A family with a secret often has more than one. Gladys was a secret I was not forced to keep, but my grandfather had a girlfriend named Francis later in his life that I kept secret from my grandmother. I met Francis in his hospital room after he had a tragic car accident in which he struck and killed a child. That brought on an attack of emphysema.
I was summoned home from college because the doctors thought he was dying. When I got to his room with my mother, there was Francis (my mother’s age) sitting on the side of his bed. When he died a few years later, my mother gave me the job of calling Francis.
A young Korean man bends over me.
A shock of black hair hides his face.
He takes my hand in his.
I am embarrassed by the age
spots sprouting on my skin.
He clips my nails, oblivious.
To him, I’m just a client.
Then I recall my grandfather,
a lean, laconic farmer, gasping
through ravaged lungs in the hospital,
attended by the woman he had decided,
fearing death, he wanted me to meet.
Her name was Francis.
Francis from the feed mill.
She was my mother’s age.
Here, seemingly in secret
from my grandmother,
Francis held his hands in hers
and gently clipped his nails
as if seated at the feet of Christ.
This gesture, more shocking
than a kiss or exposed flesh,
silenced small talk.
The silence grew, divisive,
Connection to Recovery:
AA has a slogan: “You are as sick as your secrets.” This is true of both the secrets about myself and the secrets I have kept for other people. I’m not sure how I justified keeping this secret for my grandfather, but I’m sure he knew neither I nor my mother would tell my grandmother. There was a cost in keeping this secret. I did not allow either of us to be our true selves.
1.Write about any secret that you have kept for someone else,
particularly if you were conflicted and wanted to tell the truth.
2.Write about any situation in which you learned a secret that changed the way you felt about someone you looked up to.