I know I started this blog with the express purpose of exploring the lies I tell myself, but the truth is… I am compulsively honest.
Or, to be more specific, I am compulsively honest during small talk with complete strangers.
These are the people it should be easiest to tell “little white lies,” but I tell the whole, complete truth to them every time.
A case in point
This afternoon, we spotted a woman and toddler about a block down the sidewalk from our house. Always on the lookout for new “mom-friends” in the neighborhood, I took the baby down to chat.
Her simplest questions were mine-fields:
“Are you a native?”
“How old is your baby?”
“How long have you lived in the neighborhood?”
Living in a city that attracts a constant influx of people from other, more stolid, parts of the country, “Are you native?” is a typical conversation opener. I probably get asked that more often than, “What kind of work do you do?”
I usually respond, vowing to keep it simple: “Yes, I grew up here.”
People are amazed. It’s so unusual to meet somebody who didn’t move here from somewhere else.
Faced with this amazement, I stumble. My compulsive honesty kicks in. I can’t mislead them!
So, I start to blather on: “Well, actually, I’m just sort of a native. My mom was born and raised here, and I have lots of cousins and aunts and uncles all around here, but my dad was in the military so we moved around a lot, and I mostly grew up in Virginia, and we moved back here when I was 12.”
Sometimes, I add in the detail that my parents met at the state university to give myself a little more native cachet.
I manage to leave out the fact that I was actually born in California. And that it wasn’t really California because military bases are federal territory, not part of the state.
I almost always manage to leave out the fact that we moved back here because my dad had died in a military accident. I usually save that for the second conversation.
I have been trying to stick to “yes” since I was 12, but I just can’t do it.
And, no, I never answer, “Do I look like an American Indian to you?”
The question about the baby’s age is another typical conversation opener. That should be simple right? I mean, it’s a number.
This is how it usually goes:
“He’s eighteen months.”
Then I perceive some calculation on their faces. I perceive an evaluation of him in their eyes. A questioning look, like, Why isn’t he walking?
“Well, he was actually born almost seven weeks early. He was a preemie. So, he’s really more like 16 months.”
I have vowed over and over to lie about his age, to just subtract two months, and avoid the whole explanation, but I have never been able to do it.
Usually people just say, “Wow! Well, he’s really made up for that!”
He’s big, and burly, and a little chubby. Maybe when they seem to be evaluating him, they are thinking he looks big for his age. Maybe it’s all in my head.
I project a lot of judgment. It’s hard not to, when you’re a fairly conventional person whose life has turned out to be very unconventional.
“How long have you lived in the neighborhood?” truly elicits an answer that highlights how sordid my life can sound.
The answer is the same as the baby’s age.
He was born the week I moved in.
“My husband has lived here five years, but we got married while I was pregnant, and we tried to take our time moving in together so the kids could get used to the transition. He has two boys and I have a daughter. We’re a blended family. And, well, we decided to remodel the house while I was pregnant so everybody would fit and feel like they had a place, a home… and I couldn’t move in until the remodeling was done…” and so it goes.
I should really learn how to lie.