by Annabeth Leong
I think I do lying wrong. I'm supposed to do it to make myself look better, I think, massage my history into something smoother and more attractive, like an age-defying wrinkle cream for my past.
Instead, I'm much more likely to make myself look worse. "I used to cut myself," I'll say. Which makes it sound like I did that all the time, like I carried a kit for it around with me like Maggie Gyllenhaal's character in The Secretary. In reality, I did it three times. I understand that's more than most people have tried a thing like that, but it's not the roundup I gave it, from experimental to habitual.
Another one I used to say all the time is, "When I was drinking." The mental image that gives me is of someone who carries a flask around, or maybe someone who makes herself cocktails with breakfast. At the least, it's someone who drinks every night, who gets drunk all the time, who has a serious history of alcohol abuse and its attendant troubles.
What I meant when I used to say that was "the period of time during which I sometimes drank," as opposed to the many years of complete religious abstinence that followed.
I'll keep going on the drinking thing because I used to lie a lot about that. I used to say things like, "When I was drinking, I would do really bad things." Here, "drinking" meant "consuming alcohol in any amount." (A drink or a sip might count). And "really bad things" meant "have sex with people," or "have sex with women," or "have sex in a non-mainstream way."
Obviously, I know sometimes people get drunk and have sex that they regret and might not otherwise have had, but I'm talking about going to a party, having a drink, and starting to make out with the ex-girlfriend I still wanted but was trying to stay away from for reasons neither of us really understood. I'm talking about going home with her because that's what I knew I wanted to do before I even went to that party, having one drink first as an excuse, making love to her, and then feeling bad about what a terrible thing that was to do only because it wasn't acceptable, not because we hadn't wanted to or something bad had happened.
A few years ago, I started to catch myself in this habit. "When I was drinking, I did really messed up things sexually," I said to someone. Then I stopped and remembered beyond the phrase I'd gotten used to saying. What was messed up about that thing I used to do? What do I really regret?
What I regret is that I wouldn't hold her hand in public. I wouldn't kiss her unless we were alone or had an excuse. I wouldn't go home with her without this ritual of being at a party, pretending it was a mistake. I regret that I didn't tell her in the morning how it felt to be with her, how beautiful it was to wake up in her bed, how I always thought about standing together in her shower.
The story is so different from the one I used to tell.
Maybe that's part of what's disturbing about deceit. I can only tell the truth if I know it. I never set out to lie. I used to let my guilt speak for me, make it sound like things I did out of love happened by accident, from corruption. I used to tell myself that so I didn't have to think about what it meant to have loved.
I also still have trouble seeing the truth about myself. I notice all too frequently how my perceptions are out of sync with my actions. Someone told me once that when she met me she thought I must be a terrible person because of the way I talked about myself. She said she kept waiting to find out the dark and ominous secret, the horrible things I had done to certain people, like maybe my ex-husband. And then after knowing me for several years, she said she realized I was just a normal person. Nothing especially horrible there. (In fact, I may be lying again. I think she said something nicer than that, thought I can't remember what).
It's funny. It's my deepest wish to be a good person, but I can't stop making myself sound like I'm bad. One thing I've gotten from my erotic writing, at least, is that I'm clearer now on what I actually think is bad. I'm sexual and kinky, but that's not the same as bad. It's helped a lot to know that, to look back at my life and see that many of my "crimes" were simply curiosity, things that I have no moral objection to at all. Things I'd like to do again.