At eleven I learned to lie. Disobedience and its partner, deception, became my constant companions. How enormous then that first transgression, against Father's command, a sin damning as Adam's: walking to school alone. We all lied, mother explained, it was. . .necessario. How else to survive Father's rages, his sweeping interdicts and condemning opinions? Oh sweet allegiance of lies: siblings and mother bound together in a cozy tie! My brothers' lies were manly, obdurate, built to last. Mother's were infirm little things, infected from birth by her obstinate grace, fated to die as soon as they hit the air. But this lie, the lie about me, was sturdy, knit, as it was, from the fiber of maternal love and a wife's defiance. Go ahead; it's right. Walk alone. Grow up. Each assurance a coercion, each coercion a shame. The lie was a coat of mail I'd don each day, threading my arms through its leaden sleeves, pulling its weight over my head, steeling myself for my father's wrath. In it I was strong and getting stronger, but tired, always tired. Oh to rest, shuck the lie and confess! Father forgive me, I knew not what I did! At night I'd rehearse the lines and pray for his cleansing fury. In the morning I'd meet him in the hall, already crabby in his gray lab coat, barking his harsh observations about my robe (pink: ridiculous) about my face (vacant) about my voice (inaudible). Mother, how did we produce such an insect! I was used to this. Exasperated, he would stuff his red frizz into a beret, hurl himself into his loden cape and bolt out the gate--too rushed for truths. Silenced again, I would resume my solitary mission, lugging my books, wearing my lie to school and back again, through the maze of city streets. One day the mist briefly lifted and I saw the winter sun pulsing silver and pale through a hole in the sky--a quiet disk hopeful as the moon. A face emerged, white whiskers smiling, familiar, professorial--an angel perhaps, or a friend of the family-- here to guide me safely across the river to school. He took my bag and my arm, allaying my fears with talk calculated to soothe, flatter, amuse. Gentile, cosí gentile. Ever faithful, he met me at my gate morning after sweet morning. We chatted carelessly the whole way, intimate as lovers, never a snag or worry to hold us up-- I, grateful and happy, he gently leading the way. My trust deepened daily with his purpose and burrowed in the snug darkness of short days where the new lie took root. From deep in the loam, the probing stem pushed to the surface. Meanwhile, the first lie grew light with practice. And my coat assumed the comfort of a uniform. His purpose, obscured from the start by fear, suppressed tenaciously by innocence--canny innocence-- flared up in a question, betraying an ignorance both clear and obscene: "Little Girl, would you touch me--here?" Suddenly my hand, sweetly warming in his flannel pocket, was pushed to the hard, oozing center. My hand recoiled. But the ooze stuck. In that minute my childhood ended. I ran home as fast as my legs would carry me to hide my shame in the place where secrets were made and kept, willful little liar, disobedient sinner trying to find my way alone through fog, through lies. My life was filling up with secrets and deceit's secretions, loneliness and melancholy. I hugged my coat tight against my body so that the lies and I were one.
From Hard Bread by Peg Boyers. Copyright © 2002 by Peg Boyers. Reprinted by permission of the University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved.