I doubted the verity of that statement. Everyone? Really?? Is it possible every person I see on the street, from the darling old lady walking her dog to the mailman, has their secrets?
Of course, well-kept secrets are the plot of many a great book. Still, someone's life has to be a dull, secrecy-free void, doesn't it?
As it turns out, some of the most interesting secrets I've discovered lately were kept by my grandmother, AKA the adorable old lady walking her dog. My grandmother is in her late eighties and thinks she's sixteen. And sometimes, if you ask her again, she'll smile sweetly and hazard she might even be nineteen. Her senility combined with other health issues means she can no longer stay in her home.
The last two weekends my mother and I sorted through a lifetime of accumulation.
It turns out my grandmother kept a secret or two. Nothing earthshattering. No illegitimate children or love affairs. Her secrets were in the form of sketchbooks and writing.
She loved fashion and had a gift for drawing. Who knew? Not me.
In an essay penned in neat cursive she writes
"At that time my husband left on Monday morning and usually came home on Thursday night. My infidelity began to be apparent in small ways. Namely, a small dog who visited daily, getting surreptitious bones and other tokens of my esteem via the back door. For some reason he considered the back door more appropriate for his station in life. Or quite possibly, this was all part of his attack and integration strategy."The essays and pictures make me wonder if she ever published anything. Of course, knowing my grandmother such publication, if it exists at all would be blanketed underneath an assumed name of appropriateness.
My grandmother's secrets make me want to be inappropriate, in all the best ways. No hiding emerging talent in private journals or dabbling around at this and that behind closed doors because I'm afraid of what the neighbors might think. I don't want my grandchildren or children to some day discover things I'd done and wish they'd known me better.
Of course, there's still time to ask my grandmother questions about her life. There are moments when she's lucid and knows my name, but even in those moments I'm not sure she'll open up. She's spent her life cultivating expertise in the art of the arm's length transaction. Which is why I've been thinking about how to frame my questions. But I'm starting to realize everything I want to know boils down to the same thing.
Did she want more out of life, and if so, what held her back?