As I type this, it’s been 3 days since my 39th birthday and I’ve been living in a forest hut in virtual solitude.
You see that? That’s not entirely true. In your mind’s eye, you probably imagine me sitting in some darkened hovel in the woods with only cheetahs and baboons for company, when in reality, I’m at Tsitsikama National Park, there is a well-stocked restaurant called the Cattle Baron just a lazy 15 minute walk away and a cleaning lady comes to tend to my cabin every day around 10am. Words have the power to create perception, which is why I imagine the bible advises us to use our tongues wisely. You can mess someone up with one false word.
I hate liars. Don’t you? There’s nothing more vexing than catching someone in an easily verifiable lie. What was the point in the endeavor, you wonder. People lie about the silliest of things – like their age, their income…even the size of a crowd at their inauguration. Eventually, it all comes out in the wash and instead of the respect/admiration/adulation that the liar hoped to earn by telling the falsehood, all it warrants them is mistrust and scorn from the audience.
Yeah…I hate liars. So what do you do when you become the thing that you hate?
I lied about something once, and it’s been tearing away at my spirit for several days. Unlike the sort of lie that only has consequences for yourself (e.g. a butt whuppin’ because you took all the Snickers from Grandma’s candy dish and swore you didn’t), a lie whose ramifications have a domino effect are the worst to contend with. Oftentimes, once the lie is told, there is no way to restore everything that could/will be taken from the accidental victim. For instance, I earned the reputation for being a slut in high school after some dude told his friends (and therefore half the school) that he’d got into my panties. The immediate consequence of this was that it emboldened a number of undesirable nyuggaz with a scrotal itch to request if they could use my vagina as a scratching post. It was now confirmed that I was “easy” after all. Fortunately, I’m sure if you ask around today, only a handful of people from my year group would remember the incident and the damage to my reputation it caused, but I do; naturally. And naturally, I imagine that the two young women who my lie affected will remember the circumstances and the effects for many years to come.
As I mentioned before, I’m sitting in this cabin/hut all alone, and it’s given me a lot of time to think, reflect and remember a myriad of things. For some reason, foremost among these thoughts are two sisters – twins – who came into the retail store where I was working in Alpharetta many years ago.
The sisters were about 5 or 6 years old at the time. They wore identical hairstyles: big, shiny braids and baby hairs impeccably laid as though an offering for the ancestors. They were friendly, sweet little girls who didn’t bother their mother as she shopped for her shoes. They were the type of kids you wanted to give things to because they were so good, you know? (We got a lot of bratty, darn near feral kids running in that store all the time, so the twins were a breath of fresh air.) So because they were the sort of kids one gifts things for no reason at all, I ‘gifted’ them a blank store gift card each to aid in their play. I’d picked the prettiest cards on our shelves.
“So you guys can pretend to have your own money as you shop at our store!” I said brightly.
“Yay!!” said the twins. “Thank you!”
And play they did.
Satisfied that I’d made two little girls day a little cheerier, I returned to my post at the check out lane, where I watched another cashier help their mom. She called for the twins to join her and they quickly obeyed. A few minutes later, the twins returned to the store, their mother raging ahead of them. She came directly to my station at the check out lane.
“Did you give these two girls THESE?” she growled, throwing the two worthless gift cards on the counter in front of me. She looked as though I’d given her children poison.
Now, before I go on and tell you what I did, you guys have got to understand: I’m afraid of Black women. I have been afraid of Black women MY WHOLE LIFE. You never know if you’re going to get cussed out, get the devil cast out of you, or be welcomed into a bosomy hug; And because this particular Black woman (about 10 years my senior) looked like she was about to cuss me out, I did the only thing that previous experience coupled with my flight or fight reflex told me would keep me safe, at least for the moment. I lied.
“Noooo…” I said breathlessly. “No.”
Her posture straightened and her forehead lost a few of its wrinkles. It was if I’d sucked the wind out of her sails with one word. She left without another word to me and shouted for her twins.
“Come on, y’all!”
As I stood there shaken and in a cold sweat, I watched the trio leave and heard the girls protesting mournfully. “But she did give it to us, Mommy. She did!”
And then they were gone. And I never saw the family in my store again.
Ohhh, but this week I’ve seen them in my dreams and in my waking moments! I don’t remember exactly how many years ago that incident was, but I’d put it around 7 or so. The store had just been renovated around that time. That means the twins are now 12, possibly 13 years old. The tween years are tough. Children are still trying to hold onto their innocence while adolescence quietly beckons them to all its drama. Today, I sit in my cabin and imagine what those twins look like. I wonder if they were ever able to convince their mother that they were indeed telling the truth and that I was a cowardly liar, not them. I wonder if she beat the brakes off of them when she returned to their vehicle and uses my falsehood against them on occasion. I wonder if my lie cost them the complete trust of their mother for a very, very long time.
That’s really what’s eating me up inside. I have no way of knowing if they turned out all right; and worse, I have no way of reconciling my sin other than to pray for them and hope I get the chance to make amends some day, by some miracle.
In our home, we have been dealing with two children who have problems telling the truth the first time, which is what probably has me reflecting on my own folly. Even when they know we know their lying, they stick to and build on the untruth until it crumbles all around them. Somehow, somewhere along the way, I/we have created an atmosphere that causes them fear the consequences of telling the truth rather than the horrible fallout that always follows a lie.
Or maybe a lying spirit is inherited. Who knows? I’ll ask a dreaded Black woman to cast it out of us all, if that’s the case.
If I could give an encouragement to just one parent today, I’d say this: When it comes to kids, don’t always assume that the adult at the other end of the exchange is telling the truth – not at the expense of a healthy relationship with your child. Believe your child first so that they know they always have a loving champion in you. Even if it does turn out in the end that the child was lying, at least they have that assurance that you loved them enough to have faith in them until the truth exposes them. I believe love is far more effective at drawing out an honest confession than fear and mistrust ever will be. I hope that in this way, we can teach our kids (and maybe a few adults) to love truth more than we hate/fear the lie.
Wait a minute! Allow me to disabuse you of the notion that I’ve lost all my savagery! I do believe that there are situations in which an untruth is prudent. For instance in answer to the questions “Was that good for you?” or “Do you like the way I styled your hair?” a response in anything other than a tepid affirmative will result in bruised egos and a fruitless attempt at a do over. But now I wonder, in this age of “alternative facts”, how precious is the truth? How precious is it to you, personally?