The following is a guest post by Elizabeth Fergason, whose creative nonfiction work “Soup Day” appeared in Issue 19 of Typehouse.
All my life my father, my birth-father that is, was a secret. Growing up, whenever I’d inquire, my mother would tell me I wasn’t old enough yet to know. Once I was an adult I heightened the asking. Finally, I threatened to never return home. “Okay, okay,” she said as she flipped through her Roledex and dialed his number. Just like that.
I recently wrote a short piece about the one and only time I met my birth-father and now it’s out in print. Normally, I announce my work once it’s published. I want friends and family to read my pieces. But this story is different, this is my mother’s secret I’m releasing. She’s kept the circumstances of my birth from so many — including her last husband to whom she was married for 27 years.
Revealing a family secret can be tricky. Revelation has its consequences. Writers understand this more than most. A writer friend of mine is holding off until after a family member dies to share a story they don’t want told. This is one way to handle it. The Wait.
There can also be a question about who exactly has the right to tell. It’s all about freedom of speech – say some. This is called Anything Goes.
The story my mother chooses to suppress is her own but I’m quite certain it is my story too. Am I under familial obligation to keep it out of circulation? Do I have to buy in to the revisionist family history she puts out to the world? I would say no.
Yet, despite having every right to share the secret, I feel uncertain. I dig into my values. Do no harm is a personal aspiration. Sharing a squashed and buried history is bound to make my mother suffer. I’ll be butting up against my own moral code.
On the other hand, I’m convinced that sharing the story will help me to heal from years of questions and uncertainty about my identity. Do I forfeit my own healing to accommodate my mother? True compassion involves fostering one’s own well-being before moving on to others. I need to take care of myself by speaking freely. If I want to say it, write it, share it, I will.
Or I won’t.
As much as I’d like to put the story out on every front, even more than this I wish to not create hurt. And so, I reconcile myself as the reluctant co-conspirator — a role I despise.
But then I rebel a little, and draw a snaky line in the road: I will share the published piece with my friends but not my mother, nor any of the people she knows. If by chance or karma, she happens upon the piece — well, let the fates take hold.
Elizabeth Fergason is a native North Carolinian and an emerging writer who graduated from the MA English program at San Francisco State University. Recent literary publications include Flash Fiction Magazine, Typehouse, Parhelion, Ligea, and Blue Moon. These works may be connected to through elizabethfergason.com.