I’ve been lied to and I’ve told lies. Tiny lies. Big lies. Lies that society deems “acceptable.” Lies that hurt others. Helpful lies. Where is that line though? How does one determine what lies are admissible, which are horrific?
I was the tender age of 12 when I devised a plan, a web of lies that involved several others, to get out of a lie. When six of the school’s library books went missing, my teacher was furious. Mrs. Graves had wheeled a selection of informative non-fiction pertaining to our reports on Ancient Egypt into the classroom, and allowed us to take them home “on the honor code.” Though we didn’t formally check them out, she expected their timely return. When the time came, she asked the students in the class to kindly return the items to the library.
Over the next few days, which turned into well over a week, and creeped up to a month, she supposedly asked, but my priorities, as per the norm, were outside among the birds and trees, my head in the clouds.
In a final attempt to get the stolen books back to the library, Mrs. Graves resorted to a bribe. “Any student who brings in a missing book will receive a candy bar in exchange.”
This caught my attention.
When I returned home from school, I ran up the stairs to the wooden book-case in my bedroom, rooting around in a desperate search for the lost treasure. I honestly couldn’t even remember if I had one of the books, but it seemed like forgetting to return the school’s property was something I’d do.
As I peered amongst the long-forgotten literature collecting dust on the bottom shelf, I noticed a library sticker stretched across the binding of one of the books. I took it out and examined it: The People of Ancient Egypt. I’d found one! Next to the slot on the shelf where the book had once been was another similar title. It also had a library sticker. Huh, I guess I had two. I gazed further on the shelf, only to see a third, a forth, a fifth, and, yes, a sixth book. I had ALL the missing items. It was me. I had inadvertently lied to my teacher and stolen all the library books.
When I came into class the next day, my purple Jansport weighing down my tiny frame, red-faced in embarrassment and shame, I set forth to begin the plan that I had thought up the night before, all the while tossing in my bed. Divvying the books up among some friends in class (keeping one for myself, of course), I reminded my peers that each book could be traded in for a candy bar.
Everyone was on board- it was the perfect scheme! The teacher had all the students who didn’t have books to return stand up against the wall. “If you’re sitting with a book to, I won’t go back on my word, because I don’t lie, like you kids apparently do. You’ll get your candy, but you won’t participate in the ice cream party that I’ll be holding for the students that are standing.” My classmates hooted excitedly. My friends who were sitting with me in solidarity (or so I thought) all shot their hands up faster than I’ve ever seen. My heart dropped to my toes. I knew I was about to be caught in a lie. Each of my accomplices, in turn, snitched.
When my teacher learned that I had carried this all out on my own, she sent me to the library to pen a letter to my parents, to tell them about all the atrocities of my character. A thief! A liar! A bribable, corrupt crook!
I didn’t go back into school the next day, opting instead to throw up several times throughout the morning in my parents’ bathroom. I couldn’t find the words to explain to my parents how they raised such an awful human being such as myself. My confessionary note as well as the teacher’s 9-page account of the atrocities sat in my unopened “go home” folder. Mrs. Graves called my house, but my parents were, thankfully, at work.
When I finally mustered up the courage to come clean, there were many hysterics on my part. My mom could barely understand the situation or why it had escalated. I showed her the letter from the teacher, ran into my room, and heard her muffled speech on the phone. I cried more as I wedged my body under the bed, clutching Collette, my childhood doll. There was a sense of security in that small space. I heard the door squeak open, and watched as my mom’s leather pumps moved toward my hiding spot. I was holding on to Collette’s plastic arm so tightly now that my knuckles had turned a limpid shade of white. “Kirsten, please come out of there so I can talk to you.” Mom’s voice was calm. It had strength behind it. I responded with a pathetic whimper, then army-crawled my way out from under the bed. “Sit here,” she commanded. “I just got off the phone with Mrs. Graves. I understand that you didn’t return some library books?”
“You really need to remember to return things in a timely manner. Write yourself a note next time.”
“Okay. D-d-did she tell you about the candy bars?”
“Yup.” Her voice and her body language didn’t match the images of what I’d imagined was going to happen at this moment. “You shouldn’t take to bribes, but I think the candy bar just served as a reminder for you to check for the books.”
“Oh. What about when I gave the books to my friends and lied to Mrs. Graves about having them all?”
“It’s never good to lie. Don’t do it again.”
It was over, much quicker and much less painful than I’d imagined. I really wanted to take her departing words to heart, and it was a long time before I lied again, but realized that in life, complete honesty is not an option.