11. Truth

It was a clear, cool night. Laura slept soundly. When she slept, nothing could really disturb her short of an emergency. She was a tenth conscious so that if I said something to her, she would mumble an incoherent reply:

"Do you think that I should make some tea?" I would ask.

"Is the raven still flying around the house?" she would answer.

I could do as I please when she slept without feeling as if I was disturbing her rest.

I kept thinking about Allen and I; but mostly I reviewed the things that made me who I am: the people, the books, the words. Of course, there was my mother. She who knew everything. To her truth was the most important thing. It was her god. I saw it as her way of keeping control over me. If I told her everything and she knew what I did and thought, she could control me as a pupeteer controls a puppet. I was absolutely forbiden to lie; but I didn't have to tell her everything either, unless she asked. But how was she to know to ask whether I had been in the haunted house? Whether I had been fooling around with the little girl next door? Whether I had read one of those little dirty books that one of my classmates brought to school? I learned what every child learns. The phrases that were even made into a book title: Where did you go? Out! What did you do? Nothing! While other kids told lies, I learned to evade and to forget. Oh what a convenient memory I had; I could have forgotten my name if I had to. Mamma knew nothing of tact. That isn't really true; she was tactful and considerate -but not with me. She wasn't peculiar that way. I wonder what percentage of mothers think of their children as people. I'll wager, not many."My child is mine and I can do as I wish with him."

Allen had Laura as his mother. Laura, who could lie like a trooper. She was expert at it. If it wasn't for the fact that she knew that I would divorce her if she ever lied to me again, she would still be doing it. I learned not to ask her questions which would tempt her to revert to her former habits. By the time we reached this point, I had become aware of my own dishonesty and didn't feel that it was a battle of good vs evil, but insisted upon it because I didn't want to live with someone I couldn't trust. I once told her this and she said "you mean you wanted to live with someone you could control". Laura had had the experience of living in a house where there was little communication, and what there was was unreliable. She agreed to the terms willingly, but with the stipulation that it went both ways. We could keep our independent psyches by keeping secrets from one another, but there would be no lies. Either of us could refuse to answer. It was far from a perfect arrangement, but it served us well.

Our kids each learned to deal with the truth in their own way. One of them would rarely say anything of any importance. Another would convince herself that her lie was really the truth; a third didn't consider lying to be bad and was able to lie with a straight face and no conscience. Allen? I really don't know. I never caught him lying, but now he was living a lie. For him, it had become a way of life, so that he was totally unable to tell what was true from what was false. What, I wondered, had ever induced the child evangelist Marjoe Gortner to write a book telling the truth about his life?

And the words? For me they had been The Rubiyat of Omar Khyam, and later Ecclesiastes. But mostly it was the movies: Louis Pasteur as portrayed by Paul Muni, Edward G. Robinson as Paul Ehrlich, Tom Mix who always shot straight and told us all to be straight shooters and to shoot straight. Of course straight had a very different meaning from what it has now. Do you know what? I really don't know what it meant then, except that it didn't mean "heterosexual". And you could always tell the good guys from the bad guys. They were so real to me then, that when the good guy was in danger, I would duck my head down behind the seat in the movie theater so that I wouldn't see him get killed. There was no such thing as make believe or fiction to me then -it was all real.There were also Aesop's Fables and some of the Jewish moralistic tales which were built around the ten commandments. Mostly they were concerned with the one having to do with honoring your parents. My folks hedged their bets, they did.
After I had thought it out, tears came to my eyes and I sobbed "forgive me, son, for I knew not what I did!"

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