BEVERLY HILLS—Secrets were a way of life, a way of survival. I don’t think this was my parents’ intention, but this was my interpretation of their parenting.
My dad always implored, “You only need to share the bare minimum, the pertinent information.” This was contrary to my innate character. It was natural for me to be a free spirit, to share and trust even the most undeserving strangers. I loved people and believed all were good.
My parents, both immigrants, retained their cultural values in America, applying them in fulfilling their ambitions and desires. They were a true archetype of the American Dream.
My father, born and raised in County Mayo, Ireland, emigrated to the States as a seventeen-year-old. Starting with but thirty-five dollars in his pocket, he made his way from New York, to San Francisco, and eventually, Los Angeles, never borrowing, relentlessly working toward his goals. Even as the youngest of seven children, he was a natural-born leader.
My mother, along with her father, emigrated from Beirut, Lebanon to Griffith Park. As the oldest of nine children, she spent most of her days working at a local grocery store to raise the money to bring the rest of her family to the promise land.
Though a doctor in Lebanon, my grandpa couldn’t practice medicine in the States. He did, however, find a job at Cedars Sinai hospital working in the janitorial department. His initial struggles with English translated into professional struggles, compelling my mum to work long hours to meet their financial needs.
One night, following a long day of work, my mum snuck out of her house and into a local bar owned by a friend. Sitting at the end of the bar, her eyes were drawn to a strapping Irish lad who had walked through the doors with his brother.
It was love at first sight. After they spoke, she knew she would marry him. She loved his accent. That night, she pointed to my dad, telling the owner, “He’s going to marry me.” They dated and were married six months later. The bar is still a trendy venue on Vermont that I love visiting to feel the vibe of my parents.
Once married, they worked as one to seize the American Dream they had fantasized of from their native countries. My mother stayed at home, taking care of me and my siblings, my dad working multiple jobs to keep us afloat. Together, they possessed an entrepreneurial spirit, eventually developing a successful entertainment firm.
I was raised in the heart of Los Angeles, the belly of show business. As an American girl, I managed to retain strong cultural values that most only experience in Lebanon. The modern twist of my upbringing kept me from being a complete outcast, but in truth, I never relinquished my secretive existence.
By thirteen, I had experienced more of the night life than most 21-year-olds. Though I had a fake ID and partied with adults, I never had a sip of alcohol. It was against my upbringing. I partied with the locals, many of whom were child actors indulging in every imaginable drug. Yet I, true to myself, never so much as smoked marijuana.
In school, I attended formals with a different date every time, never consummating the relationship. In fact, one of my deepest secrets is that despite my surroundings, I maintained my virginity.
I fit in well, mostly ignorant that I was the oddball of the group. I never lost sight of my religion and value, never imposing them upon my peers. In fact, I was of stronger faith than most that go about preaching and witnessing for the masses. My mother taught me to be a quiet example, not a loud voice.
My family experienced both massive success and tragic failure. However, we never boasted of the great things nor dwelled on the negative. We steadfastly focused on the future, never blaming others for our shortcomings.
Our house was always moving. Life was consistently exciting yet stable. The integrity and love of our household was evident, felt through the hardwood floors as if concrete. If we needed to vent we could, but there was always a defined time to move on and file whatever remained from that experience into our collection of secrets.
The plaque in my father’s room summed it up.
1) Don’t sweat the small stuff
2) It’s all small stuff
Unlike a sweet fairytale, our story has a tragic ending. Both of my parents, now gone, had sudden, preventable deaths. Losing them has forever changed me. The feeling of concrete stability has evaporated. I am now left with a broken heart and a lifetime of secrets.
They say talking about your secrets is healing, that the truth sets you free. Though this goes against every ounce of my training, it feels right on so many levels. I am ready to share the secrets of my past, hopefully discovering new ones along the way.