Symbols and Dirty Little Secrets

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Tilt.

Some things change. Some stay the same.

The Long-Awaited Honest-to-God Secret to Being Happy

I get a blast from the past while sitting on an inter- view panel.    While waiting for our interviewee  to show up, one of our other panelists—whom  I don’t know very well—tells me that I’ve helped her in untold ways in her new  job.  Apparently, she  has  some  material  of  mine from 16 ½ years ago.

I can hardly believe it. I haven’t thought about that project in years and I certainly didn’t think it was around after all this time.

“Oh, yes,” the other panelist tells me. “I use it almost every day and I’m very, very careful with it because I’m so afraid that it will disintegrate under my touch. It is so old and so well worn.”

She’s talking about a project I did in the 30 days be- fore Rhiannon was born.   A handbook for other people in my career field, one that I did on my own time, on my home computer. One that was converted into a 600-plus slide presentation and taught over 3 days’ time by technical experts.

The handbook had been a little bit controversial at the time because  I  had  included my  own  personal  helpful hints—and those hints and the way I had structured  the project were, according to the panelist, still tremendously useful after all these years.

I get that warm feeling remembering  the work I did and its outcome,  and knowing  that it’s still being used, however discreetly.   “I can’t believe that all that material is still relevant,” I tell her.

She shrugs. “A lot has changed, yes, especially some of the references.      But why you do certain things and the best way  to  do them?        That’s  all still  relevant.”  She pauses. “Oh,” she says laughing, “and the office symbols. I believe we were officially  the Munitions  Systems  Division at that time, MSD.”

I nod.  Yes, I remember we’ve changed office symbols many, many times. It’s been a joke of mine for several years that I refuse to have business cards because as soon as I have business cards made at my own expense, some- one will change the command name or the office name or even the street name. It changes way too often, which dredges up the oddest memory.

I was in the office the panelist refers to—which I believe was MSD/PMR or perhaps PKR or perhaps MSD/ PKRL…they all changed quite a few times within a few months.  One of my co-workers had a really bad reputation.  In fact, I think he’s probably the guy that coined the phrase, “What goes TDY, stays TDY” about government business trips or “Temporary DutY.”

I was at an office promotion  party where there were spicy fajitas, Margaritas, chips and very hot salsa.  We got into a  conversation  that somehow  hopped all over the place until it ended up with things that we both really regretted.  I guess I didn’t regret mine that much because I have forgotten it now, but in a moment of raw honesty, he told me he could top mine.

“Yeah,” he said, “you know those office symbols that we have?  How you’re MSD/PMR?  My branch symbol is MSD/WYAK1.”

I nodded, wondering what to regret about that.  He had  already  confessed  to  me—with  absolutely  no  regrets—that he secretly cheated on his wife and had a girl in every port, so to speak. He arranged his time so that he worked on four different  contracts. One was  local and that was the time that he spent at home with his wife. The  other three were in different parts of the country. Poor oversexed guy that he was, he spent one week every month with each of the four women in his life.  None of them knew of the others.

“The symbols,” he said. “That’s how I keep it a secret. But I feel  kind  of  bad  about  it now,  about  what  I’ve done.”

“You  feel  bad  about  cheating  on  your  wife?”  I thought  I  had  understood  him  correctly,  but  I  wasn’t sure.

He shrugged it off.  “No, not really. I mean, she doesn’t really understand me.”

At that point, neither did I.

“But I don’t want to break up my marriage and these other women, well, they’re just for fun and they write me long wonderful love letters  and I’ve got a whole collection of really hot letters that they’ve sent to my office.  Of course, they don’t know my real name and that’s sort of what I feel bad about.”

“You mean,”  I  said,  “that  you’ve  had  relationships with these three other women for several years now and not one of them knows  your real name? I don’t get it. How did you pull that off? What if they find out who you are and tell your wife?”

“They won’t.” He winked at me. “That’s why I use my office  symbol.  They  all know  me only by my first name and I explained to them my dirty little secret, which is that I work in a top secret office for the US Government and that I  can’t really tell them who I am or why I’m in their town on business without causing them danger.”

I laughed. “And they buy that?”

He nodded. “They buy it 100 percent.  As proof, I let them write to me at my office and I’ve told them that our office symbol is my secret code name. All I had to do was turn around and send them a letter back postmarked and addressed from my office with my secret code name—my office symbols—on it and they bought it.”

“How long do you think  you’re going to carry this on?” I asked, appalled.

He grinned at me. “For as long as I can. But I told them that if they ever wrote me and the letter came back marked ‘Return to Sender,’  then my last mission wasn’t successful but that—” he winked at me again—”I really loved them and I’m sorry I couldn’t put them in a dangerous position by knowing the truth about me.”

I remember sitting there and staring at him wide-eyed and open-mouthed.  “But you regret this,” I said. “This is the thing in  your life that you regret most—that you’ve been deceiving all these women?”

“Well, yeah.   I do feel a little bit bad about that, but the worst thing is when we change office symbols again, my letters will be returned to the sender and I’ll have to start all over.”