Perhaps three years ago, I fell (fell, was pushed – whatever) down a few stairs. I landed on my wrist, but didn’t bother to do anything about the purple-and-crimson swelling that developed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m getting quite a bit of grief from my poor old wrist, with the result that my physio has diagnosed “soft-tissue inflammation” and strapped it up – probably to encourage me to actually start to take care of it, rather than taking a fairly sanguine approach of “it’ll get better on its own, one day”.
I saw a friend today – a good friend, someone I’ve trusted with my story, one of the few people to whom I disclosed my tenuous plans to leave my increasingly frightening and increasing dangerous marriage in those last few volatile months. I trust him. I trust that I’m safe when I turn my back to him. I trust that my story, my fears and my griefs, are safe with him.
One of the first things he said to me was, “What happened to your wrist?” Caught by surprise, my instinct was to respond that it was an old injury, nothing to worry about, nothing to ask about. He didn’t push the subject, and I felt too awkward to raise it again.
Why, though? Why did I brush off the question? My first response was shame, as though it was some sordid secret I needed to hide. Like a child caught out in some wrongdoing: nothing to see here, move along!
My instinct is still to keep the secret, to keep things covered. It’s strange, given the liberation I felt when I raised my hand, proudly, as a survivor of domestic violence. It’s strange, given the realisation of my own strength as someone who has clung to life, who has fought tooth and nail to keep herself together, who has rebuilt herself from the scattered remains of fear and damage. For someone who has struggled to throw off the reality of what happened to her – I’m still keeping a secret that was never mine to keep in the first place. I’m still holding a shame which was never merited, and still lying (even if only by omission) when I should be shouting out my truth, and refusing to be dishonoured by it.
My friends respect my privacy and they never push me to talk about things I don’t want to. I value that, and I’m fervently grateful. But there’s a difference between privacy and secrecy. There’s a difference between holding my own privacy, and scrambling to keep someone else’s shameful secret.
I regret that I didn’t tell that little bit more of my story today: that I didn’t hand one more shining fragment of my narrative to someone I’ve quite literally trusted with a secret that might have killed me. I regret that the habits of secrecy run that deep, and that it’s not my choice.
Still, that’s just the way it goes.