A popular television personality has a nugget of wisdom which I have taken to heart. “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to have a good memory.” This is definitely true. I am sure that as you read this, many of you are nodding your heads, remembering times when you got caught in a lie because your memory was less than perfect.
Luckily for me, I have a pretty darn good memory. I am especially good at computer concentration-type games, in which you score points by finding matches within a grid. I also tend to remember minute details of situations – the song that was playing on the radio while I was waiting for an important business meeting to begin, and what I was wearing the time, in the fifth grade, when I lied to my teacher, Mrs. G. I actually don’t remember the details leading up to the incident, but here is what I know. I got caught hiding behind the drapes in the classroom of another fifth grade teacher, Mr. B, so that I and two kids from my class that I really didn’t even know very well, wouldn’t have to go out to the playground for recess. My mother had just bought me new sneakers – white with blue stripes, and I was wearing purple toughskins jeans from Sears and a pink sweater. I remember wondering if anyone would be able to see my shoes beneath the curtains. I remember holding my breath as Mrs. G stormed into Mr. B’s classroom. I even remember my shame as she yelled, and the hotness of my face, and my worry that she would call my mother. And I remember the complicated story I told as I tried to explain away my disobedience, the feel of the brick wall pressing against my back as I, a few minutes later, pressed against the side of the gym and tried not to cry as my classmates ran and threw and jumped all around me. What I don’t remember, though, is why I didn’t want to go out to play. I liked recess. The playground was bordered by some woods, and I liked to collect acorns and pretty stones and watch the squirrels. Sometimes, I was even picked for a kickball team, especially if it was cold and flu season and some of the really good kickers were absent.
I don’t know why I chose that day to disobey my teacher. I don’t know why I hid behind the curtains in the classroom across the hall. I don’t know why I thought I might get away with it. And, when I was caught, I don’t know why I chose to lie. But I did. Luckily, I was usually a very compliant, obedient, polite child, and maybe Mrs. G saw my embarrassment and remorse. I don’t remember if I was punished. I don’t remember being sent to the principal or having to write 1000 times, “I will not hide behind the curtains in Mr. B’s classroom when I am supposed to be going out to the playground and then lie about it when I get caught.” I don’t remember, even, if the school sent a note to my mother. But what I do remember, even to this day, more than 30 years later, disappointing someone I liked and respected and who I desperately wanted both to like me and to think that I was a good girl, the feeling of disappointing them, and in turn, disappointing myself.
I would like to say that, from that experience, I learned my lesson and never told another lie. Trust me, I could tell you that, but it would not be true. What would be true, however, is that the next time I chose to lie, I remembered hearing Mrs. G’s footsteps as she strode across the room and the look on her face as she pulled back the curtains and saw me huddled there. I remember vowing to myself, afterward, that I would never tell another lie; that, whatever I would gain from lying wasn’t worth the bad feelings it caused; that only bad kids lied, and I was a good kid, really I was. Those are the things I thought about the next time I found myself avoiding the truth. And I hope that every once in a while, when I am tempted to lie, the memory of that fifth grade lie and its consequences will make me stop and think, take a deep breath, and tell the truth, no matter how hard it feels to be honest. Trust me, I never want to feel that way again.