Years ago I read a book called Swimmer in the Secret Sea. Though completely unrelated to the novel's subject matter (loss of a newborn baby), I have lately begun to apply the idea to my daughter. She is a youngish teenager, and by all outward appearances, confident, funny, possessing a sardonic wit, and many talents. She has friends, is involved with all manner of school and extracurricular activities. But I still worry about her. Specifically, I worry about the lasting effects of my divorce in her life.
My daughter has an inner life about which I know very little. Unlike my son, who seldom lets a thought or emotion go unexpressed, my daughter is quiet about her feelings. She prefers not to discuss them. She is fine. She is fine. She is my swimmer in her own secret sea.
Last summer my beloved called me and said, We need to talk, in a tone of voice that frightened me. She wanted me to come to see her at work (it was a day off for me). A dog who had been shown a bone, I gnawed and gnawed until she revealed what it was she needed to tell me. A friend (a friend who knew about us) had called her with news that the word about me was out-- another mutual friend had announced to her, I had no idea Cecilia was gay. How about that?
I immediately was filled with the liquidy kind of fear that sets all sorts of bodily functions in motion. I called the friend and grilled her about her conversation with the other woman. What exactly had she said? (Just what I quoted above). What had she responded? (She had asked, What makes you say that?) Did she elaborate? (Yes, she had seen Cecilia take part in a community service in honor of Pride Day-- along with about a dozen other clergy, by the way, of whom about 6 are heterosexual and 4 are openly gay. Also by the way, a service in which I have participated since long before I was even separated from my husband-- years. ). How had the subject arisen? (Out of the blue.) Then what? (She had said, Of course, I was at the service too. Maybe people think I'm gay.) And that was that.
Sometimes an emergency can bring great clarity. I knew immediately what I needed to do. I needed to tell my daughter. There was no sense calling the woman who had suspicions about me; that would only heighten them. There was no sense trying to control something that likely would not be controlled. But what must not happen, what could not be allowed to happen, was that my daughter hear this news from anyone but me. I called Felicity and told her what I planned to do. I sat down with my son and told him what I planned to do. I called my ex and told him what I planned to do. Then I climbed the stairs to my daughter's room.
Sweetie, I said, I need to talk to you. She stopped whatever it was she was doing-- IM-ing, I believe. I wonder, I said, if you've ever wondered about my friendship with Felicity. She looked at me steadily with her big brown eyes. No, she said. OK. Well, you know, we became friends sort of suddenly, and...
You know, it was so much easier when my son just out and out asked me. This was murder. I, who pride myself on my choices of words, who have made a career, in fact, out of finding the precisely right words for the occasion... I was stumped. Utterly stumped.
Finally I babbled something along the lines of, Felicity and I are more than friends. We are seeing each other-- you know, like, dating. My daughter nodded. So, how do you feel about that? Fine. Not shocked? Horrified? Traumatized? Confused? (Yes, I actually said these things.) She smiled, sphynx-like. No. I'm fine.
Then I said, I had hoped that by the time I told you this it wouldn't have to be a secret anymore, that the world would have changed just a little bit. I began to cry. She began to cry. But, I continued, it has to be a secret. Do you think you can keep the secret? She nodded. And then we hugged each other, each holding on for dear, dear life.