Something terrible had happened, and I needed to tell the authorities. I made a solemn recording to offer anonymously the following information: the neighbors’ babysitter had had her boyfriend over. She had been expressly forbidden to have her boyfriend over. They talked. Yes, I was burdened with this information. How could I have borne it?
Every summer, we spent a week in New Jersey visiting my grandparents. We actually played with our grandparents’ neighbors more than our own. To one side, there was Joyce and Marie. They didn’t actually live there. They were visiting their grandparents. Joyce and Marie looked Asian, and their grandparents were not Asian. I think the other side of their family was Asian. Once they took us to their pool to go swimming. Once they served us BLTs, a sandwich I had never heard of and did not understand. They had the game Operation, which amazed me, even though there is certainly no game I am worse at. Buzz! Buzz! Buzz!
On the other side was a bigger, newer house with a couple of younger kids. We didn’t particularly care for them, but they had a playhouse in their backyard, one of those crazy ass playhouses with real carpet, real glass windows, and goddamn electricity. I was so tall by that point, I barely fit in the playhouse. Still, we hung out with them from time to time. They had a lot of awesome toys.
It was at the crazy playhouse house that I saw the babysitter and the boyfriend. I was not quite old enough to babysit myself. I was an inveterate eavesdropper, heard everything every grown-up said all the time, and I had heard the forbidding of the boyfriend.
I recently reread Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself, a book by Judy Blume that I had loved as a kid. Upon review, I noted that the characters were east-coasters, and Jewish. The girl is a daydreamer with an overactive imagination. The novel is set just after World War II, and she comes to believe that Hitler is living in her apartment complex. Yeah, top-secret drama queen, that appealed to me.
I had long, serious talks with Joyce, Marie, and my sisters. What should I do? Would anyone believe me? I was deeply engaged in this moral quandary, and played it out as near as I could to an Aaron Sorkin episode.
Ultimately, I sat on my grandparents’ porch and recorded myself quietly revealing the secret. Maybe I could leave the tape where the neighbor parents would see it. Or mail it to them from Kansas City.
I never knew my grandfather was a drunk, or that some of the presents I got from another relative came from prison. The biggest, most disturbing secrets were successfully kept from me. So I had to scrounge around for some.
No one ever listened to the tape except for me, years later in my bedroom. And no one ever cared.
Note: Image is a piece of ancient art on loan to the Getty Villa in Malibu.