Monday, June 4, 2012

Essay on Shame #3

From when I was about 12 to when I was about 22, I lied a lot. I didn't just tell lies, I was a liar. I lied to stay out of trouble, and in these lies I mostly got caught. I also lied to make myself seem interesting and, occasionally, to make other people look bad, and sometimes for no recognizable reason -- like the time I said I took the subway and then walked when actually I walked and then took the subway. I got caught in some of these lies, too.

When I say I "got caught", I mostly mean that grownups found out that my lie was a lie (I still thought in terms of "grownups" when I was 22) and yelled at me or explained why what I did was wrong or disapproved of me. But when no one found out, I was caught in another way, because I often kept telling people that I broke the foot of a groping man on the subway (I didn't), or that I once peed in a potted plant at a party (didn't do that either). I told those stories and many more, several times, to multiple groups of people; when I met a new group of people with whom I had a chance to be my truthful self, I ruined it as fast as I could by telling a lie. And then I was caught. If I forgot the story I'd told, and said in another conversation that I'd only hit one person in anger (true), a puzzled look, an "I thought you said ..." and the cold fog of shame were surely waiting for me.

What kind of self was I trying to make? In that imagined self, I believe shame and lies--both of the kinds I told--converge. A self who would pee in a potted plant, who would react swiftly and bravely to sexual creeping from a stranger. A self who never backed up too fast and dented the bumper on a stone wall; who was the insulted, not the insulter. A shameless self. A blameless self. A self without responsibility, who had never made a mistake, or whose mistakes stopped dead at its edge.

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