhaps if you stick around, I’ll tell a few more secrets before the year is over.



 
 

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Overheard

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“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

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