If truth be told . . .
If you google this, you’ll either be directed to a popular memoir or a TV series. In popular terms, I guess that’s just about right. But for me, the significant thing is the “if.”
When I was little, that “if” was a walloping big critter. I learned early on that it just wasn’t smart to tell the truth, and it took me decades into a good marriage to get it right. I look at what’s happening in our political culture now, and I get the creeps. I remember how easy it was for me to learn to lie and how soon I lost sight of the fact that I was even doing that.
Is that what’s happening? Is there some imagined threat that’s so pervasive and so horrific that it’s sunk into the subconscious beyond reckoning? If that’s the case, what the hell is it? What is the monster we dare not name? I have tried to bring my childhood fear into focus, but it resists. It’s somewhere in my deep core, in my right to exist. I feel it’s extreme to say that we have created a society that regards truth as life-threatening, at least for some, but have a look at where we are now.
For nearly twenty years, I was a pathological liar. You couldn’t ask me the time of day and get an accurate answer. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but not much. When I look at memory closely, I see that most of the time it wasn’t a question of avoiding punishment for wrong-doing, it was a warning to avoid truth. But what is truth? And why can it feel dangerous?
From my present perspective, I can hazard a guess. There’s a theory that extreme psychological danger can cause a separate personality to hive off, one who accepts the role of guardian. My first ally was The Liar, and she got really good really fast. Others followed, but she was the champ. If she was in charge, Elizabeth could fade back in the weeds and feel safe.
As a nation, are we so freakin’ threatened that we need an internalized liar? What would collapse if we confronted our history of slavery and con-games and abuse of power? Do we not have any other choices? What would happen if we realized that we’d given the car keys to a psychopathic liar? Could we survive that?
When I was brought face-to-face with the failure of my most grotesque tower of lies, the void was a very attractive future. Instead, I was presented with absolute unqualified love, and a clear picture of the grief I had caused. Somewhere in my core I had enough sand to face fighting back to reality, but I don’t think I’d ever felt such pain before.
If that’s where at least 30% of us are now, what’s going to carry us through? Snark and condemnation and contempt aren’t going to do the job. If our core problem is that we don’t believe we exist as a connected family, shaming and exile don’t look like a good path.
Part of what happened to me was that I could be heard. I could open my core and not be blasted into outer space. At first it sure didn’t feel good, in fact it was hell, but I was stronger than I knew, and I was in the grip of an uncompromising lover. I can’t remotely imagine how this happens on a broader social level, but I’m working on it.
Crime headlines from today’s NY Daily News:
Family seeks justice for Bronx man who died in police custody
Indian woman cuts off longtime rapist’s penis
Judge haunted by early release of nursing home shooter
Teen accused in carjack murder points finger at accomplice
Jury selection set for Bill Cosby’s sex assault trial
Crazed Times Square driver says he set out to ‘kill them all’
NYC jeweler robbed, shot by 4 men years ago, mugged again
Anthony Weiner’s ex-flames speak out on his sexting with minor
Charges shed light on sea cucumber smuggling at US border
No question but that we have bigger problems than sea cucumbers, though anybody’s extinction is a serious issue. But what I’m noting—not as an expert but just as a consumer of our collective toxic waste, is that the normal workaday world of malefactors, whether petty thieves or big-league mobsters, doesn’t really merit headlines these days.
It’s the crazies, the impulsives, the “no-motive-determined” guys who get the front page—unless it’s a terrorist or a hate crime, in which case a third-rate carnival act becomes a headliner. But even those seem like slow-motion impulsiveness, imitation of somebody else’s deed. The President fulminates against importing Mexican rapists and killers to protect the jobs of good native-born American rapists and killers. We certainly have no need to import them: they seem to be one of our major industries.
Granted, we’ve never been a peaceful land, though at least we haven’t had a civil war for a hundred fifty years. And we have more labor-saving devices at hand: between 1999 and 2014 there were 185,718 homicides and 291,571 suicides with guns. Might be contributing to our obesity epidemic: it takes so few calories to pull a trigger.
But one does wonder why the richest, strongest country in history goes off its nut so often. Lots of reasons proposed, depending on your place on the political spectrum. But I wonder: they say that enough days in solitary will drive an inmate crazy. Are so many of our people locked in solitary without their even knowing it?