writing exercise #17: secrets and the cost of keeping them

Assignment: Write on the theme of “secret.” Instead of my usual dialogue-laden result, a character study emerged as I typed. I’m not happy with it. It’s all tell, no show. But I’m committed to sharing these and who knows? Perhaps this sad character will find herself surrounded by action some day.

—————

The secrets exhausted her. She wondered what it might be like to shed them. To divest herself of the burden of hiding, downplaying, avoiding and otherwise substituting illusion for truth. The secret-keeping started with money. She would spend, he would scold. So she stopped sharing her excitement over a new dress. Or said she’d found it at a thrift store, such a deal.

He didn’t want to travel and she did, so she credited the trips as work-related or told him a friend was paying for her to come visit. She had a lot of friends, so it wasn’t a stretch. Her friend Janey, for example, in New York. Janey wanted her to visit. That was true. She offered to help cover the cost, so that was true, too. But the flight had gone on a credit card, hers not Janey’s, which was the opposite of what she’d explained to her husband. The lying frightened her, but the idea of a life of boredom scared her even more.

The trouble was, just like the stories warned, that once she’d committed to untruths, she had no standard to uphold. Which is why, in the name of adventure, she’d gone on a motorcycle ride with one of Janey’s friends, way upstate, to a family farm, where no family remained. He showed her the grounds, including the barn, where a few groomsmen took care of a few horses, all of whom exited a few moments after their arrival. The heat had likely been obvious, she thought, but she didn’t care, she was so far from home, so far from discovery and at that point a literal roll in the hay amused her more than worried her.

It wasn’t till the flight home that guilt landed. And stayed. She carried it with her and grew used to the weight. They would fight sometimes. He’d accuse her of lying. I don’t know what you do or where our money goes, he said. I tell you where I go, stop being so obsessive, she countered. And all I do is pay bills and buy groceries. If you ever paid attention to the mail, to the checking account, you’d know. She banked on him not ever doing those things, but the accusations worked. He may have been suspicious, he may have been right, but he had no way of proving it. And so she kept lying.

She didn’t want to hurt him. He was right after all. She was worthless, a terrible wife, a bad person. She defended herself because she had to, but still. She didn’t want to hurt him. To speak truth would be to say, she was bored. She was disappointed. That she hated how she fell to her weaknesses instead of rising to her strengths. I want to be a better person, she confided to her best girlfriends, but I’m so busy fighting his perception of me, I can’t let my guard down. If I confess my flaws, he’ll hold them over me forever.

It’s better to keep up a strong front, she decided. I can tuck all my sorrow away. People have real problems, after all. I am not homeless or dying or married to someone who hits me. Therefore, I should stay quiet, wait it out. What she was waiting out, she could not say. Not because she couldn’t say, but because she wasn’t sure. The shopping, the trips, the lingering glances with a hand lightly placed just so on a handsome man’s arm, those were just ways to ease the journey, nevermind the load such deception placed upon her heart.

If it, her heart, gave out before the end, so much the better, she thought. One way or another, she’d find, if not truth, if not the fabled lightness of being, at least some kind of peace.

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