What’s the most significant secret you’ve ever kept? Did the truth ever come out?
My best friend Brenda told me a significant secret when we were fourteen. I now will tell you what she told me, weeping, over the phone one night, that she made me swear I’d never tell another living soul. Here goes…
As if. Brenda is not even her real name. The secret doesn’t even matter now, except possibly to me. Brenda lived up the street from me with her parents and younger sister. We were inseparable friends, and I was Carraway to her Gatsby, in the sense that I often felt like the observer. She was so clever, so funny, so brave, and so fearless that I felt very much in awe.
Her parents were both alcoholics. It became so serious that her father lost his job, the parents separated, and they could no longer afford the home up the street. So Brenda moved with her mother to a state-sponsored, low income housing project, which was just as joyful as it sounds.
I would go spend the weekend there. Her mother would often get blind drunk and cry and scream into the phone for hours, possibly to Brenda’s father. She joked about it to me.
There was a youth group at this housing project, for all the potential troubled delinquents, led by a social worker. The social worker organized bizarre, supervised outings to the beach. It was farcical. The “delinquents” made absolutely no connection between these surreal outings and anything meaningful in their actual lives. To them it was immersive theater.
She made new friends there; one of them, Maxine, was tall and tough and red-haired and scared the shit out of me. Sometimes she and her friends would travel by bus to my house, arriving unannounced, stand on the front lawn and call for me, and I’d go with them on their adventures, which usually involved sullen boys and smoking.
Naturally we drifted apart. I heard a little about Brenda over the years. She was addicted to heroin for awhile, but recovered. She came to visit me once when we were seventeen, but in terms of experience I was just starting to catch up with the fourteen year old Brenda. We were miles, eons, centuries apart.
Now, I suppose, we wouldn’t be centuries or eons or even miles apart. I don’t know where she is. I sometimes google her name, but nothing helpful comes up. I hope she and her sister are well. I hope she became someone worthy of her talent and intense love of life.
There is still one connection that we have, whatever else happens. I still hold that secret, however insignificant it is, however futile a gesture, and will forever. I won’t let her down.