It's impossible to look at this family photograph of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver and their four children, taken at a film premiere in Los Angeles on April 2, 2006, without thinking about secrets. About lies. And about how they work. About how happiness, even if partial, can be retrospectively pillaged. About how Schwarzenegger's public confession - that he fathered a boy, now 13, in the course of a relationship with a woman who worked as a maid in his household - changes, distorts and shifts the story of everyone in the photograph.
What could have been said about this photograph at the time it was taken? For example, that the governor of California looks like a wax model of himself, with his over-tanned eggplant face and dyed hair. That Shriver's clothes are too young for her and that her spectacular mane of hair emphasizes the leanness of her face. That in contrast to the tension evident in the couple, their children seem far less preoccupied with image. The daughters, Katherine (far right ) and Christina, who already then were taller than their mother - and are now taller than their father - are embracing and laughing. The older son, Patrick, stands in front of his father, who holds his arm, perhaps restraining him, perhaps caressing. And there's the youngest, Christopher, who squints, maybe because something is dazzling him.
Christopher is the child who was conceived and born at the same time as the secret child. He is the prince with a double from the ordinary folk, as in "The Prince and the Pauper," the twin in "The Three Musketeers" wearing an iron mask in the Bastille, an Isaac who has an Ishmael. The symbolism of this story goes beyond anecdote. A lie like this, which conceals the existence of a person, a child, is like a bomb going off in a tunnel. It's a lie that undermines every certain knowledge of happiness that was experienced in real time. Because, like a trauma, happiness is not only an immediate experience, it is also a presence in memory and interpretation. Can someone who learns that his father lied to him say he had a happy childhood? That he knows what kind of childhood he had? Isn't truth a condition for a sense of security and a deep acquaintanceship with those closest to us?
The week the secret became public, Maria Shriver appeared on a farewell program for Oprah Winfrey. She displayed the stalwart stance expected of a Kennedy girl, the stance of a woman who has nothing to be ashamed of, who has been wronged but has preserved her dignity. Shriver says she was taken completely by surprise, but the possibility exists that the lie was known to her. It may not have been so strange that the boy's mother, Mildred "Patty" Baena, continued working for her until recently, or that Patty's son went on holiday with Shriver's children. There may have been time-honored calculations of politics and power; there is no way to know. A lie is a time bomb. One way or the other, amateur photos of Baena, grainy and unflattering, are flooding the Web; she doesn't have the means or the hairstylists to make her look beautiful and aristocratic on Oprah Winfrey's show, and get a hug. Not yet.
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