Have you ever thought seriously about that old figure of speech? “Skeletons in the closet” has become such a ubiquitous phrase that today is the first day in my 46 years of life that I actually imagined — fully imagined — how I might feel if I were to actually come across a skeleton in my closet.
Picture it. You’re moving about your house, perhaps getting ready for work or school in the morning, or maybe making breakfast with your family on a weekend. You’re happy, or at least content. You’re a bit groggy, working on your first cup of coffee. You’re talking about world events, family business, and things you share only with your spouse and children. In this pleasant state, you walk to the bedroom closet to look for something you need quickly. Alone for a moment in the slightly dark closet, you suddenly brush against something cold and hard, something that should not be there.
Your blood runs cold. A chill runs through you. A wave of shock hits you in the head. As you turn and look around, you find yourself face to face with a human skull. Panic wells up throughout your body. You suddenly remember with increasing clarity the moment, years ago, when you had hidden that skeleton there, assuming neither you nor anyone else would ever find it again. You get a flash of crystal clear memory of the moment you had placed that skeleton there, five years ago, quickly and carefully hiding it in a part of the closet no one but you ever accessed.
You’re caught red-handed. And, you are the person who apprehended you. You find yourself in the surreal situation of remembering that you had a double life, that there once was another you, that you were once a different person.
That happened to me on a recent weekend morning. I was making breakfast with TL and our two young sons. We were relaxed. The tone was happy. TL pleasantly and matter-of-factly recalled the day, probably five years ago, when we had taken on a new babysitter for the boys, one whom we all recall fondly. We had called her into service that first time because our previous babysitter had cancelled only a day or so prior to a big event TL and I were to attend together.
Right then it hit me, the heartbreaking memory of what I was doing and where I was at the moment the old babysitter had called and texted that she had sprained her ankle. At the time of her call, I was driving back from having searched for a prostitute.
I still can’t recall whether I had indeed found a prostitute that evening. But, I was definitely driving back from the area where they commonly walked. There I was, pulled over to the side of the road to see who was calling and why. At that moment, my two double lives collided. As I was sneaking my way home from a hurtful, dangerous, illegal, and selfish endeavor, I was suddenly snapped back into thinking about how to arrange babysitting so TL and I could go out together to do something special to us as a couple.
That memory popped up the other morning when I least expected it. I had not avoided it. I had forgotten it was there. My heart stopped for a moment. I had a sinking feeling. I was flushed with fear and shock simultaneously.
I was briefly so very happy to hear TL remember such a good time in our lives, as we prepared for the big event. At the same time, I was heartbroken to recall that under the shadows, in that same day I had been so deep into a shameful, hurtful, wasteful double life. I envisioned Sadness touching the memory vessels in Inside Out and turning them blue. I cried. Inside, to myself, I cried.
I knew I had to tell her. I feared how it would affect her. I remembered my promises, to find those memories and share them. I remembered her pleading for more memories and me knowing that they would only come like this, in shocking, unexpected assaults in the darkness as I stumble through the minefield of life, the minefield of memories.
But, that’s how I find those memories. I actively search for more. But, when I actively search, I find nothing. They are too deeply buried in 46 years of love, hate, fear, joy, and everything in between, including punch-drunk numbness.
The memories I find to share with TL almost always hit me like this, when I least expect them. That’s when I know they are genuine and clear. That’s the moment when fear and shame about the memory meet up with a small dose of relief that I did find a memory, and a small dose of hope that sharing the memory with TL will help restore her sense of safety and perhaps bring us a bit closer together.
I guess this memory is actually creating a new memory, even as I speak and write about it. The new memory is sad, tearfully sad, but little streaks of wisdom and even hope appear if I strain my eyes.