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Today's Story by Benjamin Wachs

The most interesting thing about their relationship had been her capacity to love a man who would not tell her the truth.

Status update

After three months of flirting, 9 months of dating, three months of painful pining and two years of only slightly awkward post-break-up friendship, Celia caught the pattern of Chad’s lies.

He had once told her, trying to explain his fear of confined spaces, that as a young child, his mother had locked him in a dog cage whenever his ADD was getting out of control.  His older sister later swore, over too much wine and mutual heartbreak, that it wasn’t true.

He had once told her, trying to explain why he found it hard to talk his issues out, that his father’s method of resolving family disputes was to lock the children in the same room together and  only open the door when all three of them swore to stop arguing.  He didn’t care what the resolution was – he just wanted the conflict done.  She had believed that one for a year, before meeting his father:  who was absolutely not that man.

He had once sworn to her, outside a movie theater on a cold night just two weeks before their break-up, that he’d been sexually abused by his high school bully – the star player on the wrestling team – during a “lock-in” event at their suburban high school, when all the kids were supposed to spend the night at school dancing and eating pizza under the watchful eyes of adult chaperons   But the kids knew ways to get into the closed off parts of the school that the parents didn’t, and with no way out terrible things had happened.

Her heart had bled for him, then, but half a year later she’d seen an old yearbook on his bookshelf and realized that his high school didn’t have a wrestling team.

Until that moment, the most interesting thing about their relationship had been her capacity to love a man who would not tell her the truth.  She had not realized she was one of those women whose feelings were unwise, and it was dizzying to look at that truth straight on.  But now the most interesting thing had become a technical matter:  all of his biggest lies involved being locked in a confined space.

Does an underlying structure to a set of lies, she asked herself, reveal some kind of truth?  Or is it simply a matter of style, a habitual lie revealing no more about the psyche than a painter’s habitual brush strokes can tell you about his love life?

But even if there was no reason for it, it was still a choice, wasn’t it?  Even if it didn’t represented a stand-in for some real trauma that had occurred but he wouldn’t talk about, but only hint at through layer upon layer of deception – didn’t it count for something that of all the lies he could tell, he kept telling lies about this?  There had to be a hidden meaning there.

In the end she decided to ask him about it.  She wore a low cut dress and a thin skirt with high-heel boots.  They went drinking, she let them drink more than was wise, and she flirted enough to make him think that the poison of faithless love had been washed from her system by time and career success.

Over another glass of Chablis she said she had something she wanted to ask him.  She said it suggestively, so that he’d want to answer.  She made him promise to tell her the truth and, not suspecting the direction, he did.

“The deep conversations that I most remember,” she said, “the most intimate, the most revealing, you always told me you’d been locked up somewhere, in a room, against your will, and I kept finding out it never happened.  What’s that about?  Why did you always go back to that place?”

He’d taken a deep breath, disappointed, but hopeful the night could still be salvaged.  Not understanding that this had been a set-up from the beginning.  He was most likely to be truthful, she believed, when he thought everything wasn’t at stake.

“Because it resonates,” he said.  “Every time.  Around high school I discovered that there’s something about the idea of being trapped with people who might hurt you that people instinctively believe.  That it resonates with them, because that’s kind of how we all feel, isn’t it?  Like our lives are boxes, and we don’t really have that much control over the people we share the boxes with?  That no matter how much we try to pick and choose we’re stuck with the people we were always going to end up with anyway?  Honestly, who’s really friends with the people they most want to have in their lives?  We get one or two of those people, if we’re very lucky, and the rest are people we make do with, while the friends we’d choose if we had the whole world to choose from drift farther and farther away on Facebook.”

They’d both been quite for a while.

“I go there because it works,” he finally finished.  “And I guess I’m not creative enough to come up with another scenario that works that well.”

She excused herself to go to the restroom.  She kissed his forehead.  She took her purse.  She slipped out the back and grabbed a taxi on the street.  She went back to her apartment, took off her high-heeled boots and her short skirt and her low-cut dress, and ignored his texts as she stared at the screen of her laptop, at the 661 “friends” she had, everyone who was supposed to matter to her in her life, all arranged neatly in one place, most of whom had slipped through her fingers, who barely responded if she reached out, and had left her alone, locked in this room, with this festering love for a man who would only tell her this truth.

She typed a status update.  “Going away,” it said.  “Going away forever.”

It was a lie, and everyone knew it.


Benjamin Wachs has written for Village Voice Media, Playboy.com, and NPR among other venues.  He archives his work at www.TheWachsGallery.com.

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