Friday, May 29, 2009

"It's a secret, baby."

For a short time last weekend, I was in possession of a secret. Upon finding it out, I was urged to keep it secret for basically 24 hours. How nice to have a set end date to the "secretness". This must be what it feels like to have a corporate Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) expire, allowing one to spill the beans about the new iPhone or the latest car model after a specified date and time.

The secret was harmless, in that it contains no malicious information. Still, since few people knew and there was to be an "unveiling" of sorts at a family gathering, it was important not to tell anyone. To be honest, I didn't really have anyone TO tell that would make any difference.

But now the secret is out: my friend and her husband are having a baby. She wanted her extended family to be the "first" to know, which I can totally understand. Her husband brought up the point that a lot can go wrong in the first few weeks of a pregnancy, so it can be better to hold off until the couple is fairly certain that they've made it over the first hurdle before getting everyone's hopes up.

The only reason I found out was because I arrived in my hometown absurdly close to the reveal date, and began pestering wife and husband to come out to lunch with me. Since no one EVER wants to turn down lunch with ME, my lunch with the husband included a note from the wife explaining why she couldn't come out and get drunk at noon.

That's the fun kind of secret. It's news that will genuinely make everybody happy, eliciting lots of congratulations and little pink and blue gift items will start appearing everywhere. All good fun. And let's face it: no one can keep this kind of secret forever. Eventually, there's going to BE a kid and I don't think they just get dropped off at doors anymore.

Doctor Andy: "Say, who's this baby crying in your living room?"

Friend: "Oh, that. That came with the house. I'm surprised you hadn't noticed before..."

*** *** ***

Then there are the other kind of secrets. The ones that involve "people who chose poorly" and "if they found out, it would end the marriage". Those are never fun or harmless. And to make it even more strange, since I just got introduced to this "secret" from a long time ago, there's a good chance everyone involved ALREADY knows. Which would be terrible, because this is the sort of secret that features heavily in those novels with soft-focus pictures of Fabio on the cover. And that's never a good thing.

A few years ago, a friend-of-a-friend's wife left him and tried to take the kids, moving in with a guy she'd met while doing hurricane relief in Florida. The new guy turned out to have no job and a conviction for child molestation and I felt a certain amount of "hot potato" syndrome. "This story is too weird to process; I need someone else's opinion!" I passed the potato and received confirmation that YES, that is really messed up. Splendid, I haven't gone completely bananas.

With this latest revelation I mentioned earlier, I was on the pickup end. My friend had been holding on to this and other incidents for far too long. She felt a great deal of cathartic "oomph" as she unpacked these things with a sympathetic and connected party (i.e., me). It's hard to listen to stories that your friends have been verbally and situationally abused by someone, especially if that someone is an acquaintance. It's even harder to find out that apparently I too have been abused.

It occurred behind my back years back and consisted of an alternative (and negative) narrative for decisions I made in my life. The purpose of the stories was to place me in a situation of little to no power or worth. Finding out what had been said was (and I mean this in the strictest sense of the word) shocking. I almost couldn't believe such things would be said about me. Almost. Finding out all these years after the fact finally let me in on this floating "secret". Certainly not as fun as the upcoming baby.

The enduring feeling I take away from this "unveiling" is that I can't believe that I provoked someone into lashing out in such a negative way. I kind of pride myself on maintaining courteous (if somewhat uneven) relationships with people, so it's a glancing blow to my pride to find out that someone came away with such a negative reaction that it colored all the subsequent events.

At this time, my rational friends would step in and point out that some people are just petty and vindictive, and I shouldn't worry about something that happened oh-so-long ago that has no real consequences echoing into today. No doubt they're right and very sensible. Curse them! Surely these retellings will fade into the wash of memories, just like the rest of life from that far back in the time line. It will become one of those things that only gets mentioned every few years at gatherings of friends. "Whatever happened to...."

Still, I'll wonder what the deal was. I'll wonder which time when I said "left", they heard "right". I'll wonder if I should have been more angry. Perhaps I also should have sold my "old friends" down the river to try to regain the power in a now-defunct acquaintance.

Maybe I should have held on to more secrets to use as a deterrent. Should have kept a few as leverage, I suppose: my own personal Cold War.

No thanks.

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