My Mama was diagnosed with split personality disorder and my dad loved me more than her.
We all split.
I remember how my heart did, how the shards drove into everything. How bearing secrets made the breathing hard.
My mama nods now that it is all true and no daughter should ever feel that and no mama should ever live knowing that and…
There are things a family never breaks the silence and faith to speak aloud, for fear they’ll break.
My Mama did.
The end of one summer, the end of August and it’s heat, she signed herself into a psychiatric ward, all the inner places shattered. We weren’t to speak of that. Dad told my brother and I, my baby sister, straight and firm: the neighbours, our teachers, our cousins, were never to know where Mama went. We were to keep the secret. How was he to know we’d become the secret’s dark underbelly?
I went to Mr. Perrie’s grade 4 class everyday all through September and all through October and all through November and I never told a living soul that I had no Mama at home, that we visited her on the weekends in a locked ward, that I did my own laundry and I made every meal for us us, every pork chop and baked potato, and I tucked my baby sister into bed every night and made my brother’s lunch for school the next day.
And every night my dad asked for my ear to hear all his hurts and my heart could hardly hold it all.
I was nine.
When the walls of my heart cracked, I leaked out slow, in the dark, in my pillow, in my begging prayers. I never told my best friend, Melanie Vermeer, where my Mama had gone. I never stopped pressing the lips tight. In her ward room in the city, my Mama sat in shadows and wrestled the demons, and secrets of what her own father had done to her in a long ago dark.
Why repress our stories? Isn’t that all we have — our story and The Word who keeps writing our story?
Tight lips can suffocate till life lies limp, and secrets can smother and leave you for dead. Mama was living proof that keeping secrets keeps you sick. Or maybe her and I were both the dying proof of it.
I grow up. I keep my secrets tight and my secrets keep me tight.
We all thought the secrets would save us… but they slowly slay us.
I can show you my scars.
I have six babies. And the last, the freckled and mopsy one, she loves this game where she hangs an arm around my neck and pulls me close, cups my ear in her dimpled hand and she lisp-whispers warm and thick.
“I’m gonna tell you sumpin’ in your ear, kay? Then you tell me sumpin’ in my ear, kay?”
This child tells me her secrets. She tells me, bits of her brushing up against me, and her words tickle close and open and brave and I think: this is a meeting. This is a holy revealing. An invitation. She’s telling me who she is on the inside — the only real side.
Then she turns. Her mop of curls falls to her other shoulder. She waits for me. She wants me to whisper right into her who I really am. The child shows me:
The only way to be real … is to reveal.
My Mama writes the past in a prayer journal. I come to write my skin on a screen. When ink lays the secrets bare, God unveils a bit of Himself in words because that is who He is, Word and Truth.
I know the terror of telling the truth. But for me, after my Mama’s childhood, after mine, I am far more scared of the secrets. Because it’s keeping secrets that keep us from being real. From being fully alive.
It is true: I am terrified to be real. But I am far more afraid to be false. Which would mean I cease to be.
I lean in close to this child waiting. I tuck one stray spiral strand. I cup my hand to her curl of ear, fuse us together, and isn’t it that it is worth everything to tell our secrets?
Because our story is who we are, and if we deny it, we deny not only our own selves — we deny the very Author Who’s writing this redemptive epic.
I whisper to this child of ours, “I have sumpin’ to tell you.”
And she nods, and I tell a secret to out little Shalom, daughter whose name means peace and wholeness.
Photos and Text: Ann Voskamp @ Holy Experience
4U: How are you feeling about your secrets these days? How are they keeping you…hurting you? How are you being real? How can we pray for you?