Dirty Little Secrets


in Archive


“A place for everything, and everything in its place” could be the perfect homemaker’s rule to live by. The maxim’s perfect, but I’m not, even though I won’t buy anything now unless I know where I can put it. I’ve abandoned all aspects of recreational shopping. And that policy includes a can of sardines.  As long as nobody gives me anything, I’m just fine. Except for the mail. And keeping track of my eyeglasses.


Like many people in their 60s, I need to wear glasses when I read or work on the computer. When I was a teenager, I discovered that I was nearsighted. For some few moments that I don’t remember, I must have had perfect vision as it flipped from my being able to read close up to being able to see clearly, unaided, only at a distance.

I like to think that the inability to see close-up is a blessing as we age. Do I want an instant face-lift? I take off my glasses and look in the mirror.

That works the other way, too. One of my dear friends told me that when she looked in the mirror for the first time after her cataract surgery, she screamed. She said she’d been proud that she didn’t have any wrinkles on her forehead. Once she had the cataracts removed, however, she discovered that she’d aged along with the rest of us. We were both lucky that she hadn’t told me about her perfect, ageless complexion while she still had her illusions.

After my eye doctor told me I was developing cataracts, I shared with her the story of my friend’s discovery. My doctor laughed and told me that my friend’s experience wasn’t unusual. One of her patients had complained that the removal of cataracts had caused her to have gray hair where she’d seen none before. What unwelcome discovery will I make about myself?

Which brings me back to my glasses. Because I wear reading glasses rather than bifocals, when I move from a room where I’m doing what used to be called “close work” to another, I take off my glasses and set them down as I go. I’ve tried using an eyeglass chain, but I found that one size doesn’t fit all; I gave up on the chain as anything other than an occasional fashion accessory.

It would be better if I could get into the habit of keeping my glasses next to my laptop or with the book I’ve left behind. Instead, I’m more likely to walk several steps and then set my glasses down on a convenient flat surface, like the top of my hallway bookcase. Sometimes I’ll leave them balanced on the armrest of a sofa as if it were a face waiting to be given features. When all has gone well, I’ll return to find my task and my glasses both in the same place.

But other times I get all the way to the kitchen and I’m still wearing my reading glasses. I’ll take them off there and, if I remember, I’ll take them back with me when I return to my computer or book. If not, I’ll laugh at myself and walk back for them. I tell myself it’s exercise.

This brings me to the missing pair:  lightweight black metal frames, plastic lenses. So light, such thin frames, they were almost invisible! I remember when they disappeared more than a year ago. I was reading in the living room when the phone rang. I took off my glasses and went to answer it.  Or maybe I went to answer the phone and only then took off my glasses. In any case, they’ve vanished. I’ve looked under the sofa cushions and, wielding an extra-bright LED flashlight, even under the sofa itself.

A helpful friend suggested that I could have put them in the trash and thrown them away. “No,” I said, “definitely not.”

“How can you be so sure?”  she asked. I heard in her voice a challenge as strong as my adamant denial. She might as well have been tapping her foot.

I sighed. If I wanted her to believe, as I did, that these glasses had vanished, I’d have to come clean.

Feeling sheepish, I took a deep breath and confessed that, in fact, I’d gone through all the trash — and even the garbage in the kitchen — in my hunt for the missing pair. “I’ll do that whenever I can’t find something,” I told her. “It’s embarrassing.”

And then I went on to confide that for the last several years before I throw away my opened mail, I always give it a second sorting, just to make sure I’m not discarding anything important. In spite of that precaution, if I’m looking for a piece of paper that’s not where I think it should be, I’ll go through the rubbish. It’s easier when I’m not so desperate that I’ll look into the kitchen garbage, too, as I had in my hunt for the glasses. “So that’s how I know I didn’t throw them out,” I said, and I waited for her judgment.

“I’m always going through the trash,” she said, shaking her head. “My husband throws out bills — and, sometimes, checks. I root through garbage and pull out the checks he’s thrown out with all the junk mail.”

She looked away. The insistence had drained from her voice. “I’m not sure which is worse,” she said, “the checks for $200 or the bills. They’d be overdue.”

I wondered if he ever caught her stooping and rooting through their rubbish, looking for his mistakes. Recriminations must hang in the air between them like a string of burned-out garden lights.

Now it was my turn to look away.

Still, I felt better knowing I wasn’t the only person to go through a wastebasket. “I don’t know of I feel worse when I find something in the trash that I was looking for,” I said to her, “or when I don’t find it and have to keep looking.” Until then, it had been my dirty little secret.

What was worse for her, I wondered, looking through the trash and finding something he’d thrown away, or looking and ending with her hands soiled and empty?

She blamed her husband for what she thought she had to do, stooping and rooting. When you live alone, you don’t have anyone to blame but yourself. • 2 March 2010



Miriam N. Kotzin, associate professor of English at Drexel University, co-directs the Certificate Program in Writing and Publishing and teaches creative writing and literature. She is a contributing editor of Boulevard and a founding editor of Per Contra. She is the author of A History of Drexel University (Drexel University, 1983), a collection of flash fiction, Just Desserts (Star Cloud Press, 2010), and two collections of poetry, Reclaiming the Dead (New American Press, 2008), Weights & Measures (Star Cloud Press, 2009), and Taking Stock. Her novel, Cutter’s Vision, is represented by Don Gastwirth.