Issue 35, Final Fringe

Secrets and Lies

by Kelly Sundberg Issue 24 11.01.2010

Lying is a weird talent in itself.  The bigger the lie, the more likely it is to be believed.  I once told my college roommate Cassie that my grandmother yodeled for the Queen of Sweden.  At the time, my grandmother, although having Swedish heritage in her bloodlines, had never been to Sweden, and I didn’t even know if Sweden had a queen.  But I told the lie, and Cassie believed it.  She went on to tell that tale for years, and I cringed every time fearing I would be exposed.  Years later, I finally looked her in the eyes and said “Cassie, I made that up.”

My first semester of college, I recreated myself.  I started wearing black and reading Simone de Beauvoir, but I still threw up after every meal.   I was almost discovered by Cassie once.  She walked in on me in the bathroom.  I don’t remember what I told her—probably something about not feeling well even though I had been perfectly fine all night—but she seemed reassured by my explanation, and I got better at locking the door.

And the other lies continued.  I had never even been kissed by a boy, yet when I went home for Thanksgiving, I told Penny that I had made out with a guy.  I may have even told her we had sex.  I can’t remember.  When she asked what his name was, I stammered out the name Bob.

Bob was not anyone I would have ever made out with.  He was a member of College Democrats, a chronic marijuana smoker who had a habit of jabbing his finger in my chest when he was making a point.  Still, his name was the first that popped into my head.  A month later, Penny came to visit me at college and she brought up what I had told her in front of Cassie.  I stood there silent, skin stretched across my face like plaster, as they looked at each other knowingly, and I was exposed as a liar in front of Cassie who knew that I had never made out with Bob.

That same year, on Christmas day, I turned nineteen and stopped menstruating.  The bulimia may have been having an effect on my hormonal processes.  I didn’t bleed for nine months.  My body caved into itself like dust, layer upon layer crumbling into my womb. I imagined my ovaries were holes lying empty like graves.

Three months later, I traveled to Europe with a friend.  In Amsterdam, after half a bottle of Italian grappa, I made out with a Dutch boy for an hour in the middle of a nightclub consumed with the fumbling groping that comes with inexperience.  We had one last wild kiss in the middle of a cobblestone street, before he stumbled away and I never saw him again.  The next day, I curled up in bed with my face buried in a pillow. When my friend asked what was wrong, I finally confessed that I had never kissed anyone before that.  She laughed and hugged me and said, “That’s not so bad!”  If the truth is liberating, then lies are bondage.

People aren’t really trained to hear untruths, and most lies probably go undiscovered, but there is always the threat of discovery.  I wasn’t mean.  I didn’t make up lies about other people, and for the most part, my lies weren’t destructive to anyone but myself. But the poison of the big lie ate me up inside, so I told other lies to build myself up on the outside.  But those untruths and half-truths soon had lives of their own, while the untold was eating away at my own life.

Once, I sat on the floor in front of a full-length mirror, hands wrapped around my neck and squeezed until I imagined myself floating into air, arms flapping uselessly, mouth trapped in the shape of a hopeless O.

Another time, I dreamed of an empty mansion with a spiral staircase, and a black shadow running ahead of me.  I chased it, frantically shouting the Lord’s Prayer, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. At the foot of the staircase, I pushed open a door into a small room filled with a Christmas tree and presents wrapped in gold.  When I picked up a present, it weighed nothing—hollow—and the shadow started laughing at me.

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Kelly Sundberg

Kelly Sundberg

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Kelly Sundberg grew up in a remote, one-stoplight town sloped up against the mountains of Idaho.  Living in her husband’s home state of West Virginia has further deepened her attraction to stories about small communities with a complex, often uneasy connection with the surrounding landscape and each other.  She is currently pursuing her MFA in nonfiction at West Virginia University where she also teaches composition.