In my family, there is an unspoken rule that if the truth is not good enough, then lying is the best option. Of course, this made life more confusing and often led to embarrassment. I don’t really know when it began, but I remember hearing my mother telling blatant lies so masterfully that I had to stop and ponder if what I knew to be true was the truth or if her lie was the truth.
My mother hid her true self from her children and the rest of her family. I suspect that it was because she was ashamed of her true self. I don’t think that I will ever know or see my mother’s true self, because she lies profusely, even when the truth is staring her in the face, to this very day. How very sad…
Unconsciously along the way, I automatically ignored situations I found puzzling or uncomfortable. It’s as if they didn’t exist, like I watched them on TV. Once I turned the TV in my head off, those situations went away, as if the TV show was cancelled or the season was simply over.
When I was very small, I remember watching cartoons one Saturday morning when the telephone rang. My mother answered it. She was talking to my friend’s mother about our getting together for a play date, so I was eavesdropping. As she was talking, my step-father, most likely in a drug-induced state, pulled my mother’s shirt up slightly, and then pulled it over her head. He was kneeling down in front of her. The grown up me realizes that he was performing a sexual act, but the child me, who was six years old at the time, was very confused. My mother kept pushing his head down and trying to pull away as she was talking on the phone. It disturbed me in such a strange way. It seemed wrong, yet why would adults do wrong things for children to see? It was never talked about, never mentioned even though it was undeniably evident that her three children could see what was happening. I kept that secret in my dungeon with all the other secrets.
Other times, my step-father would exposed himself to me. The bewilderment that I felt left me disconcerted about the male genitalia. Once my mother caught him exposing himself to my brother and me as we played a board game. She alluded to his forgetfulness about zipping his trousers, but the look on her face professed the truth. He was doing something wrong that we should keep secret.
My mother often told stories of grandeur. This is a hallmark characteristic of a narcissist. She told stories about where our furniture came from, “Our baby grand was actually in my great-grandmother’s plantation house down in Louisiana.” There were lies about her job, “My boss wants to give me a promotion because I work harder than the rest of those people. They are so stupid that I have to show them how to do their jobs.” She even told lies about me, “My daughter was asked to the Holly Ball by four different boys.” In reality, it was one boy. I felt that I was never good enough because I could never live up to her lies. I wasn’t very special. Otherwise, why would she have to lie about me to make me seem better than I actually was? Better. Smarter. Prettier. Funnier. I couldn’t live up to it all.
I poured all my energy into my school-life. I was a perfect student. I made excellent grades, never got in trouble at school, had lots of friends, and the teachers liked me. I was in the Honor Society, a cheerleader, on the gymnastics team, in the French club, Beta Club, International Student Exchange club, on student council, and had parts in school plays (because I’d had a lifetime of acting experience.) I worked very, very hard trying to accomplish the lie. Little did I know then that, even if I lived up to her lies, there would be more lies to live up to. It was never-ending.
My obsession with school work and perfection was probably a compensation for a home where nothing was simple, where problems were always complicated, and where no one was ever pleased. No matter what I accomplished, my mother had accomplished more. My glories were met with a “been there, done that” attitude. I never felt she was happy for me and my accomplishments. She met my good news with, “Nice, but why didn’t you do ____?” The blank was always filled with what I didn’t do, or perhaps could never do. So why bother at all?
I read every book assigned to me by teachers, and more. Reading became my outlet. It was my escape from the secrets and lies. I’d like to think that while I excelled in this perfect student role, I was happy, but I wasn’t. I was isolated and lonely. I had very few true friends, because the true me wasn’t ever good enough to be revealed. I never let anyone in. The true me had secrets that weren’t very nice, and had to lie often to cover for things in my life. The true me began to constantly joke to mask the pain. It’s as though I was walking on a tight rope yelling, “Look at me, please!” but when people looked, I asked, “What are you looking at?” I found that I was pretty sharp with sarcasm and used that as a way to attract friends without opening up. I was a popular girl, but never a close friend. I liked it that way. I hated it that way.
Once there was a girl in junior high school named Allison who had seen a movie that was rated R. I pretended that I had seen it too, and lied about it to fit in. She questioned me about the details of that movie, but I couldn’t answer. She called me a liar and said cruel, rancorous things to me in front of other kids. At first, I didn’t understand why the lie was such an enormous inequity. Everyone in my family lied, and no one ever seemed to be called to the carpet on their malfeasance. No biggee, right?
But later, I was devastated. I did lie. I was a liar. Perhaps if she had known what my life was really like, she wouldn’t have been so cruel. I learned a valuable lesson that day; Don’t say anything at all. Then I became a recluse with my feelings, my emotions, my life. I resented Allison for many years, and I dwelled on her malevolent words. They stung like salt in a paper-cut.
“Listen compassionately and creatively to the hidden silences. Often secrets are not revealed in words, they lie concealed in the silence between the words or in the depth of what is unsayable between two people.”
Today I should thank Allison if I knew where she was. She’s probably a prison matron or a psychiatric ward head like Nurse Ratched. I should thank her for her inexorable attitude toward me because it made me reflect on a behavior that was clearly impermissible. Because of the confounding disorientation that was bestowed upon me by my family, I might not have ever seen it for what it was. That event marked my first conscious contact with my inner self. It was the first time I had seen myself, and my family, in an irrefutable light. I was able to see the depredation in its verisimilitude. I was able to embrace the secrets and lies instead of evade them.