Monday, July 26, 2010

Oh, the Lies....

All my life, my mother has lied.

Not a big deal, you think. Everyone lies.

That's true, I suppose. But with my mother, the lying was quite hearty. Lies formed (and still do) a big and essential part of her life.

I became aware of my mother's lying as a lifestyle many years ago. She lied about her relationships with her children and her husband, about where she kept things or their state of being, and about her kids' jobs and marital status.

And I grew to easily spot the tell-tale signs of her fibbing. She'd blithely emit the lie with no problem, but if pressed, even once, she'd falter, tripping on her treacherous words, and most telling of all, losing eye contact. In fact, she'd get positively shifty-eyed, her orbital aerobics quite hilarious as her mind darted for explanations.

As I became a young adult, her lying began to wear on me, especially when she'd insist I help keep her fibs a secret, or even more so, that I join in the lying with her.

"Delia is a lawyer," she announced to her fellow condo dwellers one time, as we traveled upwards toward her place on the 15th floor.

"Really!" they cooed excitedly, eyeing me with obvious respect. "With what firm do you practice?"

I turned pink with embarrassment, mumbling incoherently, not wanting to out-right contradict my mother, but refusing to enforce the untruth. I had in fact obtained a law degree, but quit law after two tortuous years of practice. Then, I'd returned to university for a journalism degree, and was happily dedicating my career to reporting.

My mother just couldn't get over this fact. I had ruined her triumvirate: a doctor, a teacher and a lawyer as offspring. My being a TV reporter just didn't fit in with her vision of professionalism.

"Why do you keep saying things like that Mother?" I fumed at her once we found privacy. "I am not going to keep nodding my head if you do it again. What was I supposed to do, make up the name of a firm?"

She poo-pooed at my disapproval.

"You ARE a lawyer," she insisted. I knew she understood that having a degree and actually practicing were two different things. But she wanted to brag about it, and nothing I could say would stop her.

And so she went on lying about what I did for a living, to whom I was married (I'd married at 25 and quickly divorced. I remarried two years later), and she made up a whopper to explain why my brother didn't attend my second wedding.

She lied about food: where it was (she'd hide it in incongruous places when I was still living at home with her, so she could have certain treats all to herself) or if she even had any.

She lied about various possessions when my brother visited with his children: obsessively worried that the kids would break our precious items - things like my father's tackle box, for example - she'd squirrel them away (or make me do it) then pretend ignorance when asked to locate them, or make up some fairy tale to explain why we couldn't find the items in question.

My father, I believe, couldn't have cared less whether his grandchildren used his tackle box, but my mother was determined to maintain absolute control.

It got to the point where I couldn't keep track of the number of different stories she'd told relatives and acquaintances about various things, events or people she found embarrassing or not as she wished them to be. It was dizzying. I have no idea how she remembered what she'd told whom.

I finally put my foot down at about age 27, and refused to ever cover up her lies again. This annoyed and embarrassed her. It still annoys her, but no longer embarrasses her because she eventually learned that I would not actively back her up in her falsehoods to other people, and that I'd openly contradict her if she lied about me. And so she stopped trying to pull me into her web.

One of the hugest disappointments to her in this regard was my eventual refusal to lie about my father's suicide.

He died when I was 17, and to her, the manner of death was unforgivable and of mortifying shame.

She immediately embarked on a mission of mistruth.

The death certificate read "accidental death," after she wheedled and whined to the coroner.

The lying continued through the funeral, to all neighbors and friends who inquired, and even extended to my nephew and niece, who only learned as much older adults exactly how their grandfather died.

She expected, with no discussion, that I'd immediately fall into step with her in this mission. I was miserable, grieving, and yet embarrassed by the lies that slipped so easily off her tongue. I remained silent wherever possible, and died a thousand deaths, so-to-speak, when she put me into the position of having to affirm her tales about how my father "accidentally" offed himself.

She was horrified and baffled when I finally stopped supporting her, and instead began speaking openly and calmly about his suicide, if asked.

I'd never thought about my mother's lying as a generational trait, as I sometimes do when thinking of women's habits, women of a certain age. But lately, it's become my pet theory.

Is it a generational thing? Was it more acceptable, even encouraged, from and of our mothers and grandmothers? Have you ever noticed how women are oft depicted as liars in older movies. This depiction is commonly slanted as "charming" or of no consequence. Just little white lies.

In fact, it seems women were not just expected, but also rewarded for lying and then wheedling, or best yet, crying, to get out of their predicaments.

My mother still proudly (and I use that word deliberately: she is clearly proud and delighted to keep telling the story) describes the time, as a young women, when she got a parking ticket. She'd left the car illegally parked. She knew she'd done it, and for no good reason other than convenience.

Still, when caught and ticketed, she first tried to lie her way out of it, and failing to get sympathy by that route, she cried. Sally is always most tickled to tell her story's punch-line: the police officer was overwhelmed by her tears, and tore up the ticket. She positively glows when delivering the climax to her tale.

That such a tiny, unimportant event still lives on so strongly in my mother's mind, tells me something. I've heard that story a million times if I've heard it once. It's top of mind for my mother, and she can't wait to pull it out for anyone who'll pause long enough to listen. And she always tells it the same way, coyly rolling her eyes and giggling like a school girl, nudging her audience along as she regales them and makes absolutely sure they understand how she lied, then cried, then was rewarded.

It's bizarre. Of all the experiences my mother must have had through her long, long life, this is one that most-often comes up.

Well, you may ask at this point, why do you write about this topic of lying, today?

Because I was reminded about lying, and my generational theory, the other day when Anthony's mother called and left a message.

Doris: "Uh, Anthony, I just wanted to tell you to not bother picking me up for lunch today. I have such an awful cold, I can't even get out of bed. So forget about lunch."

She had no cold. She just didn't want to go for lunch with the particular people Anthony'd invited along.

Doris forgets that every time she wants to get out of something, she uses that same lie: the awful cold, the one that conveniently comes on over night to arrive full-blown and debilitating on the very day of the unwanted activity. She's used it every time the social worker schedules a visit, or when Anthony gently urges her to get out of the house for some normal activities, about which she's hostile and paranoid.

If you believed Doris' "cold" excuse, you'd think she'd had a dozen colds this past 6 months, the last three apparently of the vicious summer cold variety.

The sad part is, she doesn't even make any effort to dress the lies so as to seem like truth. Of course, with Doris, the lies are becoming the truth, and vice-versa, so I shouldn't be surprised, I suppose.

The other things Doris and Sally have in common, is that Doris, too, will bring on the tears when she wants to get her way. It's common for us to discover her teary phone messages, pleading for Anthony to solve whatever dilemma she's gotten herself into.

But finally, if the tears don't work, Doris, just like Sally, will go along and solve her own problems, capably, appropriately, even with speed and efficient effectiveness. Easily.

But not quite so easily as lying and crying, one supposes, which remain the default modes for these women.

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