By Jen Pastiloff.
Lie to me.
That’s what I might have well have said by saying I don’t look like I gained any weight, right? It’s going to be okay, isn’t it? You are not having sex with anyone else, right?
Tell me what I think I want to hear.
Some people like it straight. They want to be told what is. They want what is and what can be without any embellishments or I will make you feel betters. State the facts, please.
I want to be appeased. Make me believe I am safe.
Recently, I decided that the truth is a much better version of the truth than a lie.
In my late twenties I had this boyfriend, the one who wouldn’t let himself be called “boyfriend”. I loved this not-boyfriend boyfriend . I went on the birth control pill for this not-boyfriend boyfriend. We’d been together a year, albeit a year where I was unsure of my standing with him beyond the fact that I knew I loved him and that he made me feel like I was crazy. Birth control pills meant no more condoms and that made the not-boyfriend boyfriend happy.
The first thing I remember about the garbage bag incident that red wrapper invading me with its plastic face. Everywhere I looked: red. His carpet, red, the inside of my eyelids, red. The (unfortunately for him) clear plastic trash bag had fallen over. Inside, grays and whites of innocent I will not hurt you trash, and then there it was: a Lifestyles condom stuck to a chicken take-out container. Nothing but the torn red of the wrapper visible through the clear plastic trash bag.
Of course I will take out the garbage on my way out.
The significance of images, powerful enough to place two people right there inside my mind, naked on a bed. Maybe they’re in a dark room, the blue glow of the television bobbing on the wall. The woman with him (not me), imagined as perfect and leggy.
And then there he was on top of me. All I could see were red Lifestyle wrappers like sheep jumping fences. Rows of them. One condom, two condom, three…
(Wow, all that work you’re doing, for nothing! All that huffing and grunting
and straining and pushing and pulling and I am not even here with you. I am an eyeball in a trash bag searching for clues of infidelity.)
I am lying to you. I am not here. Only my body is.
But as long as you have my body here, does it matter that you don’t have my mind too?
I wondered how many women lied in this way? Making love to someone with their body
while their mind drifts I’m fat, who else is he having sex with, what can I eat for dinner? I wonder what time the movie starts, do I even love this guy? I wish he would hurry up, why would he want to have sex with anyone but me? Why don’t I satisfy him, Am I not enough? I’m not good enough for him, what’s wrong with me? I’m fat. Shit, I never called my mother back. I have to remember to pay the electric bill., Damn it, is he done yet? I am good enough for him, he’s not good enough for me….. No, not like that, like this! I can’t even say that to him because he will get offended. Maybe I should try being with a woman. No, I couldn’t do that. He is such a selfish lover. I wonder what time it is, I wonder if I could fit into those jeans? Did I shut the stove? What day is it? Do I smell bad? I wonder if he thinks I smell bad? He smells kind of musty. It’s so gross when a guy smells bad. Is he done yet? Man, what is he doing? Does he think he is King Kong? Why does he play so many video games still? What? Is he five? I’m tired, Ouch, that hurts, what is he doing? I wonder if they have a class for men to become better lovers at The Learning Annexx?
His eyes, red burning slits. All I could see was that condom wrapper. Obsessed by a red remnant that was most certainly not my remnant, I couldn’t move. I was that paralyzed with not wanting to know the truth. You love me, right? You love me, right? Right? You love me?
My mind can be made to believe anything.
I’d known this all my life but the trash bag incident finalized it for me. Everywhere I looked I waited to be convinced of I love yous and You’re safes and nothing bad will happens and I am not going anywheres.
My face in his pillow (do I smell another woman? Whose hair is that lying there?) The red wrapper actually turned into a body and that body turned into his body and his body in someone else’s body. Metamorphosis. Isn’t this, the chain of events, absolutely astounding?
How quickly the mind latches on to what it wants to believe is the truth. How little it takes to seal the deal.
You love me, right?
This logical procession of things is survival of the fittest. Except the fittest know how to survive, they know how to dispose of any evidence instead of asking me to pick it up with my own two small trembling fists. The fittest aren’t as stupid as you I thought as I waited to be convinced that the condom wasn’t his, that he didn’t know how it got there, that he swore it, that he loved me and was sorry.
I used to think reality was relative and irrelevant. Tell me what I want to hear. Tell me it wasn’t yours. Make me believe.
Mine, and perhaps yours too, is a mind that filters everything through a vicious process of hypothetical situations, of beautifully formed sentences, of what ifs. Images left in a room of the brain to ferment will create an alternate universe where no matter what time it was with my not-boyfriend the time in my head was a red red world where he was having sex with someone other than me.
You love me, right? It wasn’t yours, right?
That really was the end of the not-relationship although it probably ended before that if I don’t lie to you. Of course he convinced me that it hadn’t been his condom. That it had been old or that it was his cousin’s and I’d nodded and said okay and shook from the I’m going be sick adrenaline in my body but I’d stayed. And I stayed.
And for as much as I wanted him to lie to me to make me feel better in the moment, I’d known the truth all along.
We always know the truth.
If he hadn’t lied, if he’d just said Yes, yes it’s mine and I am sleeping with someone else. Or, aren’t you at least glad I am using protection? I would have had to leave him. The lies gave me permission to stay. They gave me permission to hate myself more. The lies got me off the hook.
I am writing this from an airplane where I get some of my best (read: distraction free) writing done. I just ran into a man on the plane, who, along with his wife, sent me to Atlanta 6 years ago to visit my nephew when he was newborn and in the NICU. There were complications and he was having his little tiny blonde head scanned. He couldn’t eat. He was floppy. I didn’t even know what a floppy baby was back then. He might not survive were words nobody wanted to speak. They’d been my regulars at the restaurant where I’d worked for years. As I walked away with tears streaming down my face to get their Arnold Palmers they’d decided they would send me to Atlanta the next day. You have to be with your family. No discussion will be had. I simply had to say yes, they’d said over turkey sandwiches. And so I did.
Six years ago I went and held my sweet floppy buddy for the first time, once he was released from the hospital in Georgia.
When I walked onto the plane this morning, the husband was on the flight, because you know, the world is really quite small like that. It’s so small that people who did for you the kindest things will pop up on airplanes Houston. He’d tried to jog my memory as if it needed jogging. As if I could ever forget them and what they did for me when I was a destitute waitress with a sick nephew. He kindly asked So, everything turned out okay then? With your nephew?
The lies. The lies when he was born and until he was two years old, when he finally got diagnosed with Prader Willi Syndrome and Autism. The subtle lies. The bold faced ones. To ourselves mainly. He is just taking his time. All babies develop differently. He’s fine.
When of course we knew. But how much safer it felt to be nestled inside a world where there is nothing wrong then thrown out into the wolves and the world of missing chromosomes. The wolves would eat us. Let’s stay safe. The baby’s fine. There is nothing wrong. He is healthy. Swimming with sharks was safer than telling the lies, but what did we know? We were scared, and I, for one, was used to lying to myself. It was not a foreign country. It was home.
I’d said to the kind husband It did turn out there was something. He has a rare genetic disorder. That is actually where I am going now. It’s hard, but he’s doing great. I will never forget what you and your wife did for me back then. I think of you all the time.
We hugged and took a photo together and I thought about how many people have done kind things for me along the way and how many untruths I have told myself about not deserving them.
Watching my friend Emily Rapp deal with the impending death of her baby boy I see how liberating the truth really is.
She could flail her arms and curse God and fate and Tay Sachs. She could tell lies about herself and her luck and what is in store for her (she might do this on occasion, she is a human being, after all) but the truth is what seems to keep her tethered. Without the truth she would float away into You’ll get over its and He’s going to be in a better place and everything happens for a reason.
The truth of what is happening now and now and now.
That is all there is.
She, nor any of us, knows what is going to happen beyond his death and that is the truest true. What keeps her writing and breathing are the sure facts of what is true now and now and now. In the moments her son has a tube in his nose for medication and some fluids. In the moments he sleeps and in the moments he is choking and in the moments she sits down to write when maybe all she wants to do is beat her fist at the sky and scream but she writes anyway.
If you face what is so, you will be the roar that wakes up the sun. You will be the day and the night and then the day again because it is the one thing no one can take away from you. The truth of what is will make you the strongest mountain lion.
The truth will set you free some say. The truth hurts.
I don’t know, I think lies will set you free too. They will unglue you so much that you will have no idea who you are anymore as you float above everyone else with your own set of facts and knowledge. The lies hurt more than the truth but in that slow and painful death kind of way.
The truth hurts too, at times. But, it’s what keeps you knowing this one very important fact: who you are. The fact of who you are in the world.
The truth was that I was a girl who didn’t love herself enough to leave someone who hurt her again and again. The lie was that it was all I deserved. The truth was that my nephew has a chromosome missing and he could possibly eat himself to death if not carefully watched and cared for. The lie was that nothing was wrong. The truth is that Emily loves her son and that yes, he will die. The lie is that anyone knows what that means for her or for him.
We think we are protecting ourselves when we lie to ourselves or when we have someone lie to us. Oh, our sweet unquiet minds, so prone to crave safety. So willing to cling to what is not real, to trade in lovers who don’t love us, missing chromosomes, death.
11 years ago my childhood friend came out to California to visit me after having hiked the Appalachian trail for 6 months by himself. I remember thinking it was the craziest thing I had ever heard, and also being slightly jealous because I knew I didn’t have the balls to do that at the time.
I might have the balls now.
I am the mountain lion.
I have finally been able to turn on the light and invite it in. The Truth, shivering and lonely. And unafraid.
My friend had told me he’d started with a huge backpack and that by the end it was almost empty. All the weight he’d shed during the hike. He said he’d gone to find himself and I remember thinking at the time that I didn’t know any guys that talked like that. Find himself? Find the truth?
I asked him how he’d managed though, at the end, with almost nothing in his pack? Didn’t he need stuff?
Nothing is lost when you dump the untruths. It’s the letting go, the starting out with so much weight and ending up with water and a sleeping bag.
The truth is your sleeping bag. It’s your water.
It’s what carries you the rest of the way from here.
It’s what says Yes, I do love you and I have been here all along. Waiting.
It’s what takes your quivering body lying there in the corner of your kitchen floor and picks it up. It’s what turns you into the strongest mountain lion.
Speak the truth.
You know what? Fuck that.