Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

I have always edited my life.

Usually, it's a minor edit: I'll give myself a line I really WISH I'd said, or enhance a reaction that was a bit murkier than I'll admit to. I'm a writer, after all. Even when I tell stories out loud, rather than on paper, it irks me to have them be dull, or illogical. So I fix them, just a bit. Or sometimes more than just a bit.

Yes, I know the word edit is a euphemism. What I'm really doing is lying. And I do it all the time. I've always done it. I look back sometimes on journals I kept as a teenager or a college student, and I can just tell where the reality and story depart from one another. Well, mostly.

And there's the rub: After a while, the lie becomes the truth, if only because I can no longer remember what the truth was.

Case in point: My sixteenth birthday party. Recently, I had cause to talk with my sister, J, about our no-longer-stepmother, S. She was telling me a story about a time when S smushed an entire piece of cake into J's mouth during a party, and how humiliated J felt. I remarked that I didn't really remember the story in full, but that I had my own, the time when S threw a plate at my head at my sixteenth birthday party. Except, even as I said it, I started to doubt myself. Not that some kind of dishware was thrown in my direction that night--I know it was--but that it was a plate? At my head? I really can't remember any more whether that's true or not.

I know that everything I can think of leading up to that moment is true. It was my Sweet Sixteen party; my father had insisted on throwing me a birthday party, perhaps to make up for all the ones he'd missed over the years. Whatever. In any case, it was a really fun party, if only because my dad was trying so hard to be seen as "cool" by all my high-school friends that he made a champagne punch for all of us. (Yeah, I'm thinkin' that maybe a few of the parents were less than pleased when their underage kids came staggering home that night...not that it would have been the first time for most of them, but it may have been the first time it was sanctioned by a supposed adult.)

Anyway, I'd had more of my share of punch when, after opening gifts, someone called "Speech! Speech!" Thinking I was being awfully clever, I started, "Well, I'd like to thank everyone who made this day possible..." Before I could get out the rest of the sentence, which was "...My mom and dad, who brought me into the world," or something like that, my stepmother laughed and said, "Thank you, thank you," thinking I was talking about the party. I wasn't following her and, still thinking about the rest of my sentence, said, "Well, you had nothing to do with it!" Her face dropped, my stomach dropped, and she went storming off. I sat there, flabbergasted, still not sure what I'd done wrong.

After a while, my dad suggested I go and apologize to S, saying she'd been working for weeks to make this party special for me. S and I didn't get along, I should add, but I did appreciate the fact that she'd made such an effort. So I went upstairs, and went into the kitchen, where she was rinsing dishes and putting them into the dishwasher. Still drunk, I tried to explain about the miscommunication we'd just had, but she was having none of it.

And that's where it gets unclear. I know she turned around and screamed something at me about being an ungrateful brat (or was it bitch?). I know she was holding some just-rinsed object in her hand. I know she tossed it, but was it on the ground? toward me? toward my head? I dunno. And then she went storming out of the house to take a walk to cool down. And that was the last time it was ever even spoken of.

Now, obviously, a spoon thrown down onto the ground would be a much less dramatic story than a plate thrown at my head. And I know that I've always keenly appreciated drama. I also know that when I went back downstairs to the party, I burst into tears, and the plate story was the story I told all my instantly concerned friends. But something makes me think that's not entirely true. Or at least that the intent wasn't there. Or something. But I'll never know. And so, for all eternity, I will posit that my stepmother threw a plate at my head on my sixteenth birthday. And every time I say it, I'll feel a twinge of guilt.

My point? I'm trying my darndest to be truthful here. I've fought myself a few times already when I've wanted to put 'better' words into my mouth, or make some incident I'm describing just that much more compelling. But I'm making no promises. Consider me a repentant, but not-entirely reformed liar, and read on at your own peril.

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