Friday, December 21, 2012

The Secrets We Keep

I don't know why we thought we could keep it from her. She is too smart--too aware--not to attune to the silent dirge within the nation's requiem.We know she knows, but we can't talk about it because of the reverb in our cathedral of lies.

"Sometimes I see things in my head. Bad things happening to my family or friends. And I get scared I'm going to lose you," she said on the way home from school earlier this week.

I looked at her in the rear view mirror. "Bad things? Like what?"

"Like they're getting shot. Or...or some kind of violence."

"That's an interesting way to put it. 'Violence.' Did you hear that somewhere recently?"

"No," she said.

Several weeks ago the house next to The Boss's school was gutted by a fire. Black window sockets still stare at the children every day. There's a tarp on the roof and the remnants of yellow police tape around the yard. One night The Boss cried in bed and said she was scared of losing us. I reassured her as best I could. We have fire alarms, I said. We have batteries. We have protection. It was such a solid, practical explanation.

During dinner the evening that The Boss told me about violence, we talked about it with The Partner.

"These gun shots you're talking about--was it something that was brought up at school?"


"Were your friends talking about it?"


"Then where did this come from?"

"I don't know."

The Boss is a self-professed secret keeper. She prides herself on it. I remembered that as she sat at the dinner table steadfast in the not knowing. 

"Are you keeping a secret now?" I asked. I was painfully aware of the irony. It was exquisite tortoiseshell combs in a pixie haircut; it was a watch-less fob.

"No," she said. "I'm not keeping a secret."

"We don't understand this violence you're talking about. Can you explain more? Can you give some examples?" I asked.

She blew out a puff of exasperation from the side of her lips. The sigh propelled her into speech. "World War II, alright? World War I. Is that a big secret?" She was hopping around in her seat now. She was making grand gestures and exaggerating each movement of her mouth, her eyes, her chin. "Huh? Huh? Is that a big secret?"

We laughed. We had to. She's our comedian. She has the concealed angst of an SNL cast member and the same need for approval. "Is that a big secret? Huh?" The more we laughed, the more she repeated herself. Finally, I suggested that she could improve her comedic stylings by learning when to quit. She just raised an eyebrow and twirled an imaginary moustache. "Is it a big secret, hmmmmmm?"

In the beginning, we didn't think she needed to know what we didn't have an explanation for anyway. There are no alarms for the kind of evil that has no source in normalcy. So we kept it secret and, in doing so, we forced her to do the same. We broke her trust. We condoned silence.

What can we say now?