4/11/03

Lesson Four

I am a liar

I am very good at lying, even now. When opportunities arise where a story must be concocted for me or for someone else's welfare, I find myself falling back into old habits. I'll check to see if the plot is plausible, if everyone involved has their stories straight, that I know the tiniest little details about where I was, what I saw, what we did. I am a liar- but it's only a defense mechanism, a weapon evolved out of my peculiar upbringing.

Lies came easier than the truth at times. "Who ate the last brownie?" I don't know. I don't know is such a good response; it's not as incriminating as "Not me", while "Me" leaves one open for whatever reprimand might occur. Usually I lied about stupid things. Things that, if I had really thought about them, wouldn't get me in trouble. Like eating the last brownie, unless my mother was saving it for my father when he got home. Other times I lied about bigger things, like taking the change my mother would leave on top of the washing machine.

Most of the questions that produced lies were about stealing. Stealing food and money mainly. The other questions that made me lie were about where I was and what I was doing. When I knew I was doing something wrong- out with the wrong people, at the wrong movie, at the wrong restaurant- I would lie and say I was where I was supposed to be. I was too often rewarded with the crack of the belt or the slap of my father's hand to consider telling the truth as a plausible action.

That must have been where things went wrong. They always said "If you tell us the truth now, we won't get mad." So in the beginning, I trusted them. I believed what they said, and so told the truth. The truth got me in trouble. Telling the truth was apparently not the way to go if I wanted to stay out of trouble. "If you tell us the truth now, we won't get mad." I'd lie, or rather, keep with my lie. They'd tell me I was lying. Most of the time when I wasn't lying, I'd get angry. I noticed this once and picked up the habit when I was lying, so it looked like I was getting aggravated at how they didn't believe me when I was 'actually telling the truth this time.' Eventually, they'd either drag or punish the truth out of me, and then I'd be punished just like I would be punished if I had told the truth in the beginning. I don't know why I let things drag on like I did. Maybe I kept hoping that somewhere in the interrogation I could find some sense as to why I had done what I did, and could properly communicate those ideas to my parents, win their favor, and not be punished for my misdeeds.

I wasn't a perfect child. As I said, I did lie. What was the strangest thing was that when I would lie, and then finally tell the truth, they thought I was still lying. Times like those always threw me off. What? I just told you the truth, and you say I'm lying still? What do you want from me? Then there'd be a whole lot of questioning, me trying to figure out what exactly it was that they wanted me to admit to, and so on and so forth.

One summer, I lit matches in the upstairs bathroom. I did so because of CCD. I've never known what CCD stands for, but in short the classes were held for Catholic youths to learn about Catholicism and God. I felt foolish at every class when the candles would be lit at the beginning. The turn to light the candles rotated each week. Every time it was my turn, I couldn't strike the match and get it to light. The boys would laugh at me… I hate you Phil Aucoin.

Anyway. I took the matches from a Chinese restaurant- they were free, so I thought "Why not? I'm almost fourteen. I should know how to light a match."

I practiced. It took me a while. Every match that got crushed and didn't light, I'd run water over before throwing in the trash. My logic was that if I put the matches in the toilet, something would go wrong and they would pop back up in the bowl when one of my parents came along, because that's just how my luck has always been.

I finally could light a match. I lit two, was pleased, and disposed of them in the same way as the matches that didn't light. I hid the remaining matches in my jacket, in the lining where there was cotton. I was worried that my parents would find them, so I pushed them way in the back, far from the pocket, though you'd need to reach through the pocket to get them.

That night, my mother smelled the matches, but I didn't know this until she and my father called my brother and I downstairs at midnight. They asked us, point blank, who lit the matches. My father told us how my mother had smelled them and found them in the trash barrel. At first, they said they wouldn't be mad if we just came forward and admitted to lighting them.

Danny and I were silent. I was dumbstruck; how did they always know? Why couldn't I just explain?

When promises of understanding didn't draw out any answer, they began to tell us who irresponsible whoever had lit the matches had been. The house could have burned down, and then we'd be homeless. Idle threats. Tell us now, they said, and we promise you won't be in trouble.

I didn't speak. Danny was starting to get angry, asking why they were accusing him. He suggested that it could have been Michael, the brother younger than him. My mother said that it wasn't Michael because he had brought the smell to her attention, and that left Danny and me.

My reason on why I had taken the matches in the first place left my mind. I could see that my father was getting more outraged by the second. He was tired, and he was pissed; a very painful combination.

My father sent my mother to the encyclopedias. He told Danny and I to put our arms out like a human T. My father placed two books on each of our hands. He said we couldn't put our arms down until one of us confessed or told them who had done it. He turned the light off and joined my mother in bed.

At this point, I was furious at how my parents were treating us. I wanted to tell them, tell them everything about why I had taken it, how I was stupid and kids knew it because I couldn't like a match. I wanted to tell them, if I could only have brought those reasons back into my mind. To tell now, anyway, would be worse trouble than before. With nothing to back up my reasons, I didn't say anything. We stayed standing in the middle of the kitchen, our arms jutting out from our sides, a scornful look on Danny's face.

At two o'clock, my mother sent us to bed.

Four hours later- not even enough time to fall asleep and get some rest- my parents searched our rooms for the matches. I knew they wouldn't find them. That was one of the only times I've ever been confident that my parents wouldn't know or find something.

We weren't allowed to come downstairs, or do anything until whoever lit the matches came forward. When I was hungry enough, when I had to pee enough, and when I was bored enough, I told my parents that Danny did it.

They told me I was lying.

After a bit of pointless arguing, I said "Yes. I am." I think I may have argued that I wasn't lying just out of habit. My heart really wasn't in it to lie at that point. I didn't have the functioning ability to properly cover my tracks.

They said "We knew it was you all along."

I was pissed off even more.

They asked me for the matches. I went and got them and was grateful they didn't follow or my hiding spot would have been revealed. They badgered me with rants of how I could have burned down the house, how I was setting a terrible example to the younger children, how they were very disappointed in me.

They asked me what I was thinking when I did it. I said "I don't know." If I had a penny for every time I've said "I don't know" to that same question, I could probably take a friend out to eat and leave a nice big tip.

When I said "I don't know," my parents came back quickly with "Because you weren't thinking. Because you're stupid, right?"

I said yes. What else could I have said?

They told me to go to my room and stay there. I didn't eat that day, though I did get to the bathroom later on.

The next day, they told me to stay outside because they didn't want me being in their house. Danny found me out back. He yelled at me, asked me how I could let him stand there and take the punishment with me when I knew I had lit the matches all along. I'm not sure if I stared at him blankly or gave him some half-assed excuse.

He threw a punch to my stomach. I tried to fight back a bit, but two things made it pointless: he's always been stronger than I have, and I was too weak to be any sort of a fair target. I don't blame Danny for wanting to beat me up, I just don't like the memory of the cocky grin that was plastered on my father's face as he watched from the dining room window.