Secrets

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I have a fantasy about buying a bucket of ladybugs and releasing them in my apartment. Ladybugs are magical, happy bugs, as warm and cozy as a bug can be.

My friend Paul once made friends with a fly. He didn’t mean to. First, he chased it around  his apartment and tried to kill it with a folded up newspaper. But the fly evaded him. He looked up the life span of a housefly. Fifteen to thirty days. He decided he could live with his new roommate and gave the fly carte blanche.

Mostly, the fly watched him work on his computer, sometimes sitting on the top corner of the monitor, other times, making a warm comfortable bed on the moving knuckles of Paul’s right hand.

One day, the housefly ceased his daily visitation and Paul knew that he his life expectancy had been satisfied. The bug had moved on. Paul still thinks of him fondly.

Ladybugs live a few years longer than houseflies. Co-existing with fifteen hundred of them in my small apartment might not be as good an idea in practice as it looks on paper.

One of the questions on the dating website prompts the profile writer to disclose the most private thing they’re willing to admit in a widely public, albeit semi-anonymous, self-description. There are days I want to write “I am a virgin” or “I think of Barry Gibb when I masturbate,” or “sometimes I dream of releasing fifteen hundred ladybugs in my apartment.”

I don’t write those things, though. Mostly because, aside from the ladybugs, they are not true.

Years ago, on a beautiful afternoon, I woke up from a dream and wrote a story about wishes. I wrote it for my niece, who was three at the time. I was thinking about all the things I wanted to share. We’re not a close family. I barely know her or her brother. But there was a day when we were in the same room and I knelt down to her and said, “do you want to know a secret?”

She toddled over to me, entranced by the idea of sharing something intangible, a precious nugget, her own pet to keep. I whispered the secret in her ear; she hugged me.

A year later, I asked her if she remembered the secret. She didn’t. She doesn’t. But there’s a little part of her and a little part of me that are bound together by a fine and beautiful thread. Three ephemeral words. That’s the best kind of secret to have.

It made me want to explain the world to her.

Since that moment, I’ve been fascinated by the nature of secrets. How we relish them, stroke them, covet them, and feed them. How we want to know each others secrets, even if we don’t really care. They are small, self-contained mysteries that may or may not belong to a larger puzzle. We share them like sweet morsels and crave them like candy. They are sweet for a moment and then they disappear.

 

When entrusted with the care of a secret, we shove those beautiful, sparkly, fairy-like gnats in a lock box somewhere in our hearts. But secrets are wily. They’re geniuses of disguise and masters of escape.

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They’ll flit out through a gap in the lid or eat away at the rusty hinges of the box. Sometimes, mostly when we’re keeping a secret for someone else, it’ll tickle and tease us so much that we’ll open the chest, just a bit, to relieve the pressure. Maybe we convince ourselves that we’re checking to make sure it’s still breathing, that it has enough water, but it’s more likely that we’re dying to show someone, anyone, how special we are on account of the beautiful, shiny secret we’ve been trusted to keep.

Some secrets are terrifically strong and too big for us to handle. We deadbolt them in a steel cage, wrap the outsides with rope and try to sink them deep into the seas of our consciousness. Those are the secrets that grow into monsters so daunting that they one day burst out of their confines, swim to the surface, and emerge full-grown Godzillas, crushing buildings and knocking over bridges. They don’t know their own strength. When two well-kept secrets clash, there’s more damage done than to Tokyo and New York in a Japanese monster movie; they fight do the death, bad dubbing and all.

Those are special cases. Most secrets don’t have much of a life span outside of the box. Once exposed to air, they live roughly ten second to a year. Even so, secrets always want out.

Some secrets are like newborn babies, full of mystery, grace, and perfection. They pass from person to person, each one itching to feel its weight, share its beauty, and show off the glittery thing that is ours for a brief moment. That sort of secret is handled, fondled, and tickled until it grows into a full-fledged being, leaving behind the finest trails and whispers of its previous life.

I told my friend I wanted to write a story about secrets, inspired as I was by my young niece’s devout reverence to the forgotten secret I shared with her. My friend gently pointed out that there are some secrets people, especially children, shouldn’t keep. Like, that they’re planning on releasing fifteen hundred lady bugs in a six hundred square foot apartment.

It’s a snowy day, the first of the season. My little home is cold, the draft squeezing down corridors and alleyways and in through the cracks of my building’s bricks and windows. My dog is confused by her unspent energy. There is not a fly, lady bug, or secret flitting about. The Christmas presents are in plain sight, naked for any eyes to see. I don’t even feel the dramatic pull of the chocolates I hid from myself. I know exactly where I hid them. Keeping secrets from myself is a special skill I don’t possess.

Life is transparent. And it feels pretty good. But some days it is nice to have a secret or two.

The guys at work were joking about happy-ending massages. Someone brought them up. I don’t know why.

“I have a story for you,” I blurted by accident. And when they said they wanted to hear it, I told them they’d have to buy me a drink first.

The story’s no secret. I’ve told it a bunch of times. But maybe I’ll make it a secret again. Just to spice things up.

 

Also, I’d like to keep the ladybug thing between you and me. A little classified information?

Please don’t tell anyone.

 

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