Like George Washington, Alissa could not tell a lie, even as a child. Backed into a corner with her mother’s finger waving two inches from her nose, only the truth, however damning, came out. Questions like, “Who made this mess?” or, “What’s all the screaming about?” always elicited a truthful if reluctant response. It wouldn’t have been so bad had she only confessed to her own sins, but as often as not she helplessly ratted out a playmate or a sibling. Even at a young age, she realized this was not the path to a peaceful life. How she envied those who spread lies like oil slicks over the choppy seas of life.
Time and maturity did not cure what Alissa thought of as her truthfulness disability. She dreaded questions like, “Do these pants make me look fat?” Or worse yet, “What do you honestly think of my new boyfriend?” Try as she might to equivocate, her honest brown eyes gave her away.
When she met the man she would marry, Alissa relaxed in the belief that she had found someone who truly understood and accepted her as she was. So she was totally unprepared for the discovery early in their marriage that her new husband was a nonchalant liar.
“Little white lies,” he called them, “just ways to grease the wheels of social interaction.”
She shivered the first time he said, “I need you to lie for me.”
“What about?” she asked in trepidation. “You know I’m not good at lying.”
“Just a fib,” Mike assured her. “No big deal. Harmless, really.”
“If it’s no big deal, why don’t you just tell the truth?”
“Look, it’s complicated. You know when I left last Thursday and was gone all weekend…on a business trip?”
“So if anybody asks, like someone I work with or my boss, you just tell them you were sick and I took some time off to take care of you.”
“Wait, what? Where were you? Did you lie to me?”
“No, well, not exactly. I did call on a client in Palm Beach, and then I went to Kent’s bachelor weekend.”
“You knew I was afraid of what could happen at that wild party!”
“Exactly. That’s why I didn’t tell you. You didn’t have to worry about me all weekend, and I didn’t disappoint Kent. Win-win.”
“If you were so determined to go, why not just take a couple of vacation days? That would eliminate one lie, at least,” Alissa said.
“I don’t have any vacation days left this year. Used ‘em all on our honeymoon. But taking a couple of sick days for my new wife – totally acceptable. So you see? It’s just easier to tell a little white lie, and no one gets hurt.”
“And you get to do as you please,” Alyssa said. “How convenient.” She wondered what else he “didn’t exactly” lie to her about.
As the years passed, Mike’s lies became a commonplace thing in their lives. Alissa’s attempts at covering for him were so clumsy and transparent that she only made things worse. Finally, he left her out of his deceptions, which meant that she, too, was deceived.
“Wouldn’t it be easier, less stressful, to tell the truth?” she asked him after one of her inadvertent exposures. “You wouldn’t have so much to remember, and neither would I.”
“You’re a child.” Mike’s voice was filled with scorn. “You have no idea how the real world works. If you didn’t have me to take care of you, you’d be cut down like a weed.” He sounded like he thought she deserved it.
Alissa told herself to stop trying to change him and accept him as he was, but it was exhausting. As the years passed, she felt tired to her bones. She thought of leaving.
She’d read advice columnists who said you should ask yourself, are you better off with him or without him? Alissa examined that idea dispassionately. She was by now fifty-five years of age and had not held a job since her marriage. Mike earned a comfortable income for one family, but not enough for two households. There was money in the bank, but not enough to support two retirements. Alissa could count on no more than her share of his Social Security in her old age, which wasn’t that far off. Clear-eyed, she assessed her options and decided she was better off staying.
She had her own little world and she retreated into it. There were compensations, she told herself; there were friends and books and music – plenty of things she enjoyed doing alone. So what if she wasn’t living love’s young dream. Who, at her age, was?
Eventually – and it took a while – Mike noticed her withdrawal. “Is anything wrong?” he asked.
Her smile never reached her eyes, but Mike didn’t notice. “Of course not,” she said.
It was her first successful lie.