“I don’t lie,” I simply state.
My husband raises an eyebrow.
“Somebody scratched the car.”
“It wasn’t me, if it was I would just tell you.”
He mumbles something and heads for the couch to watch sport.
I feel guilty about the car. I know I didn’t scratch it, but I still feel embarrassed.
It’s the same unjustified shame I feel when I’m at the supermarket and I hear that static accusing voice, “Security, isle four”. Is that my isle? Do they think I’m going to steal the tin tomatoes I’ve been deliberating over? I know there is no reason to think they mean me, I know its just paranoia. But still I quickly put the tin in my trolley and get out of that isle.
Once, when I was twelve, and so desperate to belong to that elusive cluster of cool girls, I was dared by one of them to shoplift. The girl, Brooke or Carrie or some other fashionable name of the eighties, picked up an item and blatantly put it in her bag. It was a ridiculous thing: A packet of giant balloons.
I did the deed with less flair than the Brooke or Carrie or other, but as we walked out I performed a feet that took more courage and skill than lifting. I slipped the packet back without Brooke/Carrie noticing.
If I’d taken the balloons I would have experienced that rush of fear that teens crave, the heart pounding moments as you head for the safety of the exit. The difference for me is that I would have kept that fear when I got home (and for a long time after). What if my mother found them in my bag, or under my bed? What if the store manager grabbed me next time I was in the shop? Or the next time? Or the next? The balloons would have chanted threats to me forever.
I knew this. I saw it all the moment my fingers grazed the plastic wrapper. It’s not that I didn’t have the ‘guts’ to walk out the door with them, I just didn’t have enough courage to live with the anxiety of waiting to be caught.
That’s why I need to convince my husband I’m not lying. I would rather be branded a bad driver for life, than be thought to be a liar. I consider a false confession, but then that would be an admission of lying earlier. I have only one choice. I tell him why I don’t lie.
My confession is probably the most embarrassing self-inflicted ordeal of my past. No, I didn’t sleep with his brother, I wasn’t once a man and I’m not hooked on hard drugs. This I did when I was nine.
Longing for anything to interrupt a particularly boring day in class, I was pleased when a note distracted me from teacher’s blah blah blah. My best friend asking about approaching holidays. We shuffled scribble back and forth until I guess she got tired with that activity and decided to return to blah blah land. Needing something big to write to get things going again (like Dr Seuss’ Grinch, I had a wonderful, awful idea!), I told a lie. I wrote that I was moving from Sydney to Brisbane to live with my Dad.
What a lark I thought as I pushed it over.
A lark until she cried.
Not just tears - big loud hiccuppy sobs. The teacher rushed to her, comforted and eventually found the note. All kids were looking at my friend, except me. I stared straight-ahead waiting for the apocalypse to begin.
The teacher called me up and asked if it was true, and this is the worse moment. The moment I mentally recall and try to press the Microsoft ‘undo’ button. I said yes. From there it was an avalanche, starting with a tiny drop of snow and with increasing speed building up to something that was going to wipe out my existence.
Teacher was unhelpfully caring and organized a going away party for me that week. We had to bring snacks. I told mum it was for a new girl. It was the least fun party I had ever been too. And it wasn’t just my class that knew. Suddenly I emerged from invisibility to celebrity status. Every kid wanted to know what kind of things were in Queensland, would I write to them, could I take my dog?
Days passed and I thought the incident might just fade away. Perhaps my buddy would forgive me once she realized I wasn’t going anywhere. Teacher might stop looking at me with pity (I was actually starting to miss her usual stern gaze). Just bide my time.
Of course it could never be that easy, and my mother was summoned to the school to fill out the necessary paper work for my transfer. As a single working mum she was not too pleased at having to take time off for my charade.
That’s when the awful moment of being found out comes. And it doesn’t happen the way you think it will, you don’t jump out and yell ‘tricked ya!’ and everybody laughs. No one laughed. I can’t even say how they looked at me because I’m pretty sure I would have been staring pleadingly at my shoes for help.
I’d love to say that was it, my one harsh lesson that turned me around for good. Truth is there would have been a few more incidents along the pathway to here, but I always got caught. Not always straightaway (which is much kinder), sometimes I would live skittishly waiting for it. But it always came. Slowly I discovered an amazing power. Confession.
Tell all straight away and it’s like the Band-Aid ripping off quickly. Sharp short pain. But hide the truth and eventually it finds you and the humiliation can last forever, plus whatever you’ve hidden under your Band-Aid has festered for lack of air.
I’m not sure that my story convinced him or you for that matter. As believable this tale might be of my quest for honesty, if I have a packet of giant balloons lurking in my top drawer, then you’d have reason to doubt me.