Feb 11, 2018

Lying to Myself

I have always been somewhat less than impressed with my ability to lie to myself. Other people seem to do it really well, but I can never quite get it down.  It’s actually very disappointing that I’m not better at lying to myself because I have a really active imagination. I was able to convince my entire first grade class, their parents and our teacher that gypsies had kidnapped my father, which was why he was, you know, mysteriously not around. Why hasn’t this skill translated somehow to dishonesty so that I could actually profit from my natural talents?
Granted, I faced some general fallout about the whole kidnapping thing when my mother flatly denied it in a series of awkward phone calls.  After that, whenever I told anyone anything it was double and triple checked with the teacher, or my mother. Which was too bad, because generally I was a brutally honest kid, and I wasn’t trying to lie for attention. I just lived in a fantasy world of my own making. Even when I was found out, I never bothered denying the truth. I didn’t need people to believe me, I was simply answering a question creatively – to spice things up!  Yes, some of those answers were only possible in alternate, comic-book-based realities but I never let little things like the real world hold me down.
Once I was in some support group session thing for kids of divorcées or “broken” families, a term I vaguely remember being used. They would sit everyone down in these two concentric circles, one inner and one outer, and the inner one would talk while the outer one observed. I don’t actually recall that much about it except that they tried to get you to talk about your missing parent in front of the other kids, who cried sometimes when they spoke about their own parents, which I didn’t really get but tried to respect anyway. I had been warned in advance against a retelling of the kidnapping gypsies story, so I felt like I had to make up something new, which I don’t think anyone appreciated. Someone told me to “Just say the truth.”
But the truth was this gaping foggy circular thing that I didn’t understand and barely noticed inside my own head.  I didn’t have the words or life experience to talk about it, since it wasn’t visible and only really seemed to exist in this imaginary place somewhere behind my eyes. Mini-memories or details that I had forgotten about would occasionally float up out of it, but there was no pause button for me to stop and examine those.  I continued growing up and every day that black hole was a little deeper in my mind behind all these other, way more immediate aspects of my life.
I didn’t get that I was supposed to talk about that feeling of something important fading away. I just didn’t understand that the whole point of gathering in those groups together was to open up, because I wasn’t very good at opening up. I never have been, actually, but at that particular time in my life it never even occurred to me that I should speak about myself in front of a group of strangers.
I’ve said this before: I’d like to think of myself as a misunderstood child but I don’t really think I was that misunderstood. I was the one misunderstanding.
 I had seen a movie about a little girl, Madeline, and at one point she and her friends are nearly kidnapped by gypsies. The gypsies in the movie were dark and looked Middle Eastern, and reminded me of my dad, who was dark and Middle Eastern, and missing.  At school, people asked questions about my dad or my friends didn’t like it when their dads paid attention to me because I was supposed to have my own, so naturally I thought that this dangling plot line in my life could be tied up neatly, and in a way that also explained why we had no money (the ransom, you see). 
It was explained to me in several different ways and by several different people that I couldn’t keep telling the story about the gypsies kidnapping my father because (1) I was terrifying my classmates, (2) it was a Lie and Lies Are Bad, and (3) I didn’t want to be a Liar, did I? Then I was told the story about the Boy Who Cried Wolf, who was liar.
At one point, I think I asked the teacher who told me this story if she knew where my father was. And, of course, she was like, “No.”  So I was like, “Neither do I, no one knows where he is, he could have been kidnapped.”  I tried to argue that since we had no proof he hadn’t been kidnapped by gypsies and the teacher didn’t know where he was, I wasn’t a Liar, per se.
Honestly, even if I had been lying for attention, a theory of my teacher’s, I really wouldn’t have been asking for this kind of attention and scrutiny. In fact, I was the kind of child that thrived on inattention. I didn’t want anyone to notice I had the entire classroom’s collection of scissors in my desk, as well as several rolls of tape. I had worked hard to get them there in secret and had no interest in exposing myself as the reason why we had to borrow scissors from Across The Hall. The same went for when I decided art time should be all the time and that my artistic medium of choice was clear tape, or when I failed to do a single homework assignment for the entire first grade year (twice, by the way, I repeated first grade and didn’t complete a single homework assignment the second time either), or that I actually spent most of my time staring off into space. I didn’t want these things to be noticed, I wanted to keep on quietly doing my own thing, and mostly I got away with it because I wasn’t a behavior problem.
I didn’t really enjoy interacting with teachers because often times I felt like they were trying to trick me into doing something I didn’t want to do.  Also, another aspect that played a large role in my instinctive need to fly under the radar, was that I didn’t know how to read and wasn’t learning. I could barely recognize letters. I was pretty successful at hiding this right up until third grade, when people started to notice, thanks to damn standardized testing. At least we have Betsy DeVos to change everything up these days. No unwilling, impoverished dyslexic kids are going to learn how to read on her watch.
 I didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that I couldn’t read at all. What I could do really well was remember, word for word, what someone else had read out loud, and repeat it exactly, while staring into the same book they had held. I did this in front of multiple teachers, for years, and I was quite good at acting like I could read, until suddenly I had to answer written questions about a written paragraph.  I couldn’t read the paragraph, I couldn’t read the questions, I had no idea which answer was which. I stared blankly off into space every day for a week during that testing period and turned in every single answer sheet blank. There was even this big confusion about the teachers having misplaced my answer sheet because I hadn’t written my name on it. I stayed silent during that whole inquisition. Even when they gave me a new answer sheet and told me to write my name and use it until they found the old one, I didn’t write my name.  I had no idea how to write my name.  I had no idea what was going on in class, and in first and second grade, at least, I didn’t really think I was missing much.
Now that I’m an adult and answer to no one but myself, it turns out that I am really really bad at lying to myself.
For the holidays, I had to prepare myself to talk to relatives about what I’m doing with my life. I even semi-planned what I was going to say, coaching myself over the blatant false statements and wishful thinking. I thought I was ready. Then, when I was actually asked a question about my life, I replied with, “I don’t know,” because at the last minute I was suddenly ashamed of what I had planned on saying and had somehow forgotten the real answer.
Donald Trump constantly amazes me with his ability to lie to himself. He takes dishonesty and self-deception to new levels every day.  I can only imagine the kind of childhood filled with undiagnosed disorders and syndromes that it takes to make someone like him. If only we were all as good at lying to ourselves as he is at lying to himself. Then we could all be successful in whatever endeavor we chose to pursue, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. 

The moral of this story? Elementary school teachers are fascists.