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
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
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.