The American Association of Liars

by | Apr 9, 2024 | Fiction, Issue Thirty-Eight

My relationship is built on lies.  You hear that, and you probably think, “Oh, he cheated.”  I haven’t cheated.  I almost wish it were that simple.

I’ll explain.

On our first date, she asked me, “So, where did you go to school?”

She looked stunning, in a green turtleneck that brought out the green in her eyes.  She somehow held her fork elegantly. 

I said, “I actually didn’t go to college.”  I did go to college, a state university so unremarkable it embarrassed me to say it.  “I wanted to do something different, really get some experience, so I backpacked through Mongolia.”  I have never been to Mongolia.

I didn’t pre-rehearse this lie.  I hadn’t come to brunch with her intending to lie.

“Wow,” she said, sounding genuinely surprised.  “What was it like?”

A less experienced liar would have been disarmed by this.  Not me.  To sell a lie, you have to sort of believe it a little, and to get into it enough to believe it, you have to get a little bit excited about it.  To whomever you’re talking to, your lie is now reality.  Which means that their reality, at least as it pertains to you, can be whatever you want it to be.

So I told her about the creepy truck driver who nearly killed me while hitchhiking, the sleazy motel with the inexplicable pig abandoned in the bathroom, the indescribable beauty of the mountains kissed by fog, the kindness of the children whose language I couldn’t speak, yet who seemed to speak with their eyes alone.

I don’t know anything about Mongolia, but I correctly assumed she didn’t either, so I could make it sound like I did.  As I spoke, I sort of believed it myself, got hooked on watching her believe I was more interesting than I ever could possibly be, and thought, “Damn.  I thought I got over this when I was a kid.”

In school, I was that kid who always makes things up.  I told people at lunch that I had a twin sister who went to a different school because she was deaf.  That my grandparents had a horse farm (they were a librarian and a hardware store owner, respectively).  That I was adopted, but my parents didn’t know I knew about it yet.  That I had a pet squirrel but had to give it to my cousin when I moved to the city.

Eventually, everyone figured it out, and whenever I talked, the other kids just rolled their eyes.  Teachers warned each other to take whatever I said with a grain of salt.

The initial exhilaration of making people think I was interesting was never worth the isolation it eventually earned me.  And I hadn’t done it in years.

Until that first date, when my impulse to impress her – an actually interesting person, a PhD student who keeps bees and is so divorced from tech she still owns a flip phone – drove me to relapse.  And that’s really what I felt like: I reformed junkie, shuddering with pleasure as I got my longlost fix.

Now, it’s our one year anniversary, and as I watch her read the menu, I’m thinking of the snowball of lies that grew steadily bigger as it rolled from Point A to Point B.  I couldn’t just stop there – if I told her I was an accountant, she’d figure out I needed some adjacent degree.  So I told her I taught English to Hispanic Americans.  I didn’t expect her to be able to speak Spanish, but I knew just enough not to make an ass out of myself. 

If she met my parents or siblings, they’d promptly contradict these lies and express their disappointment that I’d relapsed so heavily and bizarrely.  So I told her I was an only child, basically an orphan.  My father died in a scuba diving accident, and my mother was institutionalized afterwards.  They said it was paranoid schizophrenia, but I knew it was heartbreak.  I used to visit her all the time, but now I can’t withstand the pain of her not being able to recognize me.

It was unexpectedly awkward visiting them afterwards, and being reminded that they were both alive, in their sixties, and healthy as oxen.  They’re not even retired.  Yet I felt like I’d murdered them, at least in the mind of one person.

“Hey, Dad.  Sorry I drowned you in a freak scuba diving accident!”

Obviously, she can’t meet any of my friends, none of whom know of my barely contained mythomania.  I don’t think too many girlfriends are desperate to meet their boyfriend’s buddies anyway, but I’m exhausted by keeping my two lives apart.  By not letting her come to my apartment for fear of her seeing something that contradicts my story.  By all of it.

“Have you decided what you want yet?” she asks.

I have.  I want this to be over.  I never want to have to lie again.

She looks across the table at me.  Beautiful, in a sleeveless red dress that shows her slender shoulders.  The restaurant is fancy, and smells of bread sticks and olive oil.  She smells like perfume.

I inhale.  “I have something to tell you,” I say.

It’s too much to say, too much to explain.  So I’ll end our relationship the way I started it: with a lie.  “I cheated.”

Her eyebrows go up.  She blinks, processing.

I tense up, waiting for anger, more lies – about details, about who and how, appearing unprompted on my tongue.  I’m so used to this.

Then she…deflates, her shoulders lowering as she exhales.  She’s…relieved.

She says, “Me too.”

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