John Singer Sargent, The Birthday Party, 1887.
“It’s weird,” my brother, Charlie, said. “Lately a lot of my friends have been talking about learning things about their parents.”
“You mean, secrets?” said my mother. It was her birthday; we were having lunch.
“No, just facts they happened to not know from their pasts—like, someone’s mom had been a teacher and someone else’s wanted to be a dancer, that kind of thing.”
“Or maybe someone’s dad was in a Cub Scout troop with Richard Carpenter,” I contributed. “I’ve heard people say that kind of thing, too.”
My mom was wearing the cape a friend of Charlie’s had made and the Fitbit I’d just given her.
“And I realized,” continued Charlie, “that there was nothing we don’t know about you … ”
“That’s not true,” my dad said. “There are lots of things you don’t know about me.”
“Doubtful,” said Charlie.
“Well,” said my dad. “Have I ever told you about Jimmy Berg?”
There was a silence.
“Maybe not,” said Charlie.
“Who’s Jimmy Berg?” I said.
“Jimmy Berg was a kid in my first-grade class who used to play by himself in the sandbox during recess,” said my dad. “You didn’t know that, did you?”
And we had to admit, we had not. The man still had secrets.
I rose to bring out a cake, one with only a single candle, for discretion and space’s sake.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.
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