Ever since I was little, I seemed to always be the person that everyone entrusted with their secrets. As the years went by, I thought of myself as the keeper of secrets. But why me? Why was I chosen to be everyones confidant?
For the purposes of this article, no names will be mentioned, only very obscure references to actual occurrences.
For many years, I have often wondered why, of all people, I was always trusted to be the keeper of secrets. Secrets, some of which were deeply personal, were often shared with me beginning during the days of my youth. I remember being a student in grade school when my best friend at the time took my hand as she proceeded to drag me to my favorite spot on the playground. It was behind a large oak tree on the far side of a large open square paved with concrete squares.
She was a very good friend of mine; we were almost inseparable since kindergarten, and I remember having many play dates with her. As I recall, she was convinced that she was going to marry me when we grew up, and I remember feeling uneasy about the idea because I hadn’t yet developed romantic feelings at that young age.
It was there behind the tree that my friend confided in me that she was being, “touched by her stepfather”. She begged me to keep it a secret and not to tell anybody. Ever. I was eight years old at the time. Looking back on it, I still haven’t said anything about this event, prior to writing this article, though over the years I have often wondered what happened to her. Unfortunately, when my parents moved out of New York City, I had to change schools, and I never heard from her again. I think about that moment every now and again, and I pray that she made it through the ordeal.
When I was in middle school, friends came to me to discuss the typical growing up experiences of adolescence. By age 16, I had already learned that many of my friends and people I knew had experienced drug and/or alcohol problems, abuse, and had experienced various sorts of emotional trauma. One of my friends had been burned in a house fire, another one of my friends lived through childhood sexual abuse. Still a select few of my closest friends revealed to me that they had emotional and/or psychological issues they were dealing with.
When I was in high school, I learned that a handful of my friends were gay. I was generally the first one to know about these things; I think that perhaps my friends saw me as someone whom they could talk to and share anything with, without fear of being judged. They may have been looking for a reaction to help them decide if they were ready to tell others their secret. If it was a reaction they were expecting, there wasn’t one. I always seemed to accept secrets in a very open, accepting, and non-judgmental fashion.
When I went off to college, I was taken from a very open-minded, diverse, and accepting place to a place that felt very alien to me by comparison. My parents had sent me to college in West Virginia, where closed minds didn’t usually accompany closed mouths. I was surrounded by many closed minded people who believed in the literal interpretation of the bible, and any deviance from these beliefs was considered suspect. At the time, I didn’t know anyone who came to the University from New York, though I did know someone who came from New Jersey.
I never attended church of any kind, instead I followed my own beliefs, and on the advice of a very small group of friends, I kept my religious beliefs to myself. Religion was never a big part of my life, it is something that I am not overly concerned with.
One night around 9:00, I heard a knock at my door, and when I opened it, I found my best friend at the time standing in the hallway in tears. I invited him in and offered him some coffee. I always had coffee in my room, or in my refrigerator. He declined, and without saying a single word, immediately sat down and told me to shut the door, close the window, and draw the blinds. At first, I was confused, but since he was a very close friend of mine, I did as he requested.
My friend struggled to get the words out. He sat shivering, shaking, and nervous. He said he had a very terrible secret he needed to share with me, but it was too terrible to tell anyone. I thought he was going to tell me that he had accidentally killed someone the way he was acting.
Then he managed to get the words out; “Tom, I’m gay.”
Again, no reaction from me, except for a little laugh and a reply of, “Okay, that’s the secret?”, while in reality, the laugh was in preparation for news that he had actually killed someone.
Apparently, at the time, being gay in West Virginia in the late 1990’s was looked upon as the ultimate sin against god, and was unacceptable. Some even believed that being gay was contagious, and being friends or associating with someone who was gay could, by venture of association, turn someone else gay. We remained friends for well over a decade following his coming out to me.
Shortly thereafter, I decided to study Emergency Medicine, simply because I knew I had acceptance and compassion for people and their differences, that, sadly, most people lack.
After realizing that college wasn’t for me, I decided to live my life the way I wanted to, and completely ignoring my parents demands for me to obtain a college degree. What makes me sad about the modern educational system is that I attended more college than would be necessary for a degree, but since I studied all sorts of various, seemingly unrelated subjects, I was never formally given a paper degree.
I settled into a career in Emergency Medicine, and worked both as an Emergency Medical Technician, and Firefighter, in various capacities and municipalities throughout the years. I have even helped teach classes in firefighting, EMS, and rescue. As anyone who has had any professional experience in emergency medicine, or public safety, I can say with reasonable certainty, that I have heard everything. The medical profession exposes one to every aspect of society and the human experience. I have personally treated or assisted in the treatment of countless people, all the while, never passing any judgment as to the details their lives, or their choices, no matter how personal or intimate.
I can honestly say that I have been told many secrets over the years by many of my patients. I think that patients feel that medical people are safe to reveal their deepest darkest secrets to, simply because they hear them all the time. I hear all sorts of secrets from patients, and nothing really surprises me anymore; I hear more things in a month at work than other people do in their lifetime.
But it’s not just at work that people tell me their secrets. It seems that as the years went by, and I grew older, so did all of my friends. In the past year, I have personally heard secrets that were of a very private nature. Some were related to the marriages of a few of my friends, others were about pregnancy and fertility issues, while a handful dealt with gender differences and/or sexual orientation, specifically LBGT issues. Still, after all of these years, nothing has changed how I feel about my friends, despite their relentless confessions. I have nothing but love and respect for my friends, and will always be there to be a good listener, to be supportive, and to be a keeper of secrets.
The header image is a stock photograph. The article image was a selfie captured at work, December 9, 2014. It originally appeared on my Facebook page.