My Worst Secret

drama, storytelling

I am abandoned. That’s my worst secret. The secret that gave birth to the rest.

That was the secret behind those two football players in college —

I am abandoned.

That was the secret behind every relationship I’ve ever had —

I am abandoned.

That is the secret that made me a writer —

I am abandoned.

I’ve made it my life’s work to protect this secret like a child, nurture it and let it grow. I understood early that no one could know the worst thing about me — this was mine. I should keep this secret locked inside, never to see the light of day, never to get out and converse in public and come back changed. I would never abandon it — it was me. I couldn’t abandon myself.

I was five the day my dad left. He sat me down, alone, and said “I’m leaving and I’m never coming back.” Fat tears rolled down my cheeks, and I fought to hold them in. He said “don’t cry.” Later that day, as he packed all his stuff in a moving truck, I got stung by a bee. And I was glad — I could scream.

My mom used to play Simon & Garfunkel’s “I Am A Rock” and say to me “That’s you, Julie.” Because — a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.

This week I told my dad — in a text — that I wasn’t going to speak to him anymore. It was the most cowardly way possible to do it. By text. In the middle of the night. After dodging his calls for a few days. I wrote “Our last conversation was extremely upsetting to me, so I’m not going to speak to you anymore for a while.” I added the “for a while” to soften it for him. And for me. Because I’m too cowardly to just end it here and now.

He didn’t respond.

Since leaving that first time when I was five, my dad has found colorful and newer ways to abandon me again and again. When I was 11, he disappeared off the face of the earth — only to call from South America a few months later to say he was sailing around the world with his then-wife. And to say how much fun he was having. Once, he admitted he loved my sister but not me. He once said to me “no man has ever loved you, and no man ever will.”

When I remind him of these things — and more — he asks me why I can’t just get over it. Because we both did wrong.

I never did anything wrong. The only thing I’ve done wrong is stay too long in a losing fight.

John August says the villain doesn’t always know he’s the villain. That’s part of what’s kept me swinging in the mud this long — I am an empathic person. I see myself in my father. We give to others what we want them to give us. Consciously and unconsciously. All my life I’ve tried to nurture him, and counsel him, and care for him, and empathize with him, and help him, and have compassion for him. I see in him the wounded, abused, abandoned creature I see in myself. I have tried hard to show him how to love that person. To do it for both of us. I have pursued him like a lover. I have been rebuffed.

Choosing no longer to speak to him is big and terrible and freeing and sad for me. It means giving up on my lifelong dream, the goal I’ve spent my life chasing — to get that man to love me. I know cutting him off now is just a gesture — no doubt I’ll continue this pursuit in various forms until I find a way to put it to rest. Still, this was very difficult for me. People have been telling me for years I needed to do it, and I resisted. I told them I felt it would be a heavier psychic burden to deal with the fact of not speaking to him — of having cut him off — than to have to live with that cloud hanging above my head.

Because now I have abandoned him.

In the hours and days after I did it, I watched my phone. Afraid a raging, wailing, screaming child would rise up from that phone to recriminate me — the child I see in the mirror. I relaxed as I realized — nothing was going to happen.

So long as I needed to keep this secret, he had power over me. He had me in his thrall.

I am abandoned.

And I loved him. I love him. I love him the way you do a child you’ve raised, who doesn’t love you back. The way you love a person who doesn’t want your love. I have a long history of loving men who don’t love me back. It started here. I know it’s not enough to just end it with him and expect my lifelong patterns to fall away. But it’s a signal. Instead of busying myself, anxiously chasing relationships and sidestepping the truth within the heart that wants them — I now say —

I am abandoned.

And I thank those football players in college, because, while it was hell living across the hall from them for an entire year, I now see they were on my team. As painful as that night, and the following morning, and the following year was — they were there to show me what I am —

I am abandoned.

As painful as it is to love someone who doesn’t love me back — and know I’m doing this to myself — I’m glad and I thank you — because your not loving me opens my eyes to the place where I live —

I am abandoned.

Keeping secrets is resistance. Resisting what’s true. Resisting moving forward. Resisting the opening of the space the secret takes inside you. Revealing secrets releases resistance, allows you to say —

I am abandoned.

Stories are secrets revealed bit by bit. You can start with the secret and take the long road to reveal how it happened. Or you can start with the consequences of the secret — what just happened because of your character’s secret? What happened before that to cause it? How did The Secret cause these things to happen, and how can you invest these events with a sense of depth, gravity, significance, reality, purpose and comedy, because you know what The Secret is — and we don’t? Most importantly, what happens next? How does The Secret inform what happens next? Does anyone know The Secret, including the character it’s about? The Secret doesn’t have to be some big hairy deal. Entire lives can be built around a secret as simple as —

I am abandoned.

Find the secret, and you’ll find your story.