I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Canada on December 4, 1989 to Canadian royalty who already had six sons, three daughters and two dolphins.
According to my mother, this was my first great lie, as told to my first-grade teacher in the form of a biographical report. While I have no recollection of said fib, I am told that it was the cause of a parent-teacher conference and four therapy sessions, the first of which I do remember because when asked to draw a picture of my family, I drew an extra brother and sister. (When the therapist said my parents had only mentioned one brother, I recall telling her that “We just don’t talk about them very much.”) After that, my lies escalated to tales about being lost in African deserts and nearly being eaten by Scar from “The Lion King” or swimming across oceans to escape evil witches, and while I’m not certain that my peers believed me, they were certainly entertained. Reality seemed boring in a way that was neither practical nor necessary as it was quite possible to invent my own world. My philosophy was only confirmed when I met Mary Beth.
Mary Beth was a legend in her own right. Her antics were infamous, particularly one incident in which she pulled a fire alarm to alert the school to the presence of Russian spies. Compared to Mary Beth I was small potatoes, a fact of which I was well aware. So, when it came time to enter third grade, I found myself dreading the possibility that she would be in my class, as her presence would surely take away from my coveted limelight.
To my horror, my fears came true. There she was, standing in front of the teacher explaining that she was really only seven but had skipped two grades because she had scored at the genius level on her kindergarten reading tests. She spoke so convincingly that had my best friend Rachel not gone to her ninth birthday party a week before, I would have believed her, too. See, Mary Beth wasn’t just a liar, she was an actress. Later, she was my best friend.
Our alliance didn’t happen right away; Mary Beth and I were quite skeptical of each other. In fact, we stuck to our own group of girls like glue so that the other would not be able to “friend steal.” But we were destined, I think, to be associates, and slowly we let our guards down. We started to plan elaborate acts together, usually involving some deathly stomach illness we both suddenly came down with that required rolling on the floor in pain, or great mysteries where pencils would disappear and miraculously turn up buried in the soil of potted plants. The subject of many disciplinary meetings, we were too young and rebellious to care. We were like twins separated at birth and sometimes that was what we told people.
Our separation came in the form of an ambulance the summer before fifth grade. I was being forced to practice the piano when I got a call from a friend who lived on Mary Beth’s street. She said a lot of police cars were in front of Mary Beth’s house and that someone had been loaded into an ambulance. I asked if she thought Mary Beth had finally tripped on her roller skates and broken a bone or something, but she wasn’t sure and told me she’d call later, but I didn’t hear from her. By the next day, everybody knew what had happened.
At first I didn’t understand. The adults kept throwing around the words “domestic abuse” but no one was keen on explaining them to me. Then I heard my mom telling my dad that Mary Beth’s father had thrown her mother down a flight of stairs and it wasn’t the first time.
This changed everything; now we were different. And in the weeks that followed, when her father moved away and her mother was recovering, I tried to support her in the limited way a 10-year-old can, but I couldn’t. Her situation was too foreign. By the time she moved to her grandmother’s in Texas, we were barely speaking. It’s one of my greatest regrets.
When I was ten I didn’t understand a lot of things, and maybe I still don’t, but I did get this: Mary Beth lied because she was afraid of her life. I lied because I was bored with mine. After that it seemed as though I didn’t deserve to tell lies. I didn’t have a reason to, everything in my life was perfect by comparison. And so it was that in some strange way, Mary Beth gave me my honesty. I only wish that I could have given her something in return.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the January 2006 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.