I’m a Secret

Picture Credits: Catherine

Shhh, shhh. I’m
going to tell you my story, but not too loud, not too loud. Can’t let them hear;
they won’t like that.

I’m a secret.

Don’t look like it
right now; I got my fake face on. It molds to my skin and smiles at you with lips
that speak of sweet, sweet escape; promises you your wildest dreams from eyes
that dance with mischief. I’m a whispered conversation at the corner, an
elusive glimpse in the shadows, and you stop, for just a moment, and stare;
wonder how I can be so perfect. Your
pulse quickens and your eyes widen and your lips part in question

who is she?—

and it’s okay
because it means you can’t tell. That it’s all fake; that I’m hiding
underneath.

Hiding and safe.

I’m at the pier
now, walking hand-in-hand with my love, the moonlit water at our right and the
laughter of lovers in our ears. To him, I am a vision. I am his mystery, his
fantasy, whispering the words he wants to hear and smiling the way he wants me
to smile. I gaze up at him, and he is beautiful.
Angel with a halo beautiful; breath caught, mind blank, heart fluttering in
my chest kind of beautiful. He smiles at me, and it’s like his light

—his love—

is streaming from him
and into me – soothing me, basking me with its warmth – and everything is wonderful
because I am his and he is mine.

Later, we go back
to his place. We stand there, he and I, like two lovers in a movie scene, the
moonlight filtering through the shades to paint white art on his skin. I slowly
walk towards him, unable to tear my eyes away. He is the breath filling my lungs
and the heart pounding in my chest.

I am nothing
without him.

I worship him
then, like a priestess before her god. I do anything and everything,
desperately trying to show him that I am his

—please be mine—

that I need him

—need me. please, need me—

that I love him.

—love me. love me

We’re lying in
bed, after, when he turns to me. “So … I’m Jack, by the way.”

I light a cig,
blow smoke at the ceiling. “Thought we weren’t doing names.”

“Yeah, well…” he
shrugs. “Come on. I don’t know anything about
you. Share something. I’m Jack, and you are…”

I spin on top of
him, trying to force my mask into a seductive smolder, but it’s not responding
right. It’s weak, trembling at the edges, and I let my hair fall around my face
so he can’t see. “Here, honey. I’m here.”

He holds up a
hand. “Your name. That’s all I’m asking.”

And just like
that, it’s over. I spin off him, dress, grab my purse and head out the door, and
he calls after me but I ignore him. It’s not like it matters; it’s not like he matters. There are plenty more where
he came from, plenty more who will hold me close and smile at me for a little
while and when that while’s over, there’ll be another and another and another.
But even as I leave, close the door behind me, step into the moonlit street, my
mind is still back there, and in my mind I’m standing over him and grabbing him
by his face, my nails sinking into his skin and dripping blood – real blood
because his face is real – and I’m
shaking him while I cry and scream, Why?
Why did you have to look underneath? Don’t you understand that there’s nothing
there? Don’t you get that it’s all a mask, and underneath is just
empty?!

But I don’t tell
him any of that, because I can’t.

Because I’m a
secret.

And secrets aren’t
meant be told.

*

I head back then,
to the cold place where the sun isn’t as bright and the shadows are darker; to
the place that presses on me and weighs on me and crushes me.

To the place of
the people who know my secret.

To the place I go
when I have nowhere else to go.

I open the door,
ease inside. I make it only a few steps before she hears me. “Hey!” She comes
running out, smile beaming on her face – love streaming from that smile,
basking me, warming me – and I know it’s fake, I know it’s all a trick, but oh man it looks so real and I want to
believe that it’s real. “You’re back! How was your day?”

Glinda, I call
her. The good witch. The one who always has the hugs and the warmth; the one
who always knows what to say.

I look at her and
tell myself to be strong, that this is just one of her tricks, but it’s so
difficult. A thousand conversations flash in my mind, words she’s spoken to me
over and over – “I love you, Jessica, no
matter what”
– and suddenly, in that moment, I want to believe.

I step forward.
“Hey, Gli— Abbie,” I say, using her other name, the name she likes. Her mask
name. “Sorry I’m late.”

“That’s okay.” She
waves a dismissive hand and beckons. “Come. I made you dinner.”

I allow her to
lead me to the kitchen. Close my eyes, breathe in deep. Smell the delicious
scents. It smells like…

Warmth and light and love. Childhood. Happiness.

Home.

I begin to smile.

Then he steps into the room.

Oh, I have names
for him. The dark one. The killer of light. Lucifer. Voldermort. Mostly,
though, I call him Evil.

He smiles at me,
too, but I can see the shadows at his lips; hear the venom dripping off his words.
“Nice to see you, Jessica. Did you have a good day?”

It’s like a cold
hand is clutching my heart, and I find myself stumbling back, grasping the cool
tile of the wall. I can’t do this, I
can’t, I can’t.
But I glance at Glinda – Abbie, Jessica, her name is Abbie – and she’s still smiling at me,
warm, inviting, and maybe, this once, I can.

I nod back at him,
not trusting myself to speak, and walk to the table. Pick up a loaf of bread,
lift it to my mouth. Turn around, a joke planted on my lips—

Glinda isn’t
looking at me. She’s facing him, and
she’s … she’s smiling – love streaming from that smile – but not at me.

At him.

—for him—

All of a sudden,
it’s too much. It’s all just too much.I scream – wordlessly, an anguished cry
from deep inside – and throw the loaf at them. Reach behind me, throw and throw
until the dinner’s on the floor and on the walls and on the ceiling. “I knew
it!” I shriek. “I knew it was all a
lie. You don’t love me, you never did. You’re embarrassed of me. You’re ashamed
of me!” I see my next words coming and know they’re going to hurt but I say
them anyway, because that’s what I want. I want
them to hurt, just like they hurt me. “I’m glad
you can’t have kids. People like you don’t deserve to have kids.”

I run past them,
so fast they don’t have time to respond – but not so fast that I can’t hear her
sobs – and thunder up the stairs. The mask is broken, it’s shattered into
pieces all around me, and underneath it the emptiness reaches out and grabs the
self-loathing and the self-disgust and sucks it in and grows and grows, and all
I can think is that I knew it was all fake. How could it not be?

They’ve seen under
the mask. They’ve seen the secret.

No one could love
that.

*

“Jessica?” The
call is quiet, the knock on my door tentative, but still it catches my
attention. “Jessica? Are you there?”

It can’t be. I hurt her, hurt her terribly. I’d thrown off my mask and shown her
the horrible, secret emptiness underneath. Why would she come back?

I wait, heart in
my throat, barely daring to breathe. The shadows press close around me and the
morning light through the windows seems to wither and die, and oh what have I
done, I need her, I am nothing without her, she’s all that I have, and I’ve
lost her…

“Jessica?”

The call, again.
The shadows are flung back; the light streams into the room full-blast. I let
out a laugh, a sob, run to the door, fumble with the handle – quickly, quickly
– and pull it open. I catch a glimpse of her face – pale and streaked with
tears – and then I’m in her arms and I’m holding her tight, never letting her
go, never, ever letting her go.

“You do love me,” I whisper in her ear,
inhaling the beautiful scent of her kindness; of her spirit; of her love.

She pushes me back
a little, looks into my eyes. “Of course
I love you. You’re my sister.”

“Ha!” I hug her
again, briefly, tightly, and twirl back into my room. I raise my arms, close my
eyes, let the sun caress my face. The day is beautiful and the birds are sweet,
and everything is right with the world. I plop down onto my bed and grin at
her. “We should do something. Like, maybe go shopping.”

She blinks.
“Sh-shopping?”

“Yes!” I jump off,
grab her hand, spin her around. “Like when we were teenagers! We’ll go to the
mall and buy clothes we don’t need and eat food we shouldn’t eat, and then
we’ll come home and do each other’s nails.” I run to my closet, grab my purse.

“O … Okay.” Her
voice is hesitant from behind me. “Jessica, don’t you think we should talk?”

My smile turns brittle,
for just a moment. Why is she doing this? Can’t she see my mask is off, that
this is me? That for once, I’m
letting the secret me out and it’s okay?
For a moment the light retreats, and the shadows return. For a moment, I am
cold.

Then I shake it off.
“Later, Abbie,” I say, the lie rolling easy off my tongue. I turn back around,
mask firmly in place, and pull my fake lips back into a smile. “First
shopping.”

*

We come back later
that afternoon, and maybe she has a mask of her own because we both talk like
nothing happened. We talk of this, we talk of that, empty chitchat that doesn’t
mean anything, and she’s in the kitchen doing the dishes and I’m in the study,
looking for a pen, when my eyes catch on a small book I don’t recognize.
Curious, I step closer, look down at the title…

The words slam
into my eyes

—no no no no no no no no no—

angry, accusing,
demanding

—don’t make me look, don’t make me look—

and even after I
wrench my gaze away I can still see them

—please, don’t make me look underneath—

burned into my
irises, painting the house in horrible, big-print letters.

Borderline Personality Disorder…

“What. Is. THIS?!”

Glinda comes into
the study. “Jess, what are you…?” She sees what’s in my hands and trails off.
“Jessica…”

I throw the book
at her; she ducks, narrowly avoiding it. “There is nothing wrong with me! It’s you. You, and that monster you married,
and this dark house that you live in. You’re
the messed up ones, so you try to pin it on me. How could you?” I’m sobbing,
I’m screaming, and it’s not enough. There is no release, no words, no action
that can express the pain deep inside. “Have
I not suffered enough!”

I run past her,
not caring what I knock over, and almost barrel into him. He’s standing in the doorway, his work bag still on his
shoulder, a question in his eyes. “What is going—”

“This is your
fault! You took her from me! You took her and made her into a monster!”

I run out.

*

I go everywhere
after. I’m shaking, I’m crying, and I grab anything and anyone I can find,
pulling them to me with both hands – one after the other after the other – desperately
trying to bring the love back. Can you make me happy? Can you? Can you take the emptiness away?

None of them can.

Eventually – I
don’t know when – I go back. I have to; it’s the place where I go. I ease the
door open, slip inside. Pause in the hallway. Listen.

After a few
moments, I hear them.

“…don’t know what
to do anymore.” I’ve never heard such pain in my sister’s voice before, and it
breaks my heart to hear it – and, even worse, to know it’s from me. “I can’t go
on like this. She can’t go on like
this. I don’t know how to fix this.”

And then his voice, and even I have to admit that
it’s soft; comforting. “I don’t know if this can be fixed, love. Not by us, anyway. Only she can do that.”

“And until then …
what? I’m just supposed to be OK with this … this thing that’s taken over my sister?”

I slump against
the wall, hang my head. Squeeze my eyes shut. Quietly, alone in the dark, I
take my mask off. There’s no one around, so there’s no one to see my secret.

It’s a while
before he answers. “This thing, babe … she is
your sister. Maybe not the one you remember. Maybe … maybe she’s someone new.
But she’s still your flesh and blood, and you love her, and she loves you.” He
sighs, and I hear the rustling of clothes – he’s holding her. “We can’t fix
this, my love. All we can do is be there for her. And hope that it’s enough.”

*

It’s day now, and
I’m walking through a park. Not really going anywhere, but I think that’s okay;
it’s okay if, today, I don’t have a plan. And maybe you see me now; maybe you
even wave, share a laugh. Wonder who I am. It doesn’t matter if you do. It isn’t
real. That’s my mask, my fake body.

I’m a secret.

And sometimes,
when I’m really brave, I share it.