When I was a little kid, almost from the moment I was able to speak, I tried to change facts, realities, you know what I mean – tell lies.
To keep the drama in check around the household it became necessary, in my little kid mind, to never, ever own up to spilling the milk. And while it was obvious the milk didn’t spill itself, my lamentations, AKA lies, that “I don’t know what happened – it wasn’t me,” were so intense, the inquisition ended in a stalemate. For me, that was a win because I was spared a crack on the head for touching the milk in the first place.
But I wasn’t the only one fibbing.
My mother and father were great instructors on the art and science of fabricating ‘alternative facts.’
Sometimes when the insurance man came to collect the weekly policy payments, the envelope that should have held his coins was empty. Ma’s reaction would be something like, “Oh, my gawd! Who touched the insurance man’s envelope?!”
Hearing no response, with a glaring eye she would silently radio, “Shut-up and be guilty!” Then, turning to the rumpled collector she’d ask, “Is it okay if I just add that to next week’s payment?” As the poor insurance man slogged out the kitchen door, she’d turn to us hissing, “Now don’t tell your father.”
Living in circumstances Ma would call “close to the bone,” my parents became experts of trying to extend payment terms. Dad’s entrepreneurial talents included using alternative facts.
But this slippery slope of alternative fact telling only went so far. While half-truths and full fabrications could be told to others, being one hundred percent truthful to one’s self was paramount. To do otherwise would mean we were mentally and emotionally altered – as in sociopathic liars. We were not. We were just seeking alternative facts in an effort to benefit ourselves. Of course we were. That was the point.
My personal best in developing alternative facts came while I was in high school. I was failing physical education, or as we called it, gym class. I hated gym. Today, I can’t really explain it other than to say I was expending so much energy surviving domestic unrest and the darkness of being a seriously depressed teenager that I didn’t have enough energy to change into my gym clothes. And since they hadn’t been washed since the day they were issued to me, putting them on would have been gross. I needed to figure out a way to graduate from high school that didn’t include gym.
Enter alternative facts.
My after-school job at the time was working for the local doctor. I’d type out his bills and letters with his kind wife sitting beside me watching my every keystroke. She was a sweet, gentle soul who smelled of lunch and lilacs. I liked her a great deal.
One day, the doctor’s wife was ill. From the living room couch where she was nursing a migraine she told me, “Just type out the monthly bills dear, you can do that by yourself…” As I sat down, a plot began to form.
With a doctor’s letter, I might be excused from having to attend gym class. I played out worse case scenarios in my head. Being caught, I decided, wouldn’t be as bad as not graduating. I’d take a chance and try the alternative fact route. The idea of an alternative fact this big put my stomach in knots. Panic was hard to handle. Fear, however, ebbed away as I typed.
I wrote a diagnosis based on what I had learned from outgoing bills. The doctor would confirm that I suffered from migraines, flat feet, and psoriasis. I wrote – I mean he wrote – that the combination of conditions made it necessary for me to avoid exercise. I expressed that my parents had only recently sought treatment for me. I signed the doctor’s name. I graduated near the bottom of my class, but I graduated.
As the years have sped by, fibbing to protect the sensitivities of others and where no harm is done continued. I mean, whoever is without sin please cast the first stone. But on issues of substance, import, and darn it all, just because it’s the right thing to do, stating real facts and not making crap up has become the norm.
As Judge Judy says, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember what you said.” Man, is she ever right. Keeping your story straight when you’ve embellished the facts or simply omitted pertinent details can trip up even the most seasoned serial alternative fact teller. That is, unless you have professionals to write the script and a teleprompter to aid your memory.
By Marilou Newell