I’ve always been an expert secret-keeper.
I learned to keep secrets at a very young age. It was a family tradition. We were born and bred into it. The first time I remember being tested on my secret keeping abilities was when I was seven years old. At that time, we were living in a beautiful suburban neighborhood, in a massive house, covered in marble. My mom was a stay at home mom and my father would frequently go on business trips on the weekend, leaving my mom, brother and I to sit around watching TV, waiting for him to get home on Sunday afternoons.
One day, I overheard my mother telling her friend on the phone that she was tired of him getting to go away and she wanted to have fun too. I had met her boyfriend, Jamie, a bunch of times. He was super tall, over 6 feet, with long brown hair and tattoos all over his arms. He was very different from my father. My mom brought me over to his house sometimes on the weekend when my brother was at his friend’s.
“Don’t tell your brother we went to Jamie’s. You want an ice cream?”
At that point it was already quite natural to hear the phrase, ‘Don’t tell your… father, grandmother, teacher’ just fill in the blank. I never asked why. I guess it just made sense. I was well trained.
My first real ‘secret keeper’ test started on a normal Friday morning when I was 7. I kissed my dad good-bye, “Love you, Daddy!” and off I went to school, and off he went on his weekend business trip. But, that afternoon when I got home from school, my mom wasn’t there to greet me at the bus stop. There was a babysitter waiting for me instead.
“Where’s my mom?” I asked the young pretty woman. “We’re gonna to have so much fun this weekend!” When my brother got home I told him mom had gone away and we had a babysitter for the weekend. “I don’t need a babysitter, the babysitter’s for you,” he said. “Nooo” I whined. “Go away, Riva, leva me alone”. I went into the kitchen, dragged a chair over to the phone and climbed up on it. I dialed the phone number my mom had left and a man answered. “Marylou, it’s for you”. My mom got on the phone “Hi Mom! Matthew says he doesn’t need a babysitter” “That’s fine dear. Leave your brother alone. Why don’t you color with Lisa?” “Lisa’s watching TV, I don’t like what she’s watching.” “Go play in your room”.
As I hung up I could hear Matthew upstairs doing something suspicious. I ran up the stairs and he was standing on a chair at the top of the stairs where there was tiny window that lead to the roof. He was holding one of my dolls. I screamed, “What are you doing?!” “They needed some fresh air”. “What do you mean ‘they’?” I quickly ran to my bedroom to take stock. I had exactly 23 dolls that I lined up in perfect order on my bed every morning. “Ahhhh!” 7 were missing! I bolted down the stairs, and threw open the sliding glass doors to the backyard. I ran to the far side of the fence and stood on my tippy toes looking back up at the house. I could see 7 of my precious dolls neatly sitting side-by-side lined up on the roof, with my brother’s head peaking out the small window smirking at me. “I hate you!” I screamed and sucked back my tears.
It took the babysitter hours to get them all down. Matthew went over to his friend’s house for a sleepover.
By the time my dad got home on Sunday afternoon, my mom wasn’t back yet. I was there alone with the babysitter, my brother was still at his friend’s down the street. I remember the look of surprise and dismay on my dad’s face when he saw the babysitter. He put down his black leather monogrammed bag in the front foyer and immediately told Lisa to leave. I was standing on the stairs caught between wanting to run down and give him a kiss hello and hide until my mom got home so she could handle this. I quickly turned to run upstairs to my bedroom to pretend I was busy with something, but my dad came up the stairs after me. He caught me before I could get to my bedroom and cornered me outside the bathroom. “Where is she?” I didn’t say a word. I just looked up at him. He grabbed my shoulders, leaned down into my face and shook me, hard. “Where is your mother?” I felt a flash of heat fall over my whole body. I held his eye contact. His deep black eyes glared back at me. He had never hit me like he hit my brother but I braced myself anyways. He shook me harder and started to shout. Sweat dripped off his red face and his hair moved out of place with every shake. “Who is she with?” I still didn’t say a word.
Of course I knew. She’s with Jamie. He’s really nice. They went away for the weekend. She had called me on Saturday to check in to see how we were. Oh no, can he read my mind?
“Is she with that guy with the tattoos?” He was yelling. I hadn’t said a word. He already knows, I thought.
He finally stopped shaking me. He walked away and went downstairs. I hadn’t said a word. I am a good secret-keeper, I thought, as I stood there crouched in the corner.