By Daniel Silveyra on 2007
For the most part of my life I have been lying on a pretty general basis. You hear about those studies that say how many lies people say in an average day and think that it’s standard, even trivial. But when you do it and know you are lying you are alone and not part of anything. The world has abandoned you, or rather, you have abandoned it, and you have just placed the weight of reality on your own shoulders.
I’d read somewhere that many writers start this way, creating fiction in their childhood and then evolving into story-telling, implying that the latter was a more mature, developed version of the former. To think this had always been comforting and fun, the promise of a talent arising from pettiness and sin. I think now that this is not true. When you are telling a story that is called a story then everything about it is true, because its name says: it came from inside you. There is nothing more honest than to admit that you are lying.
Dishonesty is necessary in life. Misinformation is a tool, and like any other tool it can give some pretty good results. I can remember Felix, one of my two brothers, complimenting every girl he met on her looks. A plump girl would get a remark on her makeup, her eyes. An ugly one would suddenly be remarkably dressed. I always laughed a little when he couldn’t go with anything better than “you look very pretty today”. But he never really depended on it- it was nothing to him.
Sometimes you need to lie. As a fairly troublesome kid things just came up. I did not take coins from your purse. I did not skip English lessons. I did not look through your drawers. There was a clear purpose to each lie, and I accepted the possibility of getting caught without remorse- I was playing against grownups in an uneven game and my excuses were expected as a strategy. If I’d been offered any other way to get out of trouble that was as good an option I would have taken it because then it did not matter to me either.
The first time that I lied without needing to was when I was 10 years old. Felix and I had been sent to a Christian summer camp in the south of Texas, mostly to practice our English and let our mother sleep for a change. We were pretty out of place in that dusty ranch, getting up at 7 ‘o clock in the morning to sleep-walk to mass and then praying again before every meal. Back home we’d switched from our original church for a speedier twenty-five minute service where the father even told jokes on a regular basis. It was half an hour really, because you had to get there early to find a seat, the place was so crowded.
At the camp they would herd us from our bunks to the showers and to the mess hall, dragging us through all sorts of boy-scout activities in between. Felix was pretty good with the arts and crafts part- he picked the whole Native American weaving bit fairly quick from the Hispanic instructor while I plodded along with my thick useless fingers, counting the minutes away. Shooting with a bow and arrow and a 22 rifle was a lot more fun and sometimes they even let us shoot at birds or squirrels. The oddity of learning how to use these things in that particular setting eluded me then.
Once a day we would have our canteen privileges, which for me meant sitting up under the shade somewhere with a bottle of Mr. Pibb and one of the dozen story books I’d brought with me. As I would sit down I’d look around and see all the other kids playing soccer or just running around and I’d feel like going over and maybe talking to one of them, but I didn’t know anyone and it was very easy to forget about it once I’d started reading.
Felix seemed to be getting along fine and I hated him a little for it. He was as different from those buzz-cut kids in their wrestling shirts as I was. He didn’t even know the rules to soccer. He would just walk over to another boy and tell him something, I couldn’t figure out what the hell it was, and then they would be chatting, chewing on sunflower seeds, saying hello to each other at dinner time.
It was a hot day when I decided that I might as well give it a try myself. A bunch of us were queuing to get our sodas and I looked at the big blonde kid behind me and I said “This sucks. In the other camp we used to go, there were vending machines and they let you buy cokes anytime you wanted”. He just stared blankly ahead, but his brother leaned towards me and asked where you got the quarters to buy the cokes. I explained that the camp gave you enough for a coke a day, but that you could ask your parents to send you more if you wanted to. By the time I was telling them about the ones who stockpiled over a dozen cokes under their bunks there were four or five more boys listening.
That other camp was in fact much better than this one in about every way possible. There was an electric fan for every set of bunk beds, and they were installing a toboggan on the hilly shore of the lake and even used a hose so you could slide down easier. All the kids could use the composite bows, not just the bigger ones, and sometimes the counselor in each cabin would let you order pizza instead of the usual grilled cheese sandwiches.
I would tell some of the other kids about this and they would listen and smile, just basking in how wonderful it would be to have air conditioning inside the church, a tightly packed concrete building in the sweltering Texas heat. We would talk about other stuff, but every time a complaint came up with the way things worked we would end up talking about this other camp.
This went on for a couple of weeks. One day the same scrawny kid I’d first talked to came up with some other kids and asked me about the pool in the other camp, whether it was heated when it was cold out. I told him the camp was really only open in the summertime, so there was no need. He waited a little less than a second and said ‘Oh really. ‘Cause I was talking to your brother and he says that you’ve never even been to any other camp. That it doesn’t even exist.’
I tried to explain and my ears and cheeks were searing hot. They didn’t wait to see what I would say and just started hollering and laughing in joyful disbelief as soon as I opened my mouth. I took a long gulp from my warm, stale Mr. Pibb and clenched it as hard as I could to not cry. When they saw that I was just sitting there they went away, and when I went back to my previous spot under the shade I could see them still laughing and talking loudly with each other.
There was only a week more till the end of camp and I spent most of it re-reading an old Russian stories book, a big favorite of mine. The other kids would taunt me and ask me about all the things I’d told them, but they went away pretty quickly when the counselors came up, mostly because I just boiled quietly and stared at the floor.
Felix tried to be my big brother and explain what he had done, to remind me that he had warned me to stop lying to everyone. I didn’t really listen, though. He had shattered something so big and I didn’t think he even knew. It was impossible to co