I first noticed it over a decade ago. I worked, as all 20-somethings work, at a job where there was just tons of intrigue & drama all the time. You know, it just seems like the only positions the world will give us at that age. Everything was so intense & silly all the time. Anyway.
One of my co-workers had a crush on another one of our co-workers. I thought she was silly & I knew he was a jack ass, but she really liked him & that was that. Until she slept with him. And she told me about it.
“You can’t tell this to anyone,” she said, quite clearly. “Not to anyone, ok?” And of course I agreed. You always agree to stuff like that. She wasn’t my only friend at work but we were all friends & chances are after she made me promise not to tell anyone, she probably told everyone else, little by little, anyway. Or, more likely, she had already told other people. I mean, we were all in our twenties. It was only a matter of time before someone else broke their vow of silence & told everyone about it even though everyone actually already knew. But it wasn’t going to be me.
I quite seriously resolved to never tell anyone what she had told me, & went about my own business, which was already quite exciting & silly even without her news. And rather quickly I forgot what she had told me & in fact that she had ever told it to me at all. I didn’t notice doing it. Apparently when things fall out of my head they make very little noise.
A month later she confided to me that she was pregnant. She was so pissed off at me when I had no idea who the father might be, & quite put out that she had to tell me the same secret story she had told me a month ago, because I was supposed to just know by interpreting the lift of her eyebrows.
Naturally her pregnancy wasn’t something I was allowed to broadcast to the world & so I forgot about it. Later when she wanted to vent to me about what a jerk he was when it came to helping her pay for an abortion I initially had no idea what she was talking about, but quickly caught on, remembered & played it out as she complained about her current situation, which was fortunate for our friendship. It was this stressful brush with my apparent selective amnesia that got my attention.
Over the years secrets have resurfaced & I’ve known by my immediate confusion that I was looking at one of many confidences that simply fell out of my head after I promised not to tell. The trick is making an agreement not to repeat the knowledge. Other folks have granted me sensitive information & if I didn’t know it was secret then I remembered quite easily & often mentioned it casually somewhere I wasn’t supposed to. Story of my life.
Recently a personally embarrassing incident with a guy occurred, & after telling my sister about it I resolved to keep it a secret forever, because I liked him & I didn’t want to embarrass him. When he started acting like a jerk to me I was hurt & confused & I thought out all kinds of (ultimately) inaccurate theories as to how I had offended him. I spent 2-3 weeks feeling tortured over it until I finally decided which inaccurate theory it must be & told my sister about it.
She reminded me about the secret I’d forgotten & all of a sudden everything made sense & I felt better.
I don’t know why I forget secrets. There is no particularly traumatic indiscretion (that I can recall) in my past. It’s not that I’m completely apathetic to people’s personal details; generally people who confide in me are those who are close to me & who I care about.
When I was in college I worked at a Japanese restaurant & in the mornings I hung out at a coffee cart. I ended up chatting with one of the other espresso drinkers about the Eagles, & we became friends. Over the course of our friendship he mentioned that we had first met when I waited on his table & I couldn’t remember him at all. When he reminded me that he was a vegetarian I suddenly remembered everything – that I had suggested a zaru soba & then a meatless hiyashi ramen to him, & that his friend had had a sashimi/tempura combination & 3 Budweisers.
“I can’t believe your mind is co compartmentalized,” he said. So perhaps my selective memory is due to mental segregation. In addition to secrets, I have difficulty remembering people’s names. Sometimes I can’t remember the name of this person that I was just introduced to 5 minutes ago. And sometimes I can’t remember the name of this person I have known for 5 years. However, I almost always remember what both of those people drink if they have ever sat on my bar. Apparently their drink preferences are filed in my brain’s For Practical Use folder.
Secrets are not for practical use. They are actually just clutter for non-manipulative types like me. Maybe that’s why I forget them. I’d probably have a better idea if I could remember.