If I told you the story about how I became a compulsive liar, would you believe me? Just for kicks, I’ll tell you anyway…
I was about five when my mother took me for my first official hair cut at the beauty salon. She set me in a big vinyl chair that swiveled a good foot or two off the ground. I spun around and around in that chair until I got good and dizzy. Along the opposite wall were chairs like mine, with huge dome-like helmets over them. Women sat with their heads inside the helmet domes, while they poured over fashion magazines filled with pictures of women they longed to become.
When the hairdresser finally approached me, I nearly squealed with delight. She looked just like Wonder Woman. Her hair actually reflected blue. When I told her this, she smiled. Not only could Wonder Woman kick ass, she said, but she had big tits. She asked me how I wanted my hair and my mother said a trim would be sufficient. I said I wanted it blue, just like hers.
While she worked, I drank in the cacophony of sound around me. Stories and jokes and gossip poured forth so invitingly that the clip-clip of the scissors faded into the background. I had died and gone to story heaven.
By the time my mother and I walked out, my hair was mighty short, because I kept asking Wonder Woman to cut it shorter, buying me time in that place of awesome richness. -This one talking about her sister-in-law who got knocked up, that one discussing her vacation in the Florida Keys, another one telling about her friend’s recent battle with cancer of the something or other… In that brief moment of time, those stories were like a web that connected all of us together in that small space. I listened and savored it all, as my hair fell in pieces onto the floor.
I couldn’t tell you the first lie I ever told because the truth is I don’t remember. But after my diagnosis, it started to become increasingly more difficult to differentiate between truth and fiction. I think they had hoped that by nailing my condition it would make it easier to understand. But I never asked to be understood, I just wanted to be heard.
One day, back in college, I was sitting at a cafeteria table, surrounded by people listening to me spin a highly emotional incident involving my twin brother who’d been decapitated in a motorcycle accident. It was around that time that I first realized I had a problem. Well, I didn’t realize anything actually… My best friend heard about my decapitated twin, called my mother, and the two of them ordered me to see the school therapist.
If you can get over the whole fear/confusion factor of compulsive lying and if you can let that go, then you’ll find it’s actually quite entertaining. Unless you get two compulsive liars together in a conversation, then it can get scary entertaining… emphasis on either adjective, depending.
This actually happened to me once. I was in a psychiatric ward in upstate New York. It was a holistic healing type of therapy: Heal the inside in order to heal the outside and all that crap. Anyway, there was a daily dose of group therapy, yoga, and meditation. It was a Zen center for the mentally insane.
At one group therapy session, I met this girl named Judy. Judy was a suicidal with a history of anorexia and bulimia. I was so tempted to ask her, “So how do you decide… Do you eat or starve yourself to death?” She said her mother was an ex-beauty queen who pushed her into pageants, thus leading her into a deformed sense of self-worth which led to the whole eating disorder thing, blah, blah, blah. I should have guessed right there, because most suicidals will tell you that “self-worth” is not in their vocabulary. But she sounded so convincing, like a little kitten crying out, “I don’t know who I am…”
That night I found Judy sitting alone by a window in the commons area. She sat with her feet curled up under her and wearing a big, bulky sweatshirt and her hair pulled back in a small white bow, which made her actually look like an anorexic bulimic beauty pageant drop-out. I sat across from her and introduced myself. She didn’t look up at me, but I went ahead anyway and told her that I knew what it felt like to feel all alone in a room full of people, that I’d grown up bouncing from one foster home to another. I said it was hard making friends after people found out that I’d stabbed my mother to death. I said I understood that she probably just wanted to be left alone to read her book in peace. Then I reached over real close and asked if I could borrow her ball point pen for a sec.
The root of all evil isn’t money or greed. The root of all evil is lying, which is not to say that liars are bad people. It’s just that you never really know where you stand with people like me. There’s always a pulsating element of mistrust beneath the surface. For this reason, I’ll probably never get married.
But come on, haven’t you ever exaggerated a story to make it sound just a teensy bit more exciting? I like to think of exaggeration as a “Diet Lie.” Rationalization is another, more sophisticated kind of lie; the kind easily bought into. The thing is: everyone lies, so there’s no room for anyone to point fingers as far as I’m concerned. I once knew a man who was so freaked out by my compulsive lying that he divorced my mother. Years later, after another failed marriage and a legacy of debt, he shot himself in the head. Goes to show you what a winner he was. When I told this story to my therapist, she looked at me with such compassion and said, “Well no wonder you feel the need to escape reality.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her the story wasn’t true.