I grew up very poor. My single gay drug-addicted (but well-meaning) father raised three children on around $200 a week, refusing public assistance to the detriment of his family. I lived in an absolute shit-hole. The ceiling had caved in on part of the house, and during the winter, we heated it by using a window fan we’d place behind the stove burners, which would blow heat into the rest of the house that we’d direct by hanging up blankets in the doorways. It wasn’t a very good living situation. I still can’t get over the fact that it never burned down.
However, I didn’t identify well with other socioeconomically disadvantaged people my age. I better identified with the smarter kids, for lack of a better adjective, but they were from better homes, and junior high and high school is a very judgmental place, as many of you probably remember. So, like a lot of people, I guess, I pretended to be someone I really wasn’t. I pretended to be from a better family — I told my friends that my father worked for a newspaper (I didn’t tell them that he delivered newspapers). And I told them that I lived in a nice house, which was situated up the street from mine. I mowed lawns, and wore brand-label clothes from yard sales. Whenever there was a school event, I’d sit in front of that nice house that wasn’t mine and wait for my friends’ parents to pick me up, and afterwards, when they dropped me off, I’d run around to the back and wait for them to leave before I scurried back down the street to the shit-hole I lived in.
I constructed this entire, elaborate second life and I waited, in absolute terror, for it to crash down around me and for all of my friends to disown me. I knew it would eventually have to.
My father knew about my arrangement, and it was a source of a lot of shame for the poor guy. He always insisted that if my friends didn’t like me for who I was, then they weren’t very good friends (he clearly didn’t understand the realities of junior high and high school). I’m not sure how he pulled it off, but on my 16th birthday, he threw a surprise party for me. He found a way to invite my friends to my real house. And when they started walking up my cracked sidewalk, covered in paint, and made their way toward my front door, which was barely hanging on to the hinge, I freaked the fuck out. I felt like a rat trapped in a cage, and I saw my entire high-school life crumbling around me.
But something miraculous happened that day, which was probably the one day I could point to that would alter the course of my life. My friends: They didn’t abandon me. They came inside. They ate stale cake and drank store-brand soda. One of the guys even espied a few cockroaches in my house and laughed in a way that wasn’t malicious. And no one thought it was anything other than cool that my father had Playboy centerfolds plastered all over the walls of our house (I hadn’t yet realized that it was because he was trying to hide his sexuality). It was fun. I think they were a little uncomfortable, and they all made excuses to leave rather quickly. But they never disowned me. Or called me out. They not only forgave the lie, but they accepted the truth. People will surprise you, sometimes.
The point of this lengthy story is this: We all tell lies about ourselves from time to time. We do it on dates. Maybe in job interviews. Some big. Some small. We do it for different reasons, but it’s usually because we want someone else to think we’re not quite the person we are. Maybe it’s to impress someone. Maybe we’re not always entirely proud of who we are, and maybe we’re afraid of revealing ourselves for the real person we are.
So, my question to you, and the topic of today’s comment diversion is this: What’s the biggest lie you ever told? Were you caught? And how did it go down? And be honest: You’re mostly anonymous, so what will it hurt?