This story was originally conceived a few years ago, while driving my then-boyfriend to the Olympic Peninsula. He was about to move to Canada for six months to work on a film. We had spend the last month packing up his belongings, preparing his house for tenants, and attending a seemingly endless lineup of going-away parties in his honor.
“What if you’re not moving to Montreal at all, and it’s all just a front for a big secret plan to commit suicide,” I joked. He did not appreciate this but I thought it was hilarious. For the rest of the trip, whenever there was a moment of silence that didn’t involve making out, I went back to this idea. I’ve been thinking about it since…And oh, he really did go to Canada for work and of course, he’s been back home in the States for years now, alive and well.
P.S. I’m breaking this story into two parts because it’s long and I like to pretend that someone out there is enjoying the suspense!
Rule number one for successful lying is getting your facts straight. I mean, really know your subject matter. You’ve got to create a whole backstory and it’s got to built on a foundation on hard data. Go to the library. Do some hardcore googling. Make some flashcards and practice if your memory is a bit soft. Stuff your head with names and statistics until your brain has no choice but to accept the lie as the truth. If you believe it, then so will everyone you tell.
Rule number two is simple: make that shit believable. If you don’t feel like going to a co-worker’s party, don’t say that you were in a car accident. Because that’s going to require some evidence. Unless you feel like wearing one of those hilarious whiplash neck braces for a few weeks and taking a sledgehammer to your bumper, this is not a believable lie. And of course you can’t say that your grandma had a stroke because that’s just tempting fate. Keep it simple. Food poisoning is always good. A broken sink and a the ensuing emergency visit from the plumber might work, but just remember that you’re only going to be able to use that excuse once.
Lest you think less of me, I have to tell you that I’m actually a terribly honest person. As a child, only lying was the only crime that qualified for my mother’s version of capital punishment–a spanking in the kitchen with a metal spatula, Time and time again I watched my brother cry and wail for clemency as he white-knuckled the metal trim around the sink, his grass-stained pants around his ankles. He concocted the most ridiculous lies, from thieves sneaking into the house to empty the lunch money jar (while his closet was littered with candy bar wrappers) to accidentally being given the “wrong” report card (although his name was clearly typed across the top in all-caps). I was scared straight. My ass was far too delicate to face my mother’s wrath.
No, I think that lying is only acceptable in two situations: extreme emergencies and protecting the feelings of others. I had a boyfriend in my twenties who lied and lied and lied. He was a savant of fabrication. He would be snuggled up in bed next to me, drinking a morning beer while he told his boss on the other end of the phone that he couldn’t come to work because his mother was bravely battling breast cancer. He could convincingly cry on demand. By the time he hung up, all of his co-workers would be working on a quilt to send his mother in the hospice. And setting up prayer circles and breast cancer awareness fundraisers. Did it hurt, I would ask when he finally hung up. When they installed your silver tongue? Meanwhile his mother was sunning herself on a beach in Cabo or having that month’s dose of Botox injected into her smooth forehead, healthy as the proverbial horse.
So you’re probably asking, if you’re such a good person, then why should I heed your advice for lying? I’ve only told one huge lie and it worked. It worked so well. And trust me, it was an emergency situation. My sophomore year of college I just couldn’t bear going to class any more. I don’t know why. But just the idea of getting up, eating some sort of sensible dining hall breakfast, and then stumbling across campus to go to Organic Chemistry I or Literary Allusions of the Bible just seemed fucking agonizing. Instead I would sleep in until noon, roll downstairs to eat lunch while reading Marquis de Sade (or something similarly racy), and then spend the rest of the day walking around town taking photos. I never developed the film. And I never opened my textbooks. Of course it occurred to me that I was making a huge mistake. But my last remaining vestiges of adolescent hubris told me that everything will be okay.
By midterms, I knew I was fucked. I had no idea what was happening in any of my classes. My advisor called me about my absences. As I listened to her voicemail, I knew that needed a story. A good story, because surely the seasoned faculty of this prestigious educational institution had heard it all. I ran to the library and began to pull a long list of medical books. I read and read. I filled a legal pad with semi-legible notes. Hours later, I had my story. I called my advisor. I’ve been very ill. My voice sounded sufficiently weak. I’ve had scarlet fever. It began with a long-neglected case of strep throat. You know I work a full-time job on top of going to school, and I just couldn’t afford to take a day off. Then there was the sandpapery rash that began on my neck but spread everywhere except for my face. As I spoke, I was reliving the (fake) memory of the burning fever and its accompanying delirium. The vomiting and headache. I remembered fainting at work and the ensuing late night trip to the emergency room. I almost teared up with gratitude as I mentioned the life-saving antibiotics and intravenous fluids.
She was sympathetic. I was given an extension for all of my papers and exams. And I finished the semester with a pretty decent GPA.
I have been applying this same attention to detail to my current project, the biggest lie of my life. I would add “so far” to that statement, except this really will be the greatest and last lie of my life. You see, at the age of 33, I have decided to kill myself. No, this is not a cry for help. I assure that this was not a rash decision. I began to toy with the idea years ago, but it was just in the past few months that I really decided once and for all.
I’m sure you’re wondering why I would do something like this, since I’m young in the grand scheme of things. I am not mentally ill. That was going to be your first question, right? Nor am I depressed. I wasn’t recently dumped and I do not struggle with drug addiction. I am attractive in an average way. Until last week, I had an okay–albeit dull–job writing copy for an outdoor catalog. It paid well and I still got to pretend that I was actually a true professional writer. And I had a nice apartment filled with carefully chosen vintage furniture. I was regularly invited to wacky theme parties and drunken camping trips. My closet contained more than one Ironically Ugly Christmas Sweater and several bridesmaid dresses.
It wasn’t the current state of my life that forced me into this decision. It was the looming Disappointment.
I’m sure that my early childhood contained all sorts of unpleasant and upsetting episodes, but the first time I truly understood the cruel phenomenon of Disappointment was in third grade. My grandmother took me to the VFW’s annual easter egg hunt. I must have attended this since I was a toddler, but I can’t remember a previous experience. But that year, I remember running and running and running some more…and finding nothing more than a chocolate egg that already bore the imprint of some other child’s sneaker. I hate this, I cried to my grandma. I didn’t find anything and I’m so DISAPPOINTED. My heart literally ached. As this pain spread to my head, it briefly paused at the back of my throat to fill my mouth with a bitter, bilious taste. I swore to myself that I would never again bear the agony of Disappointment.
Of course there were times when I was less than thrilled. High school–the alleged best years of your life— was terrible. Nobody asked me to prom. Losing my virginity was anti-climactic. And college–the second best years of your life–was just a whirlwind of homework. caffeinated library all-nighters, and numerous part time jobs. I never experienced a Spring Break of the hot pink bikini variety. Most of my sexual experiences were awkward fumblings in “extra-long” twin beds. My twenties were better. I moved here to the big city. I figured out how to dress to trick others into thinking I was hot. I slept with men of all ages and women of all hair colors. I went to all of the best parties. It was a pretty good time.
But now I’m in my thirties. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not horrible. It’s actually nice. But I know that my arch-nemesis Disappointment is waiting for me. I’ve been single for years. I could stay that way and find myself alone in a nursing home in forty more years. No one will visit me. I will spend my holidays in the cafeteria, gumming over-cooked turkey and canned cranberry sauce. I will be moved to tears by the glory of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on a television. Maybe some high school students will visit once a week, in an effort to pad their college applications with selfless volunteer work. And I will get excited about it.
Or maybe I will get married. If I’m lucky, I will be wildly, passionately in love with that person on my wedding day. We’ll have a few good honeymoon years of sleepy sexy mornings and romantic getaways. And then perhaps we’ll have kids and with that mission accomplished, we will lose all interest in one another. One or both of us will have affairs, resulting in a bitter divorce. And then I’m back in that lonely old folks home. Or maybe it will turn out that we can’t have children because we’re a sad barren couple. My husband–by now just a roommate–will die of a heart attack at 65, and then once again, I’m eating off-brand instant stuffing in a nursing home cafeteria.
Disappointment creeps around in other ways. As I regard my sagging face in the mirror. When I can no longer drink coffee or climb trees because my body is just too decrepit. When I become invisible to men. The day that I can’t work anymore. And the moment my license is taken away because my aged eyes can’t see the road any more.
You probably don’t want to think about any of this. I don’t blame you. Late in elementary school, a girl I knew from another class watched her house burn to the ground. Her little brother was stuck inside, hiding under a bed. The firefighters didn’t find him until it was too late. It was the saddest thing that had happened in our school in a long time. I couldn’t sleep at night, worrying about her tiny brother–the same age as mine–turning grey under his Sears bunk bed, hoping for someone to save him. If I finally did manage to doze off, I would wake up screaming, convinced that I could smell my own house burning. I realized that I would probably never sleep soundly again if I didn’t trick myself into forgetting all about the fire and the little boy. That will never happen to you or anyone you know well because you are real. That little boy and his sister, they are just people you have imagined. All of the people that die on the news are pretend, too. At first it seemed like a ridiculous thought. But the more I repeated it to myself, the more I believed it. Life became a lot easier to live when I decided that the rest of the world was just filler created solely for the purpose of providing background for my own existence.
It’s funny how little thought or detail is required to lie to oneself.
Back to my plan. You have questions. But don’t you want to see the world? Yes, that was once one of my goals. For years, I slept with a map of the world pinned at the end of my bed. Each night I dreamed of a different place I would visit one day. But I’ve given up travelling, because it’s an addiction. The more you see, the more you need to see. And of course, you’ll never actually see everything, unless you’re an independently wealthy billionaire. So ultimately you just end up with a whole bunch of Disappointment.
What about your loved ones, your friends and family? Obviously I’ve thought about this. I’m not a heartless monster. I don’t really have much of a family life. My grandparents are long gone. I didn’t have any cousins. My parents divorced when I was young and I never heard from my father again. And I haven’t spoken to my mother or my brother in years. We’re just not that kind of family. I think we all felt relieved when we finally grew up and went our separate ways. As for friends, well. friends are a childish idea. Because ultimately, everyone is going to be loyal to their partner or children. Friends come and go. They are a temporary accessory, traded in for new people or other diversions as one passes through different life phases. Yes, I have friends. I do not think they will miss me. Maybe once in a while they think to themselves, Hey, what was the name of that girl I worked with who had the really long hair? I wonder what she’s doing now. For a brief moment they will consider searching for my name on one social networking platform or another, but by the time they locate their smartphone, they will already have forgotten their original intention.
I don’t mean to sound cold. I really do care about the feelings and well-being of others. I don’t want anyone to clean my brains off of my living room wall. I would hate for my neighbors to discover my drippy decaying body weeks after I’ve slipped into an overdose sleep. And I can’t just disappear from the world, leaving everyone around me to wonder what really happened?
I can’t remember the moment that I decided to kill myself. But suddenly it was on my mind all the time. Planning it out became an obsession. I couldn’t think about anything else. My co-workers noticed my distraction. Someone must have met someone special because she’s daydreaming all day long. My reddening cheeks only confirmed their silly suspicions. I had to get it together, lest anyone start grilling me about this new imaginary boyfriend. I hadn’t thought that story through so I was sure to make a mess of it. Throw out a preposterous detail. Oh, he’s in the CIA. That’s why you can’t meet him. No, no.
I decided to limit myself to planning my demise only on the commute to and from work. Fortunately, that trip involved a lot of walking and two different trains, so I had ample time. Usually I managed to read a couple of books per week just by utilizing that train time. It felt strange to no longer find a big dark novel or a tragic biography swimming around in my bag. You’ll never be able to read all of the books in the world anyway, so why continuing reading at all, I lectured myself.
My initial plan was so flawed, that I’m almost embarrassed to share it with you. First I would buy some oxycontin from my druggy neighbor. I was going to skip town, sending out an email before I left saying that I had found a new job somewhere else. An offer I can’t refuse. Then I was going to rent a car, drive out to the desert, hike out to some desolate dune, and then choke down all of the pills. The last thing I would see would be the cloudless blue sky, in all of its glory. It all seemed so romantic.
But immediately I realized that this scheme was fraught with holes. No one was going to believe a vague email. It would raise questions. And what about the rental car? Someone would find it and a very clear trail of credit card receipts and driver’s license numbers would lead right back to me. Everyone who knew me would worry that I had been abducted, tortured, and murdered. Or maybe I was being held captive somewhere for an unnamed ransom. My face would be splashed on milk cartons and billboards. Have you seen this woman?
However, there were two strong components to the plan. The first was buying drugs from my neighbor. Easy. The second was the new job. Everybody would be so excited for me. No one would ever think a sad thought about me ever again. But I couldn’t just say I was moving to New York City or Austin or even Portland, Maine. Because then random friends would want to visit. They would continue to call and text me, wondering why I never responded.
I could say I was moving somewhere far, far away. The opportunity of a lifetime in Tokyo or Tanzania! But then everyone would expect a blog filled with musings about just being an American girl in a strange land. And requests for familiar american comforts, like organic cotton tampons and Cholula. Does anyone feel like mailing me some Little Debbie snack cakes?
Day after day, train after train, I thought and thought. The desert part was easy to figure out. I would just take a bus out there. No one kept a record of who rode on those buses. No one cared. It wasn’t as glamorous and middle class as air travel. I could get disembark in some small town and then just walk out into the sunset. Easy.
No, I was stuck on the back story. I had to say I was moving somewhere far away. But nowhere too exciting. Somewhere that seemed blandly American, but outside the country so I would have an excuse to change my phone number. And then forget to share it with everyone. Somewhere that could never, ever be considered a vacation destination.
Of course I was on the train when the solution smacked me in the face. Or more accurately, a huge backpack hit me in the forehead. As I rubbed the developing bruise, I focused my wrath on the passenger who owned the bag. He didn’t even have the decency to apologize. I glared at him and his stupid maple leaf hockey jersey. I bet he smelled like maple syrup, which was a disgusting scent for a person. Maple leaves. Hockey. Syrup. Canada. O fucking Canada! That’s where I was going. But not Vancouver or Montreal. Too glamorous. Too many tourism opportunities. And none of those snowy, desolate provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan. Once again, everyone would expect a blog filled with wacky tales of igloos and yaks. Or whatever lived there. No….it had to be…Toronto.