Monday, May 31, 2010

The Secret

Every Sunday, the amazing fashionista  Daryl has a feature called "Tell me A Story", in which she posts one of her photographs and asks her readers to spin a yarn about it. My story-writing skills have been slumbering, but I have tried to wake them in order to participate this week. So, without further ado, here is Daryl's photograph, and my story to go with it!

I was sitting on a hard white bench under a crab apple tree when I saw them. They were just two girls, quite young, and at first I thought they might be sisters, but then I realized that their hair had been dyed the same color. Best friends, then. Copying each other and magazines and other friends and grown women, trying on styles and personalities, they were trying to find their way and themselves, just as I did, and my friends did, once.

I am 84 years old. The woman who was my best friend is inside the building behind me and to my right, surrounded with flowers and her loved ones. I shall miss her. When Alice and I were young women, the world had changed so much. Any young man who was healthy enough to go was off fighting the Germans, or the Japanese, in places whose names we had never heard of until they started appearing in the newspapers, day after day. Many of those young men never came home, of course. Alice and I married two of the ones who did, but that was later. 

The two girls across the road are eating ice cream and talking. They are standing close, in their own little world. I remember how it was to have a special friend like that, one who knew you so well, she could finish your sentences, or tease you about something you were sensitive about, until you started laughing in spite of yourself. Alice was that friend, for me. 

Because of the war, we had opportunities our mothers never had. We didn't have to get jobs waitressing or doing sales in a department store. We got jobs in a factory, doing jobs where we didn't have to be charming to anyone we didn't want to be charming to. We punched a clock and collected a paycheck the way our fathers had, and it gave us a freedom, and a feeling about ourselves, that we had never had before. We tied on our babushkas, like peasant women, and worked each day assembling explosives, or bullets, or whatever we were told to work on. Some of the girls' fingers turned yellow from the chemicals. We didn't care. We had, for the first time in our lives, money in our purses that was ours, and we could go to the movies, or buy that dress, or put it away, but whatever we did with the money, what mattered was that it was ours and we had earned it ourselves. We didn't have to wait on a man to have the life we wanted.

Watching the girls across the street, I feel a sudden urge and ache to be one of them, to be young, and to be just starting out and discovering things. I wonder if they are discussing boys, or the ice cream, or other girls they know. I wonder if one has a secret, and if she will tell her friend today, or ever.

When I saw Alice, earlier, she looked beautiful, despite age, despite being....so uncharacteristically still. I wept. It is not just the loss of Alice, my dearest friend, but the loss of someone who knew me in a way that only happens when one has known someone else very well for a good long time. Oh, Alice. Who will love your honest smile they way that I did, where you have gone?

I remember sitting in the Aztec Theater, watching "Leave Her To Heaven" with Alice. The woman in it was a banshee, but I liked her anyway. I didn't know that, within a few years, both of us would be married and raising families. The men took their jobs back when they came home, making Fords and De Sotos instead of bombs. We fed babies, and also our men when they came in at the end of the day. Life settled down to being more as it had been before. After so much horror overseas, people wanted normalcy almost above anything else. Alice and I never went to the factory again.

I can't help feeling, as I watch the two young girls, that the one with the shorter hair does have a secret she's keeping. Maybe she is wondering if she can trust her friend enough to tell her what is in her heart. At that age, everything is so confusing, friendships are made and dissolved in the blinking of an eye, and it takes a very special friend indeed to share some secrets. How to be sure that this connection can endure? And, by telling, would she be ruining that chance forever? Either way, the telling or the not telling will nudge her life this way or that. Oh, but listen to me. They are probably just sharing an ice cream and nothing more.

I stood for a moment saying goodbye to Alice just now, you know. Inside the funeral home, with tears spilling down my cheeks, I told her what had always been on my heart, but I said it all silently, as I always did. Then I bent and kissed her. It was the first time I ever had.

__________

16 comments:

mac said...

Reading this, I am struck by the idea that it is sometimes easier to tell our deepest darkest secrets to strangers than those we really love.
I don't know if it's fear of rejection, fear that they will know how weak we truly are, or what that makes us this way....

I think it might be better if we told those that were close, before they are gone.

Gabriella Moonlight said...

The intimacy that the mind and heart weaves always amazes me and always settles me. How and who I share with has grown much smaller these days and I am okay with that, I am okay to just be quiet and share my secrets with few...I hope that as I age you are there and I can share my self with you...

TALON said...

I really enjoyed this, Shay. It's true that we have to be cautious when sharing our secrets. We generally learn that the hard way. But when we find those safe places to share...well, it's a beautiful thing.

I think your story writing skills have been having a beauty sleep :)

Riot Kitty said...

Again...I love it. I envy you for being able to think of these.

cinderkeys said...

I had to scan it a second time to really get it. Oh man. Powerful.

Titanium said...

This? Is exquisite. The world in a grain of sand...

Shadow said...

this is a beautifully told story. i never had a close friend. that only came muuuuch later in life. but i certainly feel the friendship, the closeness, and the loss, in your telling here...

Daryl said...

Oh Shay .. this is exquisitely written, thank you for honoring me/my photo with this story as well as the women and men of that era ... and amazingly I know where the Aztec is (I even took a photo of the marquee) in San Antonio!!

Mojo said...

I was all set to say something smartass about how "all the young girls loved Alice" but somehow... I just can't.

This is beautiful Shay.

Cloudia said...

You better publish to a wider audience!


Perhaps someday we will realize that we have become Alice/friends...i think so


Aloha from Waikiki, Friend

Comfort Spiral

Ily said...

Like Mac, I think it's a little safer to tell our secrets to a faraway friend, a blogger perhaps, and not risk much...but when we risk much we have the opportunity to love much. I'd tell the girl with the long hair my secrets, but then I'm a girl with long red hair (and I know we can be trusted...well, some of us). :)

Beautiful story, Chica. Heartwarming.

Lynn said...

This is a great story - we all have secrets and only just so many people we could tell them to.

It made me think of my friend who died several years ago.

Kay said...

oh... still my heart.

"We can do it" came to mind while reading this, but your character.. the secret...the bond... friendship...memories...I wonder... ?

you found your voice once again.

Mama Zen said...

Oh, this hurts. Beautifully, beautifully written.

Senorita said...

Wow, I am late in commenting on this, I don't know if you will see it.

This brought a tear to my eye. It is very deep, and my whole life I've wanted a friend I can simply connect and be a good friend with.

Due to my upbringing I haven't had that luxury until a year or two ago.

I didn't know that you are 84. I thought you were middle-aged at the very most.

I have so much respect for people who lived through the war, and women are rarely mentioned. It's a shame.

Fireblossom said...

Senorita, I'm so glad you like my story! But, for the record, I am NOT 84! The character is 84, not me.