As close friends have done for ages, we swear to keep secrets we ultimately share with other friends, then make those friends swear to keep secrets that they end up hearing back from somebody else we already told and swore to secrecy—and what a surprise the secret isn't a secret anymore. If you don't want it out there, you have to keep from saying it to anyone. Although I understand the principle, I have never mastered that technique.
This is why I was happily shocked and to discover a place in the real world where there are no secrets: Ixtapan Spa in Ixtapan de la Sal, Mexico. Recently I visited the spa with my friend Mary just to escape the brutally cold Chicago weather. But it proved to be a much better experience than I expected: Yes, there were the expected massages, facials, water Zumba, long walks, golf, sun and warm weather. What was unexpected was the women—most of them complete strangers—and their reaction to total freedom of conversation.
In the pool, at lunch, dinner, waiting for a massage or facial or during long walks, I was shocked to learn: Lila, 45, from New Hampshire, loves her husband more than he loves her. An athletically-built blonde and blue-eyed Lisa told me she is six inches taller than her five-foot-four and bald husband. Fifty-two-year-old Sherri from Long Island confided that she hadn’t slept in the same bedroom with her husband for 10 years. Sherri appeared miserable—even in Mexico—so I figured there was another side to that story. During an intense game of Scrabble, I learned that Peach, a pleasant 50-year-old from Connecticut was celibate for the past 10 years. For the first five years of celibacy her husband was sick, but after he died she lost 50 pounds and is now considering Match.com.
And then there was Lillian. She stuck out in the chattering girl crowd because she was a lot older than everyone else. I wanted to hear her secrets, so I admired her black cotton dress with white fish.
“Oh, I bought this in 1930, about the same time I got this book,” Lillian said, holding out a tattered copy of The Razor’s Edge, with the price of 35 cents printed on the cover. I thought she was just about to get to her affair with Ernest Hemmingway, when she mentioned that she had a friend who worked for Mayor Daley. Did I know him? (I worked for the City for many years and know quite a few people who worked for Mayor Daley.) No, I said, I never heard of him. Later on I googled the name of Lillian's friend and learned he was a Deputy Mayor to Richard J. Daley. I knew she had great stories to tell, but she wasn't going to spill. Lillian is 90 years old and has been coming to this spa for 40 years. Lillian may see some of us again, so she's keeping her mouth shut.
But that didn't stop anyone else, Terri, who's 50 and lives in Dallas admitted, “My daughter hates me.” We knew why. She showed me a photo of her daughter and the girl had a face that resembled Javier Bardem while somehow Terri looks more like Salma Hayek. Sixty-two-year-old Jean who lives in Baltimore blurted out, “My husband drives me crazy since he retired and now, all he does is read, read, read loathsome, depressing memoirs instead of enjoying our life together.”
I couldn't really figure out why, but noticed that Jean was overly opinionated and the only one of the girls who complained about the check. Sharon 52, from New York, who had a too-tight facelift, said: “We just found out my brother is bi-polar. For years we thought he was just crazy!” Best of all, attractive, white-haired Sandra from Dallas said, “I was married three times, two divorces, one died. At 70, I am living the best years of my life…alone!”
I was racking my brain for dirt on myself: I once went on a fixed-up date with Lenny Bruce, but he didn't like me and it ended early. I also opted out of telling the story of how I was married to the mob for two weeks. I hadn't even unpacked the wedding presents, they came and got my husband, wrote me a check and sent me away. I guess they knew I would never be able to keep quiet. So I made up a story about shacking up with Frank Sinatra. And everyone believed it including my friend Mary.
As for the rest of the ladies, the truth had set them free. Group therapy, but without the burden of ever having to see anyone again. Except Lillian. I was cordial and invited everyone to stop in and see me in Chicago. But they won't. And there will never be an embarrassing moment meeting husbands, siblings or children that were so thoroughly dissected and judged in our week-long respite.
Of course, I had basically lied about everything with the exception of my age. I look so young, I'm sure no one believed me anyway.