If we're being honest

by Brianne Benness

I have this problem where I lie a lot. Not about anything important, or certainly not about anything that seems important at the time. I just don’t want to make anybody uncomfortable.

This manifests in the most benign ways. Once, in high school, I missed this experiment where we had to dissect a rose in science class. I had this idea that there weren’t any more roses available at the science dispensary, so I had my stepdad buy me a flower at the grocery store one night. When I brought it to class the next day to conduct my makeup experiment, the teacher commented that I hadn’t needed to do that, the school would have found a flower for me. I didn’t want her to think that I had gone out of my way, so I lied. I told her that it was from a bouquet at our house, or from our garden, or some other explanation for my preexisting ownership of this rose that I was about to dissect.

I have an alarming memory for details. I don’t want anybody to feel self conscious, or perhaps like I’m a touch obsessed with them, so I regularly lie about having heard stories before. Whether it’s the second or the fifth time that you’ve told me about your childhood pet, or your third grade teacher, or that hostel you stayed at in Budapest, if you want to believe it’s the first time then so will I.

In college I was kicked out of a bar for the face that I made at the bartender. I think I might have smirked at him in a way that a more confident man would have interpreted as flirtatious. The next time somebody from my table went up to the bar to order a drink, he was turned away. “We aren’t serving your table,” they told him and then suggested that I keep my attitude in check. We were asked to leave shortly thereafter. Months later in the Walmart parking lot, that same bartender would catcall my friend and me, so perhaps the joke was on him? Now when I meet new people, I tell them that my over-the-top facial expressions are beyond my control, that they don’t necessarily reflect what I’m thinking or feeling. I don’ t want them to mistake a benign look for a malignant one, so I lie.

The thing about regularly lying to protect other people is that you start to believe yourself. You start to believe that your expressive face, or your detailed memory, or the fact that you’ll go out of your way to get something done are too heavy a burden to lay on another person. You start to believe that you are fundamentally too much.

And if these traits — these benign traits that you can’t or won’t or don’t want to change — make you too much, then what will you be when you are keeping a secret with real weight?

I have this problem where I lie a lot. Not about anything important, or certainly not about anything that seems important to reveal. I just don’t want to make anybody uncomfortable.

This manifests in the loneliest ways. In college, I couldn’t imagine how many people were silently struggling with grief. When I got to a point where I could casually discuss my mother’s cancer and remission, there was always somebody present who had silently been through the same thing. We hadn’t wanted anybody to mistake our pain for weakness, so we’d lied. After my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the boy I was dating fell asleep while I was wracked with sobs in the bed beside him. The fact that he wouldn’t wake up confirmed that this was far too much to lay on another person.

I have been taken down by grief. When each of my parents were sick, I didn’t know who to tell or how to tell them. When I went home to drive my mother to chemo, or later for my father’s funeral, I was profoundly conscious of my perceived etiquette breach when I disclosed to professors while seeking special treatment.

I haven’t spoken to my mother in over a year, and have not wanted to speak to her in over four. When distant family members ask how she’s been doing since her move across the continent, I lie. How is she adjusting? Well. She must love being a grandmother! Without a doubt. Is she working yet? She’s sorting out some licensing issues. I don’t want to surprise them with my concerns about her mental health or put them in the middle of the conflict between her, my sister and myself. I tell them that we’re all busy, that we rarely find time to talk. In this two-for-one bargain, I lose a chance at an honest relationship with my mother and with any family member who may know and care about us both.

The thing about regularly lying to protect other people is that you start to believe yourself. You start to believe that your family, or your mental health, or your grief is too heavy a burden to lay on another person. You start to believe that your life has become too much.

I’m starting to think that there’s no such thing as too much, not really. I’ll let you know how that goes.