Learning to Keep Secrets (Polished Personal)

Prompt: The impact of separation in an individual’s life.

Chosen text: Perpetual Motion, Tony Hoagland









Learning to Keep Secrets


There’s something about breakups that make me want to move. To shake, to run, to jump out of my seat and into a pool of boiling hot water, anything to rid myself of the horrid and fragile parasite that I carry myself in everyday. I want movement, movement to escape my regret and my thoughts and my resentment and myself. Myself, which I tear apart and destroy as I attempt to escape from all that she had known me as. It never has to do with the love, or with the pain of loss, or anything of the sort, no, those are a different kind of misery. But this kind is quite possibly the worst. It all has to do with myself, and only myself.


You see, when you are with someone for a significant enough time, perhaps a year, perhaps much more, you have surely shared enough of yourself with that person that they understand you in ways few others do, and in many ways, more than yourself. They know your public, your private, your weaknesses and insecurities, your failures and your triumphs. There are no secrets, there is no hiding, there is no refuge, no unknown side of yourself that you can fall back on to. So what happens when they know all that of you, and have found solace in you — given you their trust and love — and then they leave you? They leave you, taking with them the knowledge of your soul, of your spirit, and of everything that you are. And moreover, they leave you because of you. Something you did, some attribute of yourself, some deep personal flaw that drove them away, burnt and soured someone that you love. It is like being robbed, and hating yourself for ever owning the things that were stolen in the first place. It is the ultimate affront to your identity, it is a rejection of who you are. I am not good enough, I am cruel, I am poor,  unable to see the clear and the obvious. Worthless and heartless, hurtful and hopeless. Coming from anyone else, those words mean nothing. They know nothing of me or of who I am or of my secrets. Coming from myself even, those words don’t mean much. I do not think those things of myself anyway, so there is no truth in them. But when they come from the one other person in the world who knows all of me, all my secrets, and all my intimacies, I cannot ignore it.


“People never change. You’ve shown me that.” her words ring in my ear and pierce holes in my heart like clockwork, making me jolt out of my seat from anxiety, the movement an instant relief from the thought of all my failures and misgivings. Any movement helps, it becomes necessary. Sad music becomes the theme song of my every waking moment, and I can only gawk in envy at the people who are happy. They still have secrets. I want to escape, to find an anonymity so deep, it has no bottom. So I take to driving. To music on my phone that plays through the speakers, consoling me in the dark of the night and the blinding pollution of streetlights. My mom always told me how good the speakers in the car were, how she paid extra for them when she bought the car, almost as old as me. They are very good speakers, but there are songs that I cannot play through them. I made the mistake of sharing them with her, and I want nothing to do with her. I want to vanish, to be as much to anyone on the highway as they are to me: an obstacle, a proponent, a part of the environment. The movement calms me down. I feel like life has purpose, and I feel like I understand the wishy washy breakup songs that I thought myself so profound for detesting when I was younger. “I’ve been planning on breaking up with you for a while… since September. But I was too scared to.” her words again. What? Why didn’t you tell me this? What did I do wrong? Was I that bad? Is that why you were acting that way? Why were you scared? I’m not intimidating am I? Why would you be scared of me? I wouldn’t hurt you, you know that, right? Suddenly the movement isn’t enough. I can’t win this race anymore, and I feel the tears welling in my eyes, aching for their own escape, their own movement.


But this sort of pain, this sort of suffering, is by far the best. The pain of loss and the reparation of a broken heart, those are all provisional, the feelings pass eventually, on their own, and you get over it. But when it’s yourself you question, the feelings won’t budge. You must drive them away on your own, and in the hardship of doing so is where the reward and the growth lie. Do you ever wonder why some claim to write more profoundly, more excitedly, and more passionately in times of depression or sorrow? Why is it that happiness and euphoria do not bring about the same sort of vigour? It is because there is nothing to be learnt from happiness, at least not nearly as much as to learned from sadness. Happiness is an end not a means to it, a reward not a trial. A destination, rather than a journey. Why would one want to move from a state of content? When you are happy, it is a time for your spirit to rest, to sleep well in the assurance of your identity and of your life. When you are broken, however, it is time to wake, time to rectify, time to work.


I pull over on the side of the road, ease the vehicle to a stop, and exhale a breath I unknowingly held hostage as I released the gear into park. The tears in my eyes obscure my vision enough that I can’t make out the shadow of the handbrake. The lights are next, then the engine, then my seat belt. Then my composure. I lean against the steering wheel and breakdown. After some time, inhaling in those odd double breaths you’re only capable of when you cry. The time is 8:21 PM. I do not know where I am, only where I have gone, and what is around me. Fields and crops. I am outside Calgary, on the path to Nanton. It is peaceful here. I can find solitude here. I am supposed to be doing something, I don’t know what. I tell my mom I am with friends, off to see a movie. Right now my only friend is this car, and the pen and paper I reach for. Here I write good things. I write profoundly and truthfully, and I begin to, if only for a moment, enjoy myself again. Things are simple here, things are in control. The words I write are my own, and no one can see them but me. These secrets cannot be taken from me.


And so this goes on for months. The introspection, the writing, the soul searching, until eventually, I can no longer recall her words. I become more comfortable with myself. I find I am able to see things as they are. I am a better listener, a better writer, a better person. A better lover. A breakup may break your heart, but it can also break your spirit, and that is something that is much harder to amend. It requires work and study, discipline and integrity. I have suffered that, and right now, I am neither happy nor sorrowful. I am content. My spirit does not sleep it remains awake, hungers for new opportunities to grow and to expand, hungry for new secrets to keep. And these cannot be taken from me.

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