"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Friday, January 15, 2010


(Sometimes a writing prompt will push the muse in an unexpected direction.)

I lied. I lied again and again and again. And then I lied some more.

My lies were those of commission and omission. My lies were both selfish and altruistic. Often the lies came easily: I need only to say the opposite of what I was thinking or feeling. Sometimes, though, I had to pause and invent new ways to lie.

If lies alone are to determine our state of mind when we die, I most certainly will die an agonizing death, roasted by the facility of my words, gutted by the depth and breadth of my deceitfulness, forever doomed to trudge Dante’s circles of hell. I don’t think it works that way, however, and I don’t envisage such a fate because of lies.

Despite all the lies, my conscience doesn’t keep me awake at night, which might imply I don’t have a conscience, but I know for certain that I do, just not about the lies. Guilt doesn’t gnaw at my soul, and I can look others straight in the eye and claim I did no wrong when I lied. Other guilt is another matter.

“In the eyes.” That’s how it all started, when I looked my husband straight in his brown eyes, down deep into those kind eyes that now showed bewilderment and concern. “What happened?” he asked.

“You just had a reaction to some medication,” I answered. That part was mostly true, what we had at first suspected was the cause of eight days of psychosis following surgery. The lies came next: “It’s okay. Don’t worry. You’re going to be okay.” He was not. He most certainly was not. He would never again be “okay.” He was going to get a damn sight worse, and that was only the beginning.

Three years later, three years of ever-increasing lies later, his eyes were shallow and opaque, their depth all gummed up with the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s disease.. When I looked into them to lie, the deceitful words ricocheted back at me. His essence, the things that made him the man I loved, were gone. I stopped looking into his eyes, hoping to avoid the boomerangs of self-serving but altruistic lies.

“It’s all right. There’s nothing there,” I said when the hallucinations had the television heads speaking to him, or moose on the front deck, or a crew of men waiting for their boss—him—in thirty below weather.

“It’s okay. Teddy’s okay. See? That’s him right there.” His ravaged brain knew otherwise. He’d heard the screams during the night, and no words, true or false, would convince him that his temporary hospital roommate had not died during the night. He would hear the screams until his brain no longer recognized or translated sound.

“We’re fine. Really. We don’t owe any money. Everything is fine.” That one was mostly true. Except the unspoken worry—how I going to pay for his care and keep him in Alaska where I could visit him.

On and on and on the lies dripped in, as easily as saline solution through an intravenous tube. They served double-duty, meant to calm and reassure a man who literally had lost control of his life, and to make things a bit easier on me.

The lies of omission came naturally, though some subterfuge was required. I only had to keep my mouth shut. I began to withhold more and more information. I would not tell him he had an appointment with the neurologist until the scheduled day as his anxiety at leaving safe confines of home would keep both of us awake all night. I would not tell him the true state of his condition; he could not grasp the concept anyway. I did not tell him I was taking him to Arizona where he would be placed in an assisted living home near his grown children. By this time, he no longer knew my name or who I was, though we had lived together thirty years. He didn’t recognize his home.

And then I told the biggest lie of all: “I love you.”

I still loved a much younger man, a strong and humorous man with great common sense and a lingering bit of the bad boy to keep me interested. But this shell? How could I? This wasn’t the man I fell in love with, the man I married. I didn’t know this stranger. The love had long since morphed into crushing responsibility and obligation and duty, and for that failing, that dereliction of vows, I might yet have to atone.


  1. Absolutely moving.

  2. May I venture to say that responsibility, duty and obligation are all vital threads woven within the complexity of love's fabric.

    You weren't lying when you said "I love you." You'd traveled hellish roads with your husband during his illness.

    Your words expressing your feelings to your husband were said for his sake, that is obvious. I believe that to say those words amidst the horror that your lives had become, proves that love indeed was the motivation that moved you to do all you could when you were too weary even to breathe.

    From my perspective, as a friend who knows the details of your story, you won't be asked to atone for loving in the most demanding and unrecognizable sense of the word.

  3. Even heavier than trying to define what we mean by 'lies', is what we mean by 'love'.

    Your neighbouring Inuits apparently have a whole igloo full of words for 'snow', allowing them to differentiate between different kinds.

    Yet we speakers of the world's richest language have just a single word for one of the world's most complex emotions.

    We love our partners. We love our parents. We love our kids. We love our pets (even parrots). Some of us love our jobs. Where we live. Football, hot dogs, etc. All examples of subtly different emotions bundled into one somewhat inadequate word.

    But gee, imagine the hassles if we were able to accurately specify the degree/form of what we call 'love'. "How do I love you? Let me grade the ways." The only way to maintain most relationships would be to lie.

    Full circle Gully.

  4. ...Im speechless.... Thank you Shaddy, for your last paragraph. That pretty much sums it up for me, too.

  5. And then I told the biggest lie of all: “I love you.”

    Such eloquent, brutal, wrenching honesty tears at my heart and affirms my belief in humanity.

    Where is/was Truth? In that shell of a body, or the man you remembered? You have set a high standard to write up to.

  6. Words of compassion and comfort cannot be lies. The silence of no words can be louder.