In Favor of Lying

Every Easter morning we were woke up to the repetitive chiming of our doorbell. My older sister would burst out of bed, tumble down the stairs, and throw open the door to reveal a trail of half-eaten carrots leading down our front walkway. Dodging tiny land mines of poodle poop, we would race to our wooden swing set in the backyard, our hearts pumping with anticipation. On the swing set we would find our booty. The white woven wicker baskets covered in transparent pastel plastic always held the same staples nestled within shredded construction paper: sugar covered marshmallow chicks, candy coated chocolate eggs, multicolor jelly beans, a solid milk chocolate bunny with candy eyes, plastic games, bubbles, flowery stationary, slipper socks, and new pajamas. The Easter Bunny was predictable, but still, he was good to us.

What my sister and I didn’t know during our early youth was that my mother staged the whole thing. She would wake up at seven to finish wrapping our baskets and create the tell-tale path of carrots. The final touch however was the doorbell – she would ring it a couple of times and discreetly slip back into the house through the side door that connects to our garage. My mother created this whole scheme to convince us that the Easter Bunny was real. An entire charade to foster hope in our gullible hearts that magic was within our reach if we would just wake up a little sooner, if we could just run a little faster.

When I was in middle school, my cousin Chrissy came up from Virginia to visit the New York relatives. I had my first taste of rebellion during her stint at my house. With her cherry red pixie hair and black rimmed eyes, Chrissy was the embodiment of the bad girl stereotype depicted in after-school specials. My parents were wary of Chrissy. Years earlier, she had dressed me and my sister up in hoochie clothing and given us full-out makeovers. My mother nearly had a heart attack when Lauren and I came bouncing down the stairs to show off our new look and informed vocabulary. “Look Mommy, I’m a hooker.”

Chrissy was always pulling this kind of thing with us. One summer she stuffed me and Lauren into our locker at the beach and then barred the door. We went hoarse screaming for her to let us out. Later that same summer Lauren tried to stand up to Chrissy’s constant abuse; Chrissy ripped the head off of Lauren’s favorite Barbie doll. Though she tortured and tricked us, we couldn’t help looking up to her. No matter how much shit she put us through, we would still go along with her plans, trying to gain her approval. It wasn’t until we were in high school that Lauren and I started to realize the mind games Chrissy played.

On this particular visit Chrissy actually seemed like she was being nice to us. I watched smoke curl out of her painted lips as she sneaked a cigarette in our garage. She handed the Marlboro Menthol Light to me with a single raise of her eyebrow. My first drag felt as if minty acid was causing my lungs to seize and spasm. As I choked out the smoke, I saw Chrissy laughing through my water-bleared eyes. Laughing at my inescapable preteen eagerness and na’vet?e.

The next time I smoked it was with my best friend Katie. We stole two cigarettes from her Dad’s pack of Marlboros. We couldn’t find a lighter or a match so we lit the cigarettes on the gas stove. I was proud to show off my new blas?e attitude and smoking know-how. We were such little idiots.

I’m not trying to imply that one event ultimately led to the other. Just because my mother lied to me about the Easter Bunny does not mean that I turned hard and decided to pick up a pack-a-day habit. Like every kid I eventually found out that the Easter Bunny wasn’t real (it was the CVS sticker on the bottom of my basket that gave the farce away) but I wasn’t emotionally scarred. Though, it does lead me to wonder: What are the secrets we keep from each other and what are the lies we tell everyday?

When I was young my parents told me a slew of lies. My goldfish Mickey wasn’t in a plastic Ziploc bag in the garage-he had flown to heaven. If you drink milk you’ll never break a bone. We sent our cat Figaro to Florida to live with a lonely elderly couple. The lies they told were meant to protect me. Trying to counsel your child through her first encounter with mortality cannot be easy. My parents were trying to keep intact my fragile innocence. These days innocence seems all the more fleeting due to TV and other technological advances; it’s harder for kids to keep believing in those fantastical myths our parents tell us. But does lying propagate more lying? Am I more likely to lie to my parents because they lied to me when I was young?

I have my fair share of lies that I have told to my parents. That party that I had in eleventh grade. People didn’t just show up, I invited all of them. My first weekend at Colgate, the Hamilton police gave me a citation for possession of alcohol. I used the birthday money from Grandma to pay the fifty-dollar fine. I was at Laura Rich’s party, the one that was busted by the cops and got written up in the local newspaper.

When I look back, the lies I told and secrets I kept seem funny and sort of pointless. My parents probably wouldn’t have been much angrier if they had known the truth, and I probably wouldn’t have gotten into much more trouble. My sister Lauren paved the way for me in some respects. Lauren is a grade ahead of me and as soon as she started doing anything that was worth lying over she started getting caught. Her first big bust was in 9th grade when she decided to steal half a bottle of vodka from my parents and fill the rest of the bottle up with water – as if they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Another brilliant moment was when Lauren carelessly left her purse gaping open on the counter with her pipe inside. That was a fun day. By that point it didn’t seem that I could do anything that would truly faze my parents. But when I am right in the muck of the situation I can’t really help the lies that seem to spill from my lips.

Teetering in Lauren’s garish red prom heels, I took a deep breath and nervously adjusted the plunging neckline of my white dress, a cheap knockoff of the iconic dress Marilyn Monroe wore in The Seven Year Itch. I had been hoping to sneak out before my uncle saw me in this get-up but now that seemed pretty impossible.

“Um, Uncle Myles?”

“Oh hi! Your back, I thought you had left.”

“Yeah well… I decided to stop off at CVS to buy fake eyelashes, you know for my costume? But while I was inside someone must have side swiped my car because when I came outside my rearview mirror had been smacked off. It was just lying there all cracked on the ground. It was just off. There was no note. And it was in Baldwin, a pretty bad neighborhood, so they probably wouldn’t have left a note anyway. What should I do? Do you think my parents will be mad when they get back from the wedding?”

“Well Meg let me look at it. If someone just knocked of your mirror and didn’t leave a note there’s really nothing you can do. It’ll probably cost two hundred bucks to replace.”

“Oh God. Do you think my Dad will be really mad?”

“No, no. There’s nothing you could have done. It isn’t your fault.”

The truth was there had been no mysterious accident. My car hadn’t been side swiped in the parking lot of CVS while I was inside buying fake eyelashes to complete my Marilyn Monroe costume. It was Halloween of my senior year of high school and I was picking up my friend Jess for the party we were going to that night. While I was backing out of Jess’ driveway I knocked my rearview mirror off on a telephone pole. I didn’t tell the truth because I had just gotten my license earlier that month and I didn’t want my parents to take my car away. I also really wanted to go to the Halloween party, so I lied.

Dodging trouble isn’t the only reason we lie – it’s one of the big reasons, but not the only reason. Sometimes we lie simply to be kind, to protect each other. There are the simple white lies we tell our friends to be nice. No, that top is cute! There are the lies we tell ourselves to salvage our fragile egos. I never liked him that much anyway. And then there are the lies we tell to please someone else because we know what they want to hear. Um, he doesn’t like you?! He must be gay.

When I told my parents I was writing an expos?e of sorts on the lies I’ve told I was surprised at their reactions, especially my mother’s. You have to understand, my mother can be very nosy and overly intrusive. At department stores when I’m trying on clothes, she will try to peek through the wooden slates of the dressing room door to try to see what state of dress or undress I am in. Her response to this piece was completely out of character. “Oh God, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. You’re supposed to be the good one”

It got me thinking. Perhaps we lie to each other to keep up that fa?cade that we show to the world. Maybe my parents really don’t want to know some of my dirty details because to them I’m still their baby girl. If this is the case, if my parents really don’t want to know, is lying by omission really all that bad? The lies that I have told allow them to keep that image of me. From the start we are inculcated with the idea that lies are bad. Look at Pinocchio and the Boy Who Cried Wolf – these fables are ingrained in our culture. Yet we still lie and we depend on lies.

At the yearly Christmas party we have at my house, the men of my family take turns dressing up as Santa Claus. They burst through the front door to the jingling of bells with a huge black garbage bag full of presents that they distribute to all the kids. The year my sister was nine and I was seven, my Aunt Maryann got sloshed and decided that she wanted to dress up as Santa. Lauren quickly caught on that it was Aunt Maryann posed as Santa. Apparently Santa’s black stilettos and the fact that his bust was bigger than his belly were dead giveaways. Sadly Lauren’s first encounter with cross dressing completely upended her faith in Santa Claus.

The next year Lauren, out of what I can only presume was bitterness, decided to let me in on her conspiracy theory. Two weeks before Christmas she led me down into the basement and took me into the boiler room, where we store everything from toilet paper to old records to hamster cages. Lauren rooted around behind some paper goods and uncovered four plastic garbage bags. She ripped open the first bag to reveal present upon present, all wrapped in cheerful Christmas wrapping paper. The final blow, however, was the tags on each present. To: Megan. From: Santa.

You would think that after the Easter Bunny myth had been debunked I would have caught on to the pattern of false mythical characters. But for some reason Santa seemed to be an entity entirely different from the Easter Bunny. Maybe it was because our entire culture promotes and reinforces the Santa Clause myth. Santa Clause is everywhere during the holiday season: books, movies, commercials, holiday specials, department stores, even the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Santa just seemed so big, so omnipresent, so infallible. It wasn’t only my parents who were lying to me, society was too.

After the initial shock I confronted my father. I asked him to tell me the truth, was Santa real? My father rambled on about how Santa was real in a sense, how his name was St. Nicholas and that when he died he became the spirit of Christmas: Santa Claus. My dad just couldn’t do it; he couldn’t tell me that there was no Santa. He needed me to believe that though Santa wasn’t who I thought he was, he did exist. Santa wasn’t just some made up character like the Easter Bunny, he wasn’t a lie — and I needed to believe it too.

Is there really a line when it comes to lying? How do we determine which lies are acceptable and which are intolerable? In an attempt to classify and redefine the line we inevitably wander into that misty grey area where exaggerations and half-truths reside. The fact is that we all lie; perhaps the biggest lie we tell is that lies have no place in moral society. If we continue to shove this propaganda down our children’s throats, we are in danger of becoming complete hypocrites. There’s an old saying: “No one wants to meet his maker with a lie on his lips.” Well here’s the truth: I’m a liar. Will this confession grant me damnation or salvation?