Everyone has them. And we all relish others’ secrets. Yet we keep our own hidden away, stuffed down deep like a mess of dirty socks at the bottom of a laundry basket.
Secrets lead to lies. And lies lead to secrets. Like skeletons in the closet.
My mother’s family hid a skeleton in the closet for decades. Everyone who knew the truth has died, and there’s only conjecture to fall back on.
It’s easy to imagine how it all began:
A beautiful and penniless young woman locked in a hasty marriage works as a bookkeeper in a jewelry story. She’s a dreamer, with blue eyes the color of moonstones that shine in certain light, always yearning for a future that will never materialize. One day, a tall married man with piercing blue eyes sticks his head into her office, drawn by the smell of violets, looking for the owner, Mr. B__, a Russian Jew who escaped the pogroms in the nick of time. She tells him that Mr. B__ is at the nursing home on Crescent Drive, visiting his aged mother, the old lady who accused of her of seducing Mr. B__, as if she ever would want to do such a thing! The tall man and the young woman banter for a few minutes. He hides his left hand with the wedding ring, twists it off slowly, and drops it casually into the left hip pocket of his white linen trousers. There’s no tan line, for he’s a rare breed, a lawyer who doesn’t play golf. And in California, that’s singular indeed. Soon, the young woman – let’s call her Mary – spends her Tuesday and Thursday lunch hours in a bed in El Cajon, just a few miles from where Mr. B__, on the other hand, eats a Reuben sandwich at his desk every day. He wonders at the glow and heat he senses rising from Mary’s skin, as the pendulum clock in the hallway strikes noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as she almost runs out the double glass doors into the sunshine.
A few years pass like this. Mary’s daughter arrives in the world with piercing blue eyes, even though Mary’s husband’s eyes resemble the moist brown eyes of a soulful deer. Then a son follows, three years afterwards. He, too, sees the world through eyes of blue.
One day, Mary misses a Tuesday meeting. When Mr. B__, a bit subdued, returns to his office, his secretary hands him a note, the scent of violets wafting from the white linen writing paper folded into quarters. In the fine handwriting she learned from the Catholic nuns at Nazareth School, Mary wrote:
We cannot meet again. Charlie, my husband, knows. He’s putting the baby into the orphanage at Nazareth.
I will always love you.
That’s how it could have happened.
In the 1930 census, the record lists a one-year-old male child living in Mary’s household, along with my three-year-old mother. But there’s no record of him after that, no death certificate, nothing.
Secrets go the grave, leaving the living with skeletons in the closet.