Lie To Me
I'm seven years old and my dad and I are looking at mummies. We're at Walter's Art Gallery in Baltimore Maryland. The mummies, their tombs are black and gold, burnt sienna. Inside, the remains of an ancient civilization. Tucked away behind glass, they beg for a closer look. But we can't get closer. There's guards, security alarms. We continue on to the earthen jars, small things, which once held the organs of human beings. That night, my dad passes me a velvet box. Inside, there's a ring. It has three diamonds that glitter in the light. It's gold and amazingly tiny and fit only on my smallest fingers. "This ring”, Dad says, “belonged to an Egyptian Pharaoh." "But, it’s so small," I protest. "How could it belong to a Pharaoh?” Dad replies,"He died very young, they killed him. They wanted his power. They were very jealous."
How my Dad came to have a Pharaoh's ring is this: Dad had once worked at Walter's Art Gallery. Late one night, while performing security rounds, Dad and his pal Frankie, break into the display case of the boy king. Dad takes the ring. Frankie takes a bag and stuffs it with jewels, and together they escape, slipping quietly back into the concrete jungle of Baltimore. (music) I didn't believe it, at least not in front of my mom. Dad was constantly bringing home stories that my mom quickly dismissed. He'd come home from work and I would run down stairs to meet him, flying into his arms. When Dad would launch into an account of-- anything even slightly outlandish, she'd appear out of nowhere and say, "Don't tell her that!" My mom hates liars. Aided by my mother I had my own doubts about dad telling it straight. But this story was flawless. It fit my father’s character. Dad loved Egypt. More than just loved it like a historian might love a place. Dad was Egypt. He had actually been a Pharaoh in a past life. (music) At least, that's what he'd been telling me for years. So, as time passed, how and why he came to have such a rare treasure made more and more sense, and his far-fetched tale about the robbery became THE story. (music) With the ring in my hands, I was being entrusted with ancient treasure. In bed at night, I began to imagine wild, dangerous things. Maybe grave robbers would come for me. Breaking into our suburban home and sneaking down the dark hallways, pressing their bodies against the garish golden wallpaper as they inched their way to my bedroom. Maybe someday I would return it to the museum, to Mr.Walter’s gallery, if there was a living man with such a name. I pledged never to tell Walter how I came to have the ring. I worried they might be able to track it back to my dad.
So even though I didn’t believe the story, I behaved like I did. I maintained a secret supremacy over others while I wore the ring. Maybe the Pharaoh's powers could be reactivated if I found the right words. I prayed, chanting solemn gibberish to the Pharaohs to grant me the powers imbued to all Pharaohs. Besides, as the daughter of a reincarnated Pharaoh that meant that I was technically at least half princess. So maybe you can understand why the seven year-old me really wanted this story to be true.
Mom: I can't remember the exact moment the ring appeared. he didn't show me a ring, right away. and i remember at some point, this ring he showed me this ring. you were a baby, and he wanted to give it to you... all i ever heard was that story that it's a pharoah's ring. ... a pharaoh child's ring. that's it. he never told me where it came from, how he happened upon it. I did not believe him so when he was at work i took the ring, and I took it to a jewelers and... I told them I wanted to know what this ring was all about. Is this a real ring? Or is it a piece of junk? [music]
I took it to a really high class jewelers and I had the guy look at it with an eye piece under his microscope and he looked up at me and he said... it's a real diamond, and it's real gold, and it is a child's ring, and it was very old. He didn't know anything else to say about it. It was high quality.
13:13 so at that point did part of you think maybe it was a pharaoh’s ring?
Mom: I never EVER! Believed it was a Pharaoh’s ring.
17:25 he loved saying that he was a reincarnated pharaoh
Me: he told you that too?
Mom: he loved that story.
22:35 Me: do you think he just liked it? Because it was such an escape. I’d like to know if he truly believed it
23:03 it was certainly a whole lot better than the life he lived as a trash man. So I don't know. We’ll never know. [music]
The reason we'll never know the truth is because my dad passed away in October of 2010, not that he would have told us anyway. [music]
At the time I was walking around wearing the Pharoah's ring, here's what I knew about my dad. I knew he had a tattoo of the devil on his forearm, and a cross on his chest. I knew he'd been orphaned at the age of five, and that he'd been in the Marine Corps, had a son, Chuck, my half brother, who was not someone I got to see much. He liked to steal cars and had been in jail a few times before I was even born. Dad had gotten married and divorced and later he ended up meeting my mother and driving a garbage truck. His teenage years and his 20's were kind of a black hole. [music] So, dad's 20's were a black hole, but every now and than dark stuff would emerge because of my half brother. (music) I was 21, and alone with Chuck for the first time. We're riding around in his janky air conditioning repair service van, hardcore metal music blasting, mixing with the scrap metal crashing around behind us. My half brother, who looks like Steve Harris from Iron Maiden, but with all his hair shaved off, had me trapped in his van and we're zooming around Baltimore, looking for a place to dump the scrap, when he decided to unload on me. He told me that our dad had kept a secret from us. I stared at the jostling image of my niece dangling from the rearview mirror. I only half believed him. But then, a year later, I heard the full story, the secret, straight from my father.
When I still lived in Virginia, Dad and I would go for hikes a lot and one weekend we went up to Harpers Ferry. It’s a park, made up of large plantations where civil war battles took place, the site of John Brown's rebellion. It’s kind of an eerie place. It was a year after my conversation with Chuck. I was 22, at the time, and complaining. I’d recently made some pretty bad choices. I quit a good job and lived in my car, until I moved in with my grandma who is a pananoid schizophrenic. So, I decided to blame my dad. It was his fault he hadn't given me any advice about these hard things. We were walking through one of the battlefields and we keep stepping on these, I think they were chestnuts. They really hurt when you step on them. They’re big. Round things. So we were awkwardly walking on these chestnuts, and there was fog that morning. There’s hardly anyone around, there are old plantation fences and restored cannons. It was just the two of us and I was really harping on him. What the hell had happened to my life? How had I gotten so off course? "Why didn't you teach me how to be a grown up?" And he started telling me this story about how he’d accidently killed his ex-wife’s cat. He’d been chasing it for fun and there’d been an accident. And he’s almost crying about it. I’m really surprised. I’m telling him, it’s okay. I can tell you feel bad about it and that means you’re not a bad person. It’s strange for him to cry. And he keeps crying and he asks, did your brother ever tell you that I was in prison? [space] And I said, yeah. [space] But he had only kind of told me why, that a long time ago something had happened, someone had said something bad about dad’s girlfriend and with the help of his friends he’d punched the guy until he fell backwards and hit his head on a toilet bowl. An accident. My father told me he visited the guy in the hospital, a nurse told him that if the kid lived he would be a vegetable. But that's not what happened. He died. My dad grabs my hand. "Do you still love me?" And, I didn’t really have time to think, my gut response was, of course I do. This doesn’t really change anything. I don't feel angry. I was frustrated. I'm thinking, why couldn't you just tell me? Why did it take you twenty-two years Dad?
Mom :08 everything that I'm gonna say is what he told me, so assuming
that what he told me is accurate. a story that he told me, and I'm
only telling you this because he told you this. i swore to him that i
would never ever tell you or chuck because he didn't want you all to
know. does chuck know?
:55 what he told me was living on the street and being in the gang,
there were gang fights, i think he was 17 years old, and they were in
a fight, and he was punching a guy, and the guy had a chain, and the
guy was trying to kill him and hurt him, and he got the upper hand,
and once he punched him a few times and the guy went down, he kept
punching him because he didn't want him to get back up... and he kept punching and punching and punching, so yes when the cops came, they all took off, but he got caught....but this kid, he went into the hospital and he was in a coma and then he died.
2:05 so he got charged with that. so he was in jail till he was 28 or
29 he got out of jail.
5:50 the version of that story you just told me that i heard was
slightly different. so i think like, even in telling me the truth as
he told me the truth, he was still... still lying to me.
6:46 what if that is the true version, what if he lied to me? we'll
never know. i'm telling you, this man tells some stories. (Music)
Now, I understand why my dad didn’t have much advice to give me. What advice can you give your daughter when all you have to show for your twenties is a prison sentence? What was he going to do, teach me how to build a knife out of a toothbrush? (space)
I wonder about the effect lying has on a person. How much of my dads time was spent maintaining the world he’d built? The one where he's pretending beating a human being to death never happened. I wonder if it hurt him to lie if he wished he could tell the truth. I wonder if he was scared nobody would love him. I wonder if it helped him cope with reality or if it just made it worse.
When I was a kid, my Dad had a green military bag. It was sandy, uncomfortable, and I loved it. I'd often pull the sleeping bag around me and wonder, which war had he fought in? Our living room was covered in Korean paintings, dolls and vases, so I figured it must have been the Korean War. Now, it's 2012. I'm 25 and finally able to do basic math. I realize the actual dates of the Korean War. The war began in 1950 and officially ended July 27th, 1953. This would make my dad 14 1/2 years old at the time the war ended. There’s at least one record of a fourteen year old that forged his mothers signature and joined the Marines in WWII. He went on to win the Medal of Honor. But I’ve seen that kids picture. He might have been fourteen but he looks twenty. I’ve seen a picture of my dad in his teens. He was a runt. So, did he really help “stem the tide of Communist aggression?” Probably not. (music) And than, finally, I put two and two together and get: Prison. (space) One way to avoid talking about eleven years of your life? Pretend you were in a war and you just don’t want to talk about it.
I know that lying can help avoid confronting uncomfortable truths. It can make a really horrific thing, seem not as bad. Which is useful when you're face to face with your daughter, the one you're trying like hell to raise right. But what about when someone asks you to lie to them, begs you. Maybe not outright, but, say, with their eyes. So, they know you're lying. You know you're lying. But it will make them happy, so you do it. It's now a year after my dad and I visited Harper's Ferry. I'm 23. It's late summer. The beach in Deleware is almost empty. There are a few people hanging around buying ice cream and wearing sandy swimsuits. A little girl is feeding seagulls and shrieking as they dive at her, too close. My dad, at this point, needs two canes to walk. He has been living with stage four lung cancer for two and a half months. Three months ago he drove a dump truck and stopped at a 7-11 every morning to buy a coffee and a banana. Today, walking to the boardwalk, something is really wrong. Dad has broken out in a cold sweat and is literally shaking with the effort it’s taking to walk from the car to the beach front. Inch by inch we make our way towards the sea. A lady whose kids are running all over the place reaches out to grab one of them by the back of his t-shirt just before he cuts my dad off. She seems to know. It's just after this that we reach the threshold of boardwalk and sand. Dad stops, holds onto the fence, and stares at the sea. "I didn't bring my swim trunks," he says. I laugh but I see he's not joking. He stares deeply into my eyes and seems a little hurt. His eyes seem to say, why are you laughing? I'm going to remember to grab them next time. But even though we both want very badly to believe that there will be another day like this, just eating ice cream and watching the waves roll and crash. I know that he's never again going to swim in the ocean. He turns and says, "Promise me we'll come back here next summer." All along I've been telling him that he has to take his medicine if he wants to get better. Get better, get well. I’ve been feeding him hope. That promise of light at the end of the tunnel. So now I feel trapped, standing at the fence. He looks at me imploringly and what can I say? I keep lying. "Yeah. Sure dad, if you want to. " I try to mean it but it’s no use. The stress of the last few months has caught up with me. In hearing the hollowness in my own words, I feel ill. He just wanted something to believe in, if only for a moment. And judging by the look on his face, now he knows that I don't actually think he's going to get better. Suddenly he's walking out to the beach, maneuvering with his canes. I holster the backpack with his supplies inside. I hear the morphine and gazillion other pills rattling around and I hate them. I hate carrying them around jangling in their plastic cases like some cheap obnoxious orchestra. And dad's on the beach, pitching around in the loose ungroomed sand. He makes his way to the edge of the surf and makes me take his picture. He holds the canes up in the air over his head, one in each hand as I snap the picture. I am scared to death.
I've felt the cold fear chill my skin and turn my will into cotton balls. When you lie you cut yourself off from other people. You're like an island. It’s a lonely place when no one knows the real you. Now I can pretty well guess the effect lying has had on him. I understand. I wonder if my seven year old eyes looked at his in the same way he looked at me that day, begging for a story. With the gift of a ring he made me a princess. He gave me this thing, this lie. And regardless of the effect the lie had on him, it made my childhood pretty memorable. I'm grateful that he lied.
Dad used to wish he could be a bird, so maybe that's where he is now. He's been reincarnated, again A young bird, watching a familiar girl write in the park. His eyes are bright, already full of promise, mischief. He's been a Pharaoh, a trash collector and who knows what else. In his next life he finds love, courage. He has good parents that encourage him. He's not afraid. That's my story anyway, the one I tell myself.