Truthful lies. That’s what Momma always called ’em. Like, when me and my sisters were little and she would take us to birthday parties, Momma would sit and talk with the other parents, telling them stories about her wonderful husband and his wonderful job. She’d tell them that Daddy’s supervisor had sent him off to Oregon or some other faraway state because they needed him on a big construction deal ’cause he was so good at what he did. And I’d tug on Momma’s skirt and ask why she had just lied to those people, why she couldn’t tell them Daddy was in jail, that he’d made a mistake but would be out soon.
Momma would glance around to make sure no one heard me, and when she was sure, she’d pop me on the arm and spit out quietly, “Hush now, child, them are truthful lies!” Then she’d shoo me off to play with the other children, turning back to the parents with a bright smile, excusing her sending me away by telling them I was just too shy to ask in front of everyone if I could go play. Then she would humor them with clever anecdotes about her husband’s hopelessness with cooking and diaper changing, and have all the women listening intently as she told them “about the time Bill nearly burnt the house down trying to cook me a Valentine’s dinner, the poor darlin’, bless his heart.”
See, that story is only partly true. The house did nearly burn down and it was Valentine’s Day, but Daddy wasn’t tryin’ to cook no dinner when that fire started. He was passed out, drunk, on the couch while Momma went to the grocery store. Our dog, Barnie, knocked over the ashtray and the carpet caught fire. Daddy didn’t even wake up. Luckily, my older sister was able to find a fire extinguisher before too much burned. Daddy just kept on snoring.
But Momma didn’t only tell her truthful lies about my deadbeat daddy. No, when we would go to the bank for her important grown-up meetings, she’d dress us in our decent clothes and we’d sit in an office for what seemed like hours. Momma would tell the man how her husband left her and she was stuck raising three girls on her own. She’d show him pay stubs from a job she didn’t have and paid bills from doctor appointments we never attended.
And she would cry. She would cry big crocodile tears that flowed down her face without the whining and screaming that happened when those sort of tears leaked from me and my sisters’ eyes. She’d beg him for one more chance and he would give it to her, they would always give it to her. I can’t be sure how many extra chances we got, but it was more than our fair share. All because of Momma. We got to keep our house because of Momma and her truthful lies.
It amazed me how fast and seamlessly Momma could lie, sometimes it was hard to keep up. She’d always be tellin’ people about events that never really happened, adorable things I never really said, and money we didn’t really have. And she always had this little thing about her that made people gravitate toward her. Maybe it was the fact that she seemed like such a good woman, and maybe she really was. She just never stopped lying long enough for any of us to find out.
I never really understood Momma and her truthful lies. At first, I just thought they were a fancy excuse she used for lying so much, but then I realized exactly what “truthful lies” were. Truthful lies are things that we want to be true, things we need to tell ourselves are true just to get by. Momma told herself it would be the last time every time she cleaned one of the ugly bruises Daddy caused.
Momma told herself that she had a good job and that she was supporting her children to hide from the fact that she wasn’t, to hide from the fact that she was a lousy mother. Momma didn’t just use her “truthful lies” to fool her friends, she used them to fool herself. She used them to manipulate her own mind until inside it there was almost nothing except what she wanted it to be.
Truthful lies help you live a life that isn’t. Truthful lies let you appear happy and perfect and content to everyone around you, while inside there is only a burning emptiness that no amount of whiskey or drugs can destroy. Truthful lies do and don’t exist, it’s difficult to explain. They just ... are.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the January 2006 Teen Ink Fiction Contest.