The Perils of the Secret Keeper

Secrets. They run the world, don’t they?

True. We all do have secrets. I have plenty of my own.

I hold a lot of secrets in the inner recesses of my mind. I think my shrink would call this “tendencies towards compartmentalization.” I envision them as little pigeon holes, like in a mail room. Before you think I am completely off my rocker (debatable) think about it for a minute. Each secret you keep for you or for someone else go in a separate little cubby. Some are blocked off from access ever again; others filter through your subconscious periodically. Some haunt you. Some give you joy. All take a little bit with you. Maybe if I were better at subterfuge I would be a good asset for an alphabet agency.

How I imagine I store things in my brain...minus the construction supplies.

In any case, I am a secret keeper. It seems to be my role for a lot of people. I am not complaining, aside from the fact that I do dearly love to be “in the know”, I also hate to see people in pain. I cannot take pain away from a lot of people but I can take their secrets. The problem, of course, is what then do you do with it?

That is always the question.

Oh the things I keep. I keep pain. I keep violence. I keep horror. I keep tragedy. I keep stolen moments and stolen hearts. I keep some happy occasions too. Some dreams and a lot of nightmares. But mostly, I keep stories, the dirt, the twisted insides that people rarely share. If you think about it, it’s kind of a double-edged sword. On one hand, for better or worse, people feel like they can trust me and open up. That is always a positive. Sure, you learn things you would rather not know sometimes but being able to make people feel comfortable is a gift. I have always thought that.

I strongly believe in the therapist model when it comes to secrets. If it is a readily identifiable threat to an identified person or themselves, or revelation of abuse towards a vulnerable person—I don’t feel obligated to keep it. I have had to call the police more than once and actually, it was for the best in the end. The same goes for crimes. Tell me that you just jacked a car? Yeah, I am not going to be responsible for that secret. My head, my cubby holes, my choice. I also make no claims to any ability to professionally help people. I am very good at referring to resources much better qualified than I, but if someone just wants to talk to a friend…they know they can come to me.

Of course, there is that danger that someone else’s nightmare becomes your own. That is actually why I am awake at 3am and writing this very post.

I don’t sleep. At least not at night. Not anymore.

I have had a tumultuous few days. Someone whose secrets I kept for years, he kept a big one from me it seems. This past weekend, for reasons that I probably will never understand, he took his own life. It is not the first time I have lost someone in my life but this strikes a chord in my heart that is different from others. Suicide is a tragedy any way you look at it. It is an escape from being haunted by something so dark that one can’t bear to keep living. A feeling of hopelessness that overwhelms the soul to the point of no return.

I choose to believe that my friend didn’t really want to die but rather escape his nightmares for a while but by the time he realized that, it was too late. That thought sustains me in some weird way. But what I am left with is a gaping hole in my life and a boat load of pain. During the day, I am in a fog trying to make sense of it all and the nights? The nights are spent reliving the secrets he did share with me over the last 7/8 years.

I have gone back and forth on how to handle this situation that I am in. I knew him as well as a part-time confidante and buddy can know another. I believe he would be ok with me airing his pain now that he is gone. He wouldn’t want to be named and I would never do that. But I can see that goofy expression on his face and his eyes do that weirdly awesome twinkly thing they did while he drawls out some sort of outrageous knock-knock joke and tells me to, “Take care of yourself, short stack.” Ha. Thanks, spaz. I will do my best. I wish you were here though. I hope you don’t mind, but I have to get some of this out. It is weighing down my soul.


The secrets I kept for my friend were primarily the dashed dreams and growing hardening towards humanity that came from 2 combat tours with the Marines. It was the grim factor of war. It was ‘collateral damage’ and ‘targets’ and overwhelming death. It was children being used in combat. Palpable fear. Impossible situations. He carried the numbing knowledge that, over time, the enemy ceases to be individual people and instead, become faceless and identity-less objects to be taken out. His secrets were his horror at the fact that he enjoyed war in many respects while he recognized that it took a heavy price out of his soul. That he celebrated the death of people who had never raised a gun to him but were “on the side of the enemy.” He struggled mightily with that. He said that he tried to live without regrets, but he couldn’t. He said he saw their eyes sometimes in his dreams. He told me stories that, for the sake of my own grip on reality which is tenuous at best right now, I will not repeat. He painted a picture in his grim, matter-of-fact, hard language that I know I will carry for the rest of my life.

War is Hell.

After his first tour, he adjusted moderately well. He was younger, only 22 years old when he came home. He was resilient. He believed in the cause he fought for. He was also a 22 year old guy raised on video games and guns and the adrenaline rush that comes from horribly risky situations. He knew that it had a price and he was willing to pay it. He loved being a part of the few, the strong, the Marines. He had seen plenty of action and he told me frequently that “You will never understand because you haven’t been in the thick of it, but I have to go back. I hate it while I am there. The effing sand. The bugs. The gawd-awful food and the ^&*(^$$ heat. But I miss it when I am back here.” He was right; I never quite understood how one could miss a war. Particularly one where people are shooting at you a LOT and there was a high likelihood of blowing up or dying. I respect the warriors amongst us. I am not that kind of warrior. I fight the hearts and minds battle. I don’t know the first thing about blowing shit up. Sigh.


Then came the second combat tour. This time to Afghanistan.

I have 12 friends in Afghanistan right now. Actually, I *think* one is in the air on his way (hopefully safely) back right now, so now I have 11. At the time where this particular friend was there, I only had 2. I had him, and one female medic who was out in Podunk-a-stan with a bunch of men and no estrogen in the vicinity. My friend had a hard deployment. I talk to a lot of vets. Afghanistan is a different ball game when compared to Iraq. I try not to compare them. In my mind, they both suck and I really prefer ‘my people’ to come home ASAP. His deployment was horrific. He came home distinctly older, it seemed. Everyone ages, but his soul seemed to age during his time there. His eyes weren’t quite as twinkly. He still had his characteristic sense of humor, but it had a hard cynical edge to it. War changes people. I know that it’s a trite phrase that gets trotted out in the media all the time but it is true. It does change people.

He wasn’t as forthcoming with the details this time around and honestly, I knew better than to ask. In my experience, people volunteer secrets when they are ready. I encouraged him strongly to, given how heavily he was drinking and reacting to re-entering the public, he go talk to a peer navigator of some sort who he could relate to. They have some great programs for combat vets to talk to other vets who ‘get it’ a helluva lot better than someone like myself would. I listen with an open mind and with a heart to heal, but I don’t have the same experience. My ‘street cred’ is different.

I had long since given up on the “you know, there is NOTHING bad about going to see someone like a counselor…Chuck Norris does, I bet you could too…” spiel. He refused. I didn’t press it as hard as the peer navigator idea. Now I wonder if I should have. Sure enough, he got completely snockered one day and he called me. Again, I won’t repeat the story he told me. It is safely locked away in a cubby and I really have no plans on ever re-opening it. That phone call was over 3 hours. By the end we both were crying. Suffice to say, horrible things happen in war. People are asked to do things that cost them their humanity and they do it because you are in do-or-die mode.

That phone call was about 6 months ago. He died on Saturday. The last time I spoke with him was at Christmas time and he told me that he was doing better. He had stopped drinking so much and told me about some crazy intense triathlon he wanted to compete in this summer. He felt like he was learning to emerge from the new shell he now wore.


These are the perils of being a secret keeper. Sharing these secrets with you, they don’t make them go away in my cubby but they do lighten the load a little bit. I think I will go back to a normal sleep schedule in a couple weeks. The flashbacks will stop eventually, I am used to the cycles they come in enough to know that. I am sure I have enough going on in those cubby holes of mine to ensure that my shrink will have a summer home in Dubai and Rio. 😉 Slowly but surely I am learning how to separate myself from the secrets I keep. Sometimes people ask me, “Why keep them at all?”

My answer is not very dramatic or intellectual: “Because it’s one of the ways I can help.”

It is. It can be a perilous journey at times and Lord only knows that it has caused a fair amount of discord in my life. I need some better coping mechanisms for sure, but I wouldn’t trade my secrets for anything. They represent moments. Good and bad. They represent people. In my experience, being a very talk-it-out-ish person, sharing one’s pain can help someone heal and helping them hold that burden for a while, it’s such a simple way to help. It doesn’t require money, or resources (other than health insurance, ha!) and it doesn’t require much more than to just hold on. That I can do. I love people and I want to help. This is my thing!

With that, I leave you all to another day.

To my eternal friend Spaz: you were loved here. You will always be remembered. I pray that your soul is now at rest. Try not to scandalize the angels with any of those “special” knock-knock jokes…I am pretty sure those are banned. I’ll miss you. Love, Short Stack

Peace, love and secrets,


There is help available.

3 Responses to “The Perils of the Secret Keeper”
  1. Shell says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, and I can only hope that it does relieve some of your stress that you are going through! You are an amazing woman, one with a vast array of knowledge to share with the world. Thank you for being such a great friend to so many, myself included.

  2. My husband is a marine. I thought you put it very well.
    I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sorry for your friend’s suffering and the suffering of those still fighting the battle after fighting the battle. I wish we asked less of our warriors. I wish we lived in a world were we didn’t need to. But I am grateful for what they do and I’m proud of my loved ones who have served.

    • simply.bekah says:

      I too am thankful that there are many who step up and say they are willing to go to face the horrors of war. I wish so much that they didn’t have to face the kinds of situations that they do. It is a scary world we live in and I have nothing but respect for the people who see it at it’s worst. Please pass on my thanks to your husband for his service.

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