Monday, January 20, 2014

Truth is stranger than fiction

Early on, when I was learning to tell stories, and sitting in my writing classes reading other people's stories, the idea that truth is not credible came up as a topic. And I find myself nodding vigorously. I'm one of those people who, when watching a movie or reading a book, will say "Oh, come on, that would never happen! It's not credible, it's not possible, it's too much of a stretch!" And in class, over and over I would hear... "But that's the way it DID happen!" When will you all realize- that doesn't matter? Truth will always be stranger than fiction. Unless you're doing a documentary, you cannot tell a story that way. Why? Because your audience has to believe you! Your truth is not a defense if we, the audience does not believe you. Yes, you have to be a skilled liar. I don't spend a lot of time lying any more. I tried it out when I was around 9, 10, 11 and found out- making things up to make my life more interesting was getting me in trouble when I got caught out. It wasn't worth it. Instead, I made my life more interesting, so my true stories were more fun to tell. And when I had something I wanted to make up, I channeled my lies into my fiction and worked very hard at making them credible. But I learned HOW to lie. I think lies are important. Sometimes, they are necessary and life saving. You should be judicious with them and save them for only the most dire circumstances. Casual lies will kill your credibility and destroy your friendships and ruin you. If I tell a lie, which I don't very often, it's for a much greater good. I find casual lies stupid and pointless, and I have removed them from my life so that I can build positive and strong friendships, and of course, I am thankful that my bff weathered this period of my life with grace and love and taught me that she could catch me out every time, I am so grateful she was such a good detective. Life lessons from your friends are sometimes painful but when it is done with care, they are good! But I digress. Here, I want to tell you a true story. A story I could never turn into fiction, as so much of my truth ends up in my fiction, and I tell lies around it. Here is a very true story, though. I recently went to Florida with my husband and we decided to leave the car in long term parking. At this point in my life, I have a 16 year old daughter. This combination of things has led me to this particular memory. When I was sixteen years old, I was pretty adventure seeking and engaged in some risky and exciting behavior. I freely admit I was a thrill seeker and I was a kid with a very active imagination. This is one of my stupider antics. My parents already did not trust me for a number of reasons. One of which was that I had a history of "borrowing the car without permission". So, they had to take a weekend business trip and instead of just taking a cab to the airport or getting a ride, they decided to leave the car in long term parking. I was not going to be allowed to use it for the weekend. It was the first time they had ever left my brother and I alone for the weekend. I was 16, he was 14. Naturally, I was dating a jerk who really brought out the worst in me. I'm not saying this was his fault, but every time I would have a stupid idea, he encouraged me to go through with it. I'm not sure I would have even listened to my best friend on this but she and several other friends with common sense would have at least attempted to talk me out of it. But no, I surrounded myself with people who would encourage the thrill seeking and foolish behavior. I knew my mom pretty well and my mom, much to my chagrin, knew me pretty well. She assumed that I might be up to something and also thought that leaving that car in long term parking MIGHT keep it safe. What I knew was that I could get by with using the "lost ticket story" and pay the maximum. I think it was something like $12 or $15. I cannot remember how but someone gave me and my idiot boyfriend a ride out to the airport and dropped us off. I immediately went to the cheapest lot, no way my mom was going to more when she didn't have to! And, miraculously, we found the car right away. Talking my way out of the lot was easy. I'm a girl. I looked innocent enough. They have a policy on lost tickets. We were soon on our way to freedom and a car for the weekend. Very carefully, I took note of three things, the gas gauge, the position of the driver's seat and the parking space the car had been in. I knew that I had to return the car with exactly the same gas, exactly the same seat position and put it back in the same place. Okay, so I know you all are thinking, how stupid was I? Someone else was going to park in that spot, right? In fact, I worried about that all weekend. The first thing I told my idiot, asshole boyfriend was "Whatever you do, don't smoke in the car." He promptly scoffed at that and told me he could roll down the window and it would air out in plenty of time. I'm ashamed to say I allowed him to do this without kicking up a fuss and when he mocked my driving and my gender, I also allowed him to drive. (Well, anyone that knows me now can clearly see how all that has changed) Back then, though, I was a real pleaser and desperate for him to love me and to make him happy. It's easy to see now how being raised by a controlling and punishing abusive father and a mother who would do anything to keep the peace resulted in this. Fortunately, I was able to carve out a better future for myself, but this asshole was only a version of my dad, a drunken version but a version of a controlling, abusive person nonetheless. But I'm not blaming him for this. This was, shamefully, my idea. I let idiot boyfriend drive even though he didn't even have a driver's license! So, you know, we used the car all weekend and we didn't even do anything that exciting that we couldn't have done without a car. We picked up some people for Rocky Horror and drove them around. Big deal. They could always find other rides. On Sunday, I was starting to feel deep regret and deeper worry. You see, I could control the gas gauge and the seat position, but the parking space was another matter entirely. I started thinking to myself how pointless and stupid this whole thing had been. I was going to get myself in trouble for no reason at all other than my own stupidity and selfishness. It was partly an experiment in what I could get away with, I guess? I don't know, I didn't usually do things like this. This was purely an exercise in foolishness and while I could certainly be foolish, usually the things I did had actual purpose, even if they didn't make sense to anyone but me. But this time, even as an impulsive sixteen year old, I was clear headed enough to see I had gone too far and the likelihood that I was going to get caught was increasing by the second. Idiot boyfriend went with me to return the car. He insisted on driving again. My nerves became increasingly tight as we got nearer to the long term parking lot. Then, the worst happened. The lot was blocked off entirely. No one was allowed in. The sign at the front said the lot was full. I couldn't even return it to a nearby spot. Completely screwed! We circled around to a place where he pulled over and Idiot boyfriend rolled down the window and lit a cigarette. "What are you doing??" I yelled at him. I mean, really, what did he care if I got caught. It was all on me, wasn't it? He couldn't even be bothered to get out of the car and smoke. I was so angry. But he just yelled back at me that it didn't make any difference now and he needed to think. Blah blah blah, the selfish prick continued on. Idiot boyfriend proceeded to curse and bang on the wheel and generally make an even bigger idiot out of himself. Then, I did something. I told him to get out of the driver's seat and put out the cigarette and I was going to do the thing I knew how to do. Charm and convince. Idiot boyfriend was never going to have that skill, and I have to tell you, it was something that was going to come in handy for me again and again. Make fun of my gender all you want, insult my driving because I am female and because you think you can, but YOU, idiot man with no couth and no charm, will never be able to convince a complete stranger to want to help you. And that is what I did. I rolled up to the guy in the booth and I told him a sad story. I don't even fully remember what it was, but it was a lie so convincing and sympathetic that the gate opened. I told him I needed to get that car back in that lot and could I please, please just go in? And he let me. Because a smile and a kindness and honey in my words are something my idiot boyfriend will never recognize as a skill. And this is the part where I could never fictionalize this story. This was the miracle. That same spot was open. The place I had taken the car from just appeared in front of me. And I pulled into that spot. Joyfully, we celebrated, jumping up and down in excitement! I adjusted the seat back and exited the car and we ran to catch our ride home. I remember thinking to myself, the only thing that can get me caught now is the smokey smell. But who would believe it? How could my mother possibly believe that I could take the car, joy ride for the weekend and return it to the same spot? It was impossible, right? Never happen that way. No one in their right mind would believe it. I could never tell a fictional story and get you to believe that happened that way. But it did. So, I went home and sat in the living room, feeling fairly confident that I would not be caught. I mean, I wanted to be an actress, so I just acted calm. I waited. My parents came through the door and everything seemed normal for about thirty seconds. I had gotten away with it. I mean... like most kids, I had gotten away with multiple things that my parents did not know about, so... this would be the next thing. I have to tell you, from my sixteen year old perspective-- this was a victimless crime. No one got hurt. The car was in as perfect condition as when they left it. No harm, no foul, right? But that feeling of well being did not last long at all. In a few minutes after they put their luggage away, they started to question me. In a way that implied they knew I had taken the car. They told me that the attendant had ratted me out. Really? That seemed kind of strange to me. I had that guy on my side, I was sure of it. Eventually, though, I just confessed. Yeah, I did it. I mean, what were they going to do now? It was over, the thing had happened, it was over. I had been caught after, not before. So... okay. I was in trouble. What else was new. I was always in trouble back then. So, I had to know. What tipped them off? The smell of smoke? Turns out not so much. It was the seat position. It was not exact. Now, I KNOW I put that seat back! I know I did. Last week, I went to my mother and asked her what it was. I mean, all of the things were so minor, unless someone is paying a lot of attention, you would really not even notice them. How many little things do we let go of on a daily basis. You know, that mirror is not in exactly the right position... hmmm, maybe I bumped it? Both my parents drive that car and they both move the seat from time to time... But here it was - what tipped my mother off (because my dad did not suspect a thing) She said to me. "I knew you were going to do it." I asked "Why is that, Ma?" She said "Because I knew YOU." And really, at the end of all of this, it was because my mother knew how I worked. She was paying attention to me. All this time, I thought she had no idea who I am (and now my own sixteen year old daughter thinks I have no idea who she is) but my mom knew who I was. She knew my favorite meals, my favorite color, my strengths, my weaknesses. She was paying attention to who I was. Not some version of me like my dad made up in his head. So, when she got into the car, she was already looking for the little signs that would tip her off, and so they were easy to find. Ah, the fierce love of my mother. Last week, I told her I was sorry (again) that I did that. I took full responsibility for the stupid, reckless and idiot thing that I did. She shook her head and said this was probably her fault somehow. No, Ma, that will never be your fault. You definitely raised me better than that, it just took a while for me to stop being so foolish and to grow up. Still, it is comforting to know that there is someone in the world who knows me, my strengths and my faults- and chooses to love me, anyway.

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