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I am a liar. Even on my deathbed as they fuss over me. They ask me if I need anything, if they can make me more comfortable. I tell them I’m fine. I lie. Lies are beautiful. They are like flowers. From the seed, you know not what they’ll become; they seem innocent and small. Over time, they begin to sprout along with weeds, trailed by the inevitable—a tangled indiscernible mess. You don’t want to reach for the weed, but pull the flower. Then you are left with messy dandelions that, when the wind is right, will release their seeds—their secrets. As a child, you are fed herbicide by your parents, taught to attack the weeds that grow around you. But what about those of us with no parents? The pathological bunch, constantly cast under society’s frowns, the ones whose parents died tragically. Most end up in prison, but the smart ones become like me: Beautiful Liars.
Every town has a secret. I am their suppressed secret. The man who draws them in, and suffocates them, confusing them, rewiring their brains with lies and letting them free with a new high—a skill I have spent my life sculpting and perfecting. At first a raging lunatic, I killed with my lies. I led people into my world, showed them the sights and took them places, eventually leaving them there—lost in my lies and their new world.
People are fascinating creatures. They give their trust away too easily and become quickly confused. They are naïve and desperate for relationships. With a child, a spouse, the fluffy squirrel who eats the birdseed, anyone they can claim knowing, makes them feel superior. They crave that falsified love, a hideous and deceiving façade.
Maybe I was born pathological, maybe it was a skill required and subconsciously honed. It’s too close to call. I watched my parents die of malnutrition during an economic crisis. I saw my mother become skeletal; her frame protruded through her ragged clothes. Her hair grayed prematurely along with the skin under her almost hollow eyes. Finally, my father could only prop up her head so she could eat what little food he could find her.
My father walked the streets all day, looking for scraps in higher income neighborhoods. A brave man, he ignored disdainful looks as he rummaged through their garbage cans. In an effort to protect their neighborhoods of the scavengers, one recommended the soup kitchen. My father stood in line for hours, smelling like the bitter fish that he scraped around in the garbage cans for, only to be told he could only take enough for himself. They didn’t care he needed to provide for a starving wife and son. My father selflessly made that trip nine times a day, determined to give us each three meals. Then six times a day, as one less person needed food. Soon I was making that trip three times a day, two less mouths to feed.
As the years went on, truth slipped further from my life. I lied to teachers, creating artful stories about my ancestors and life. I told my schoolmates I still had parents, but they were never seen because they let me do as I pleased. Lies like these sent me into an ecstasy that I craved all the time. I wanted to know that I could say something that people believed wholeheartedly; I wanted to know that I controlled their thoughts and altered the way their brains worked. With every sentence I spoke, the weeds rose around me. I dragged them in, as the weeds surrounding us caught at their feet, but they were too distracted to notice. By the time I had reached my halfway mark in school, my first garden of weeds was thriving.
When I was a late teenager, the schools were segregated, Jews and Germans. I was a German. My father had dark curls, but I took after my mother’s Aryan features; my ticket to life in the mists of the war to come.
As the war progressed, large men in shiny black boots visited our classrooms after school to escort the privileged few to afterschool lessons. These consisted of a series of commands and stories we would repeat back to the men, in our orderly formation. I excelled in these classes; I was a natural liar—even to myself.
When we were assessed through a brutal selection process on what we had learned, I ranked highest. The men in shiny boots were impressed and asked me to repeat my lines to larger and larger herds of their kind. By the end of the week, I was one of them. One pair of reflective shoes followed another. My jobs were simple at first: look out for the brown curls and yellow star; if you saw on—yell. As I grew in rank, so did the tasks. When I was twenty-two, I was sent to Bergen-Belsen to help unload the deliveries we received daily. I saw women crying and children screaming as they were shaved and tattooed. My solution was to lie—lie to the prisoners and to myself. My guilt soothed, their fear hushed.
I told the deliveries, the showers would relax their tight muscles. It was true, sickly and morbidly true. I believed myself, and many of them did too.
One day, I was encouraged to put on a mask and peer through the shafts of a communal shower house, to see the great work of our kind. That day, I almost passed out. Not from toxic fumes creeping into the purses of my old mask, but from my lies I saw scattered before me. My second garden was planted, and this time I was caught amongst the tangled weeds.
That night, I sat in the guard tower with my searchlight scanning over barbwire fences and shallow shacks. I saw an emaciated woman with her wiry son, scampering toward a hole in the waste-filled soil. I watched in curiosity, trying to decide whether to yell now or see how far the boney pair could make it. They reappeared on the other side of the fence almost ten minutes later. Stumbling over her feet, the woman guided the dirty boy, occasionally glancing over her shoulder. I could smell her acrid, sweaty fear.
“Halt!” a strong voice rang from behind me. At that moment, I knew it was time to create my own brand of herbicide—one to save the woman and her son, and one to save my soul.