When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.
— Frank McCourt
“Why are you so secretive about everything?”
My husband asks me this question all the time.
He does it when someone asks “So, what’s new?”
He does it when I answer, “Oh, nothing …. ”
He wonders why I lock it all up and throw away the combination. Why I write anonymously. Why everything is in code.
My husband doesn’t wear a wedding band. He wears a decoder ring. For me.
So, why am I so secretive?
Conditioning. Culture. I’m Irish?
I wasn’t always so reserved with information. But a few blurt -and-regret incidents shut me up.
You learn through conditioned responses what’s acceptable to share with family and what needs to remain in the vault.
The way my husband and I react to new experiences in our lives tells the tale of our vastly different childhoods.
This past Sunday we tried something new.
Later that evening I heard my husband on the phone. He was giving his long-distance family a recap of the day.
This is so different from the way I operate.
Here is all anyone needs to know to understand my family dynamic: I had a grandmother who died before I was born. She died young. End of story.
Not until I was filling out adoption paperwork and had to complete several physical exams did I pry a bit to learn that my grandmother had colon cancer. That she was in her 40s. That she had been continuously pregnant for all of her fertile years. I don’t know if one thing has anything to do with the others. I don’t know if she could sing. I don’t know her favorite perfume. I don’t ask.
My father, who was the first-born of the brood, was just old enough to order a Tom Collins when this happened. I understood this was tragic. Not that he could legally drink. But that his mother was dead. My grandfather had a household full of children who needed a mother. This was not the era of Mr. Mom. Apparently you picked yourself up and moved on. You did not dwell.
Dad never spoke of his mother’s illness or her last days. I once thought the information was withheld because I was young. Later I learned no one knew anything because it was understood that you did not ask. You waited to be told. If nothing was told, you accepted that. They were not told.
This approach has carried on for decades. Things happen in the family. Maybe you hear about them. Most likely you do not. People have married into and divorced out of the family without comment or announcement. People have life-threatening medical conditions and don’t tell their closest relatives. They die, allowing their survivors to uncover their deep secrets, begging questions that never will be answered.
Recently I learned someone in the family had a Facebook account. I asked this person to be my friend on Facebook.
“No, I’m not friending any family. I don’t want you to read what I put on Facebook.”
I’m not surprised.