When I was three, I asked my dad’s secretary why she was an “India.” An “India” is a rather derogatory term in Spanish with several connotations related to skin color and education. I didn’t drum this up out of nowhere. My imagination was rather tame back then. I said it because it was what my mother called her behind her back. Out of distain. And to summarily dismiss this woman because she was haughty, tried to rise above rank, and didn’t treat my then 26-year old mother with the respect she commanded. I, as a three-year old, was supposed to haves picked up on the nuance of things said only in confidence and things said to the rest of the world. My problem was that I hadn’t realized that people had bad intentions. So I didn’t yet know there was an us vs. them.
I’ve never been a very good liar but I’ve told a lot of lies. Some to myself, but mostly to the abusers in my life. If I’m anything, it’s too forthcoming, and that in itself has gotten me into boiling water more times than I can count. But when I did lie, it was mostly to protect myself from scorn and punishment from the people who were supposed to love me the most and protect me from harm.
I know from liars. I grew up with one so deluded in all of his virtues that I needed a compass and a level to keep my bearings in that house. Once, when I was no longer a child and should have known better, he had me write a resume for him that said he earned an MBA from the University of Arizona. It surprised me that he hadn’t shared this fact with me before in my 25 years. But gullible me that I was, I added it. And then a week later he had me remove it, because the employer had actually checked on his resume and it just wasn’t true. And then I found out he never actually graduated college. My whole world went on tilt because the very foundation upon which I built my reality had shifted.
So lies, right? People tell them for lots of reasons. We couldn’t function without some lying. It smooths things over, makes life easier, deals with certain parts of us we don’t want to or can’t access. But some lies are like fire or acid or lightning or plague. Deadly and viscous and without remedy. At least not before damage is done.
I spoke to my dad on Friday evening, which is always a bad time because he’s never sober on Fridays. But I needed to talk to him about my house in Tucson. He told me that I needed to consider my mother and my sisters and that I still have a family, which is hilarious because I can’t remember a time when they considered me. He said that my mother is upset because I hate her but he has assured them all that it is, quote, “just because of my mental illness.”
I wanted to scream. Some lies feel so unjust.
With one sentence he was able to both take away my real grievances with people who have no business in my life and also make me sound like a raving lunatic. And if I know this man the way I think I do, he’s not just telling that to them, he’s doing damage control and telling it to the whole world, sober, but more likely inebriated.
Also, just as an aside, my family knows fuck all about mental illness and autism. When I started begging my parents to send me to a doctor at 17 because I’d already made several attempts and had begun to drink heavily, they told me I was a liar. When I came out of a mental institution at 35 and they finally conceded that I had bipolar disorder, they said they just never wanted to believe before. To this day I cannot tell you that either my parents or siblings have ever acknowledged my autism. Not once. And it’s kind of a big deal. But I digress….
I started being real honest about everything in my life a few years ago when someone started spreading lies about my mental health. I thought to myself, I will beat everyone to the punch. If anyone wanted to know anything about me, all they had to do was ask. And I would pledge to myself to be honest and kind.
Yes, I have bipolar disorder, and yes, it has been bad. But, and this is not to deflect blame, most of my bad behavior was caused by serious emotional abuse perpetrated by my mother and ex. Legitimately. Painfully. I took out whatever anger I had for them on myself.
The truth is this. My mother has caused so much damage in my life that it can never be undone. No matter what I do to try to live a good life at this point, she set in motion so much cruelty and abuse that I will pay for it for the rest of whatever life I may have.
You might say the damage is done, or that I shouldn’t be angry, or that I will regret her dying, but if you have any familiarity with me, you know I’m more reflective than 10 other people (mostly to my own detriment). This woman is never inert. She is always a live wire just laying there, waiting to shoot me with a million volts each time I am forgetful and pick it up. And I’m not particularly interested in self-immolation.
But to couple all that with my father’s corrosive lies that all of this is the result of bipolar disorder and not the deeds of a narcissistic woman who has showed time and time again that she is filled with evil is cruelty in itself. That’s asking a whole fucking lot from me. To him, that is unimportant because he, as a narcissist himself, has an image to uphold of a happy family with grandchildren and a great golf game. And boy is it easier to just pluck me out and call me crazy rather than have to face the very real cancer in his little world.
None of this gives me pleasure to say. I wish I was a better liar. I’d make up horrible stories about these people gain your trust and manipulate your loyalties. Or I’d make up grandiose tales of how amazing my life is without them. But that’s not my bag, baby. My lies have always been reactive…to protect me from harm. And it comes down to this:
Their words can’t harm me anymore. There’s no need to lie. I have bipolar disorder. I have autism. I have eczema. I have an eye that sometimes crosses. I have lots of things. I will answer for all of them because I am not afraid. Try as they might to discredit me, it won’t work when I have already laid the groundwork for anyone who would deign. And those who would believe the lies, well, I don’t know why I’d want you around anyway.
It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt. That’s the crappy part. The more I protest, the less credibility I have. I wish I wasn’t estranged from my family. Four to one seems like a pretty solid verdict that I am the problem. But when everyone is exposed to a lifetime of treachery, it becomes endemic. And I, as the sole dissenter, pay the price of calling out the lies.
It hurts so badly sometimes. This isn’t the first estrangement. But I think it’s the final one. On average it takes a victim seven times to leave before staying away for good. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried. I just hope this one sticks.