A woman walked into my house some years ago and sat on my
couch. She was blond and slim, you could say she was a small woman, but her stature was the only part of her that was small. She was holding a manuscript she had written that she wanted me to edit for her. It was called

“Dirty Woman: Being HIV in a Crowded Room.”

Her husband had infected her with HIV and demanded she keep it a secret because of the stigma. She helped him die, everyone thought it was from cancer and she never told the truth to anyone until years later about his diagnosis or her own. “It must have been so painful
to watch your husband die like that,” I said. I was taken aback when she replied, “AIDS wasn’t the hardest part. Neither was getting HIV. Keeping the secret was what nearly killed me.”

During this last week, three people called me and said, “Don’t tell anyone, but . . .” I assured them I’d keep their secrets, but when
I hung up, I wished I hadn’t. I didn’t feel good about colluding with someone about something that they deemed so important, no one should know about it but me. Why me? It was an unwanted responsibility. What if I was chatting with a friend and I inadvertently leaked it? I would have to ask the third party to keep it a secret, they might leak it, and on and on it would go. Benjamin Franklin said, “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”

I have practice keeping secrets. I’ve ghostwritten for celebrities who had me sign confidentiality agreements, often more lengthy than the writing contracts. I understand. It ensures safety for someone who knows the nightmare of having his or her private life exposed in tabloids or gossip radio and TV shows. It frees them up to speak unedited during our interviews, to talk freely without awkwardness or fear. I have to keep assuring them that no one will misquote them or tell lies in their books. They get the final edit.

I didn’t tell their secrets back then and I still haven’t. For starters, there would be legal repercussions for me if I spilled the beans, but
I wouldn’t do it anyway. Publishers have offered me the big bucks to write an “unauthorized biography,” the story of a celebrity’s life without their permission. Ah, the tell-all book I could write if I were a different person. The trysts, family feuds, the stigma of illnesses and embarrassing encounters. But I have no interest in exposing the underbellies of other human beings. I hold their secrets “close to the vest,” as they say. That’s about business.

In my private life, it’s a different story. I don’t like being caught in the middle when two people tell me things they don’t want the other person to know. I like to be there for support, to be a sounding board
and a comfort, but beyond that, I don’t want to have to remember not to tell. That kind of burden sends a danger alert through my body that makes me feel less spontaneous and more guarded. Judge Judy says, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to have a good memory.”

A few days ago, someone invited me to a screening of a new movie
with a caveat, “Don’t tell Laura,” she said. “I didn’t invite her and I don’t want to hurt her feelings. Just keep it a secret.” I thought a moment, said thank you and I declined the invitation. Laura was a good friend of mine. I didn’t want to have to lie if we were talking casually and she said, ”So what are you doing tonight?”

I choose to live with a minimum of stress and anxiety. There is enough of that free floating in the world without manufacturing or setting myself up for more. When someone starts to whisper something in my ear that needs to stay between the two of us, I tell them as kindly as possible, “I don’t want to keep your secrets. Tell someone else or better still, don’t tell anyone.” For me that’s the most loving thing I can say.