53 :: strength through secrecy :: 7/2/01
Denise is listening to the Mogwai record Come On Die Young. Sad songs remind me of friends. She sits at her desk, in a space she's created under her loft bed. The hot temperatures of the summer unexpectedly broke this week, and cool evening wind snaps in through the window's screen, lifting a few envelopes off of her shelf and sending them drifting to the floor.
A few minutes ago Toy came in here, uninvited, was sort of hanging out, small-talking. Picking up a magazine off of her floor and flipping through it. Looking at her. Sometimes these small apartment interactions will shift abruptly: he'll begin insulting her, calling her crazy, pretending he's only joking around; kidding. Other times he'll try to put his arms around her or, if she's sitting against the wall, he'll sit next to her in such a way that their legs are touching. This time, when she heard him coming towards her room she grabbed the nearest book on her desk (The Photomontages of Hannah Hoch) and opened it up to the introductory essay. After he was in the room for a minute she said Hey, I'm kind of in the middle of reading this. And then stopped. Sometimes it's important to know when to stop talking. He'd said oh and muttered something about needing to get this month's rent money from her. It's on the fridge, she'd said, not looking up from the book. And then he left.
It's easy, she realizes, to repel him as long as she's strong. And it's easier for her to be strong when she has a secret.
This goes way back for her. When she was a baby, she had a treasured soft blanket, Blue. (It was named after some old songshe has a memory of her dad, holding the blanket, rubbing it against her nose, singing you know that Blue was a good old dog.)
She thought, back then, that she would have Blue forever. But when she turned eight and it had begun to go to rags her mom began to say things like we're going to have to get rid of that ratty old blanket sometime. Denise protested, but even at age eight she could recognize the granite tone that entered her mother's voice sometimesthe tone that indicated that she would not yield. She began to have dreams about Blue being taken away from her, and she'd wake up and clutch out for it, almost in a panic until she'd find it, in the crease between the bed and the wall, and then she'd nuzzle her face into it and, comforted, she'd fall gradually back into sleep.
But the dreams made their impression, and so when an eight-inch swatch of the blanket fell off, she took it and hid it in a carrying case intended for My Little Ponies. She would take it out when she was alone in her room and she would hold it for a few minutes before returning it to the case. When the blanket finally disappeared, just as she'd expected, it didn't really matter. By that point she had decided that the swatch was Blue, not the blanket. She had the thing that was important. Even into junior high she would still take Blue out almost every night, before bed, and rub it up and down on her cheek.
It was having maintained a secret from her motheragainst her mother, reallyfor all those years that helped her most when things began to get bad between them. She had learned that she did not always need to bend to her mother's will. Even more importantly: she had learned how to appear to bend while actually acting on her own will.
She still has Blue.
And lately she has been thinking about Gabriel. She has only had two conversations with him, but she feels as though, in those conversations, she has opened up a part of herself that has remained closed to everyone since Johnny. A tiny vulnerability. But she hasn't talked about him at all, not to Toy, not to Mark. She is vulnerable at a particular point, but it is a point that they do not know about.
If she can keep that secret from them, then there are other things that she can keep secret from them as well. Which means that she can make a plan.
She has been looking in the Reader for new apartments.
Secrets accrue more secrets. A fortress.