Monday, May 24, 2010
I'm not sure when it started, but I think it was ten years ago when I first heard a writer declare, "IT'S ALL FICTION!" And then I began hearing it wherever groups of writers met, each saying it as though THEY had come up with this amazing statement of truth about lying as a writer. It bugged me right from the beginning because I had worked so hard in my life to not lie.
Being the first person in my family to ever go to college might seem like a big deal, but not to my family. In fact everyone treated me like I thought I was better than they were. And maybe I thought I was, maybe part of me still thinks so. But few even noticed, except my father when he found out that he was going to have to continue paying child support by Pennsylvania state law until I was out of college. He certainly noticed, and didn't hide his annoyance. My mother was too involved with her sexual intrigues and busy being inebriated with booze and drugs.
No one in my family caring about me going to college was just fine, I was ready to leave them behind me. All my life I had been incredibly embarrassed about the white trash family I came from. And what fourteen year old wants to see their mom wasted with a bunch of creepy, horny Led Zepplin fanatics, OH GOD, I hated them all! But I hadn't really thought about them when getting my books for my first classes, I was excited to be throwing myself into this amazing world of literature. What I didn't count on was that all my classmates would be talking about their families. I assumed everyone was like me and trying to escape.
It was almost an accident, the first lie. Well it was certainly deliberate, but, it wasn't planned at all. I was so busy being surprised that not everyone hated their families that it hadn't occurred to me that someone might ask me about my family. But from the first question about them the lies began. I reinvented them. Completely. I was so embarrassed. They couldn't know, and they certainly would have judged me if they did know the truth. I knew from experience that when your mother gets arrested for shoplifting YOU get judged by everyone along with her. Even the police sneer and shake their heads when looking at you, in the middle of the parking lot, waiting for your stepfather to come pick you up because your mother was cuffed and put in the back of a police car. You're trash. You're no good and that's that. Nothing good could possibly come of you coming from white trash.
And maybe that's true ninety percent of the time that nothing good could come of you. I was determined to be who I wanted to be regardless, and the person who I wanted to be wasn't my family. And I was NOT about to let any of these new kids in my life find out about them. No way was I going to tell them about the police and booze. About protecting my sister from my evil stepfather's sexual advances. And shoplifting with my mother. And selling flowers for her on the side of the highway. Neglected, I didn't want to be someone who was neglected. It was ugly, I didn't want to be from ugly.
And the lie was simple enough at first. They were boring middle class people. You know, nothing special. That's how it started. But the lie HAD TO grow because more things would come up. Vacation, we went here for vacation, how about you? Or, my mother likes to shop at Macy's, how about your mom? My mother had never been in Macy's. My mother was poor. We lived in a car for half a year, no, my mother did NOT shop at Macy's. You don't go from washing your face in the gas station bathroom after sleeping in the back seat of a car all night to shopping at Macy's. This world doesn't work that way. And it wasn't my fault it didn't work that way, I kept telling myself. Which only made it easier to lie. I kept saying that it wasn't my fault that I'm not from nice people.
The lying went on for about half a year or so. Then one day I went into a convenience store near the school, and I heard a voice call out, "DUDE WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?" It was Wendy, someone I knew from high school. Someone who knew everything about me. Everyone back there did. They knew my mom was a whore and thief and a drunk, and that I was a fag. Wendy was working behind the register, ringing up snacks for an entire line of students in my new school. "Do you know him?" "YEAH, WE WENT TO THE SAME HIGH SCHOOL!"
I'll always remember that Wendy said that we went to the same high school. Not that we "went to high school together." Even for Wendy that would be too familiar. Even for Wendy working at the register at the convenience store I was the lowest. I was the lowest. Where I came from was the bottom. Even Wendy knew this. Even Wendy made it clear in her language. Because where I grew up everyone was poor, but no one judges the poor quite like the poor. If you're all poor, someone has to be the poorest. Someone has to be the dirtiest. Someone has to be the place all the other poor can urinate into. It's the way it is. You're covered in their poor piss, soaked in it.
But I knew that day that it was over. And I went to therapy, and told the therapist. And the therapist annoyed me because she sat on the edge of her seat, excited by my story. Excited that I was a liar. Excited that I was trash but wanting to be from a nice, clean family like she probably came from. I hated my therapist so much that day, maybe I still do, yeah, I think I still do. But after her enthusiastic session with me I never went back again.
Then I started to tell the truth because it was over. Wendy saw me first. If I had seen Wendy first I could have ducked out of the store and NEVER gone back there. But she saw me first. And others saw her see me, and recognize me. It was over. It was really over.
And everyone hated me after that. But to be honest I was used to that. The thing that I hadn't counted on was that my neck and shoulder muscles would feel better. And the funny thing was that I had no idea that they were tight and tense until AFTER the lying stopped. Wow. And soon after that I was asked to leave the college anyway because I was sleeping with a professor.
It was an incredible lesson. It was painful at the time, mortifying having to go into class and have people look at me like I was a liar. Because I was a liar. And for a while I thought, "DON'T YOU GET IT, DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND THAT I COULDN'T TELL YOU THE TRUTH?" I mean, really, "DON'T YOU KNOW THAT IF YOU KNEW WHERE I CAME FROM YOU WOULD HATE ME ANYWAY?" They were going to hate me one way or the other, and in this case it's because I lied about where I came from.
It's like being a faggot or dyke. You know you HAVE to come out of the closet. You MUST. Your life depends on you coming out of the closet. To everyone. When people say things like, "I don't know why you think I need to know this," or (my favorite), "I wish you people would keep this to yourselves," you can explain to them WHY you need to come out, but you don't have to. It's important that you're out. It's important to not lie. Living a lie causes more harm than you will realize. But when you stop you'll know it because you'll feel lighter. It's true, it's corny sounding, but it's true, it's really true. Getting out of the lying trap is the most remarkable, healthy thing you can do.
This is something else I've thought about a lot lately because of the ICA Queer Voice show. There are people in the show who are heterosexual, and that's fine with me. I just wonder if they understand what it means to come out? I mean, really know what it means? How much our lives depend on that. Maybe they do realize. I hope they do. If they're part of the Queer Voice show I want them to not take it lightly. It's a very big deal to know how much some people sacrifice for having a voice they must not lie about. It's important that we all make room for one another so no one has to lie about who they are. How much room is that by the way? What kind of space is that? What's it look like? I ask of course because I feel like I don't know it yet. I feel like there's still so much that keeps people from being honest.
Especially about being poor. No one hates the poor more than the poor. No one hates themselves as much as someone who can't afford to buy their kids that cool new toy everyone else has in their nice houses. And I hate how 2008 became THE marker for economic decline. Yeah, economic decline for everyone, but there have been a lot of people, working class, working poor, and downright poor, who have been in decline long before 2008 ever appeared on the calendar. Does everyone really have to be poor in order for no one to have to feel like garbage anymore about being poor? Is that how this works? Really? That's so much work. This planet is a tiresome amount of work. But I love it here. I'm glad to be here. I'm glad to know who I am, and that I'm honest about who I am. And I want that lightness and freedom for everyone.
All my best to you,