M a r c h   2 0 0 5

Guest Writer

Enough about you
A list of lies
by Rachel Mendez

No fact is more firmly established than that lying is a necessity of our circumstances – the deduction that it is then a virtue goes without saying.
– Mark Twain

've decided to never lie again.

Being honest, however, is a messy process. People can get mad when you're honest. People can get hurt. People can be disappointed when you admit what you've done instead of hiding it with a simple, elegant lie.

In fact, lying might actually be more appropriate and beneficial than truth-telling. Avoid anger, hurt and disappointment with one sweet sentence! Who can argue with that? It's economical, it's a crowd-pleaser and it's easier than the truth!

But this nagging feeling that I need to be honest has led me to another realization – one which, I suspect, I probably should've reached earlier than age 40. Still, better late than never.

The realization is this: If I don't allow myself to do anything I would want to cover up with a lie, I don't ever have to lie. If I don't ever have to lie, I don't ever have to admit I lied. And then people won't be mad at me.

This decision to stop lying has a terribly complicated domino effect that I'm still trying to make sense of. Like the Jodi Foster character in "Contact": a new world, a different dimension, a way of existing I never knew has been suddenly and shockingly revealed to me.

Part of trying to change has involved looking back at my history of lying.

Some highlights:

My first lie
I think this counts as a lie. It's a lie of non-disclosure. It's a physical lie in the sense that some comedy is physical comedy. I lied with the actions of my body. I don't remember the actual theft, just that I somehow appropriated a pack of chewing gum. I was four and knew right from wrong. And I knew this was wrong. I sat in the back of the car and thought very carefully about how to hide it. I examined the problem in a sophisticated and analytical manner, which I now admire in my four-year-old self.

If my mother or brother or sister noticed me chewing gum, they'd know there were suspicious circumstances. I never had money of my own and they knew all my movements – knew I hadn't been around some nice old lady who gave me free gum and, besides, they knew that I knew it was wrong to take candy from strangers.

Eliminate the most obvious telltale sign of chewing – the distinctive smell (it was "double your pleasure, double your fun" Doublemint). The car windows were closed and it was obvious to me that the smell of the gum would get trapped in the closed ecosystem of the car. The clear way out of this dilemma: chew with my mouth shut so that nobody would detect the refreshing scent.

This is arguable, but I now think that the smell of gum being chewed is not the most obvious telltale sign that gum is being chewed. Based on this early experience, I now think that the sight of a moving jaw might actually be a clearer giveaway. My siblings, cleverer than I'd given them credit for, ratted me out.

My second lie
This story also involves an attempt to cover up a theft. Four years had passed since the chewing gum incident. Sure, there was lying in those intervening years, but this lie was special. This lie, stumbled upon in my panic, involved such a successful and powerful technique that I used it to get what I wanted many times during the rest of my childhood.

My third-grade class put on a production of "The Taming of the Shrew." I hated the play because the woman became subservient just to please the man; I liked her better defiant and difficult. Nonetheless, I wanted to contribute to the play. So when Mrs. Berry asked if anyone had a pretty dress to be used as a prop in one certain scene, I brought in a long dress of my mother's, made of differently colored pieces of real velvet. Even I, an extreme tomboy, knew this dress was a beauty. I decided to make sure that it would be OK for me to borrow it. Everybody knows there's only one way to be sure that it's OK to borrow something: take without asking.

It was no problem to sneak out the dress. I put it in a bag and stuck it under my coat. There was a little thrill involved in the whole thieving process, but I also felt very confident that I had gotten away with it when I delivered the gorgeous dress into Mrs. Berry's hands. All the girlie-girls cooed and I felt success had been achieved. I forgot that when my mother watched the performance, she'd recognize this one-of-a-kind handmade dress, purchased in some hippie boutique for more money than she usually allowed herself to spend on clothes.

As soon as the dress made its appearance during the play, I knew my mother had seen it and that the jig was up. In the car ride home, I talked of this and that, hoping she wouldn't mention the purloined dress. But, 10 minutes into the ride, she brought up the dress. And this is where I learned how quick and able a servant is the brain. There were two things I knew were true: that my mother and father felt guilty about their divorce; and that guilt, the great puppet master, makes parents dance. Working with these two assumptions, I came up with a brilliant lie: "I wanted to bring the dress so that other kids would like me, because I feel so bad about the divorce."

The part of the sentence I left off was, "... the divorce which happened six years ago when I was two."

But that part of the sentence didn't seem to matter! My mother melted. She told me I was wrong to take the dress, but that she understood. All was forgiven.

In subsequent years, I used the "I feel bad about the divorce" lie to for various purposes – sympathy, escaping sticky situations and even minor things, like staying up late to watch some program on TV.

It was a grand and useful tool.

– Next month: More good lies and the decision to be honest –

Find more from Rachel in our archives.

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