Tell Me If You're Lying
In the summer of 1992 my mother wore a purple Rod Stewart T-shirt around the house or to mow the lawn. Back then they had similar haircuts, like a fuzzy headed dandelion cloud, silvery-blonde, and they even shared the same bone structure. My mother’s face was very British, all fine-pointedness, a regal brow, nose, and chin—people told me I looked nothing like her. Even if she were dusting or setting a bowl of sliced cucumbers on the table, I looked at that T-shirt and believed she could be Rod and it made me happy. It was something likable about a parent I could brag about. I never told stories that featured my father. He wasn’t clean-cut like other fathers; he didn’t polish his car all summer long, amiably chatting up neighbors. His belly peeled out over his waistband due to high doses of Prednisone to keep his Crohn’s disease in remission. His face puffed out, remained red; a close-up revealed the millimeter-wide broken capillaries threading his cheeks. When I laid my head on his shoulder, I stared at them in the sunlight.
“Why is your face so red?” I remember asking.
Neighborhood kids said my father looked like Santa with his beard and belly, shirtless in summertime as he strung the hose across the lawn to fill up our Kmart kiddie pool, strategically placed over the oil slicks in our driveway. Six feet tall, he carried weight well in that he looked sturdy, reliable, and likable, if a little sad—like Santa. He wasn’t that fat, either, but neighborhood kids were never discriminatory in their cruelness. Nor were their parents sick. I didn’t know how to defend my father without giving away a part of my life that I could never verbalize, and besides, I told myself, the neighborhood kids would never understand disease if I myself couldn’t. Instead, I began to tell people that he wasn’t my father. A girl who’d lived across the street from me for so many years reminded me of this. It was in high school that she embarrassingly admitted, “I believed that lie about your father for so long!” I was confused—what lie?— and then I remembered with such clarity that I wondered how I could’ve forgotten in the first place. No telling how many children I told, how many afternoons on the school bus where I fabricated details about his busy shooting schedule, if I ever danced with him, and maybe even about his hair products.
In 1992, my favorite movie was Dirty Dancing. And so I’d begun to tell all who cared that my real father was Patrick Swayze.