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Authors: Robin Brande

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BOOK: The Good Lie
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Looks Normal Enough

[1]

My mother finally deigned to call
us on Thursday, five days after she left.

I can understand how busy you must
get when you’re having sex all the time.  Things just pile up.

Mikey was
thrilled
, as if
she’d gone out of town on a business trip and was simply checking in
.
 
He babbled at her for ten minutes about his last soccer game and his friend
Cort’s pet rat and whatever else seems earth-shaking to an eight-year-old
before finally handing me the phone.

“Lizzie!” my mother said
breathlessly, like she was talking to me from her exercise bike.  “How are you,
sweetie?”

“Fine,” I snapped.

“When can I see you?”

“What for?”

That seemed to surprise her.  She
took a second before answering.  “I miss you.”

“Oh, really.”

“Lizzie, don’t be that way.”

“Be what way, Mother?  You didn’t
even tell me you were leaving!”

“Honey . . . I thought you knew.” 

“How would I know?”

I gripped the phone hard.  I was
getting angrier by the second.  Mikey shot me a worried look, as if to say,
Please
don’t mess this up!

Your mother already left you,
I could have told him. 
There’s not much left to ruin.

“You must have known how unhappy
things were,” my mother tried.

“I didn’t know anything.  I had no
idea.  I came home—from my
prom
, Mother—and you were just gone.  No
note, no nothing.  How do you think that was?”

“Honey, I’m sorry—”  She must have
covered the phone with her hand.  I heard the muffled sound of her crying.

Good.  Time to go in for the kill.

“You just left me, Mom.  And what
about Mikey?  How do you think he feels?”

“Shut up,” Mikey urged, grabbing
for the phone.

I wrestled it away.  “Hope you’re
having fun, Mom.  Have a great life.”

I hung up on her.  It felt good to
do.

 

[2]

“Posie.  Put.  The newspaper. 
Down.”  I said it like I was disarming a crook.

We had been hanging out in her room
for the past few hours, spending far too much time hating priests.

Posie sighed.  “It’s all so sad.” 
She switched her focus to me.  “Okay, so where do you think they went?”

“Probably out for ice cream.  Mikey’ll
forgive anyone for ice cream.”

My mother had called back after I
hung up on her.  I let Mikey take it, and next thing I knew they had made a
date for that night.  He’s so easy.

“And she’s saying what?” Posie
asked.

“I love you, I miss you, boo hoo,
where’s Lizzie?”

“It’s so good you didn’t go.  She
doesn’t deserve you yet.”

“I wouldn’t be able to handle it
anyway,” I said.  “I’d throw up if she got all lovey dovey on me.”

The doorbell rang.  I looked at the
clock by Posie’s bed.  Nine-thirty.

We heard Mrs. Sherbern talking to
someone male.

“Who’s that?” I asked.

Posie shrugged.  “Jason, I presume.”

My body felt like it dropped about
twenty degrees in temperature.  “Why?”

Posie said nonchalantly, “He’s
finished.”

“With what?”

“With whom, that is.  Marlena
Hazard.  She’s only two houses down.  Sometimes he likes to come here
afterwards.”

“Why?”

“You know why.  She puts out, but
she’s stupid.  He needs a real conversation before he goes to bed.”

Which brings us to the other
problem with Jason Wilder.  He’s not just charming and sexy and hot, he’s
actually smart.  Really smart.

Both his parents are engineers, and
he obviously inherited some special Math Gene, because he can do equations and
proofs in his head as easily as some of us can spell.  There must be some sort
of dividing line in the gene pool:  Math and Science people here, Literature
and Arts people there.  Like an orchestra where the only way we can make music
is if everyone plays a different instrument.

The fact that Jason is a genius is
why Posie first noticed him.  She had seen him around freshman year, but
assumed he was just another pretty face.  That never impresses Posie.  She’s
going for substance.  I think she’d date a troll so long as he discovered a new
galaxy or maybe wrote a decent novel.

She told me being in Algebra with
Jason was like sitting next to a computer in jeans and a T-shirt.  It couldn’t
have hurt that he was so easy on the eyes.  Posie doesn’t like to admit it, but
she must have had a crush on him at first.  How could she not?  It was only
when they got to know each other that they decided being friends was far better
than dating.

Or so she says.

Posie and I became friends in sort
of the same way.  I was just a freshman, and she was a sophomore, so there’s no
reason we would have met except for the fact that I wrote a play that she ended
up starring in.

It was
The Fortune Teller
,
that play that won second place.  Our school’s Drama teacher, Mr. Farmer, heard
about it from my English teacher, and asked me if he could put in on.  Well,
duh.  What playwright wouldn’t want to see her work performed?

Posie read it and loved it and
decided she had to play the lead.  She also decided she had to know me.  We’ve
been best friends ever since.

A brief history of Posie and Lizzie.

But back to Jason.

Posie’s bedroom door swung open and
Jason strode in like he lived there and plopped down on the bed beside me.

I hadn’t seen him since I left him
in Posie’s living room, groping my friend.

I moved over.

“Don’t pretend,” he said.

“No,” I said, keeping my distance, “I
actually am repulsed by you.”

He smelled wrong.  Like his own
B.O., plus something else I didn’t like very much and couldn’t exactly
identify, although it must have been
eau de
Marlena Hazard.  Spare me.

“What’re you girls up to?” Jason
asked.

Somehow I didn’t feel like chit
chat.  Not since he broke my heart.  “I’m about to leave.  Poz, I really should
go.  My dad—”

“Right,” she answered, getting up. 
She gauged the situation perfectly.

“I’ll take you,” Jason offered.

“No,” Posie and I answered in
unison.

“My dad doesn’t like guys hanging
around,” I said.

“I’ll stay in the car.  Come on.  I’m
bored.”

“Go home,” Posie ordered.

“Why are you here anyway?” I asked.

“Just cruisin’,” Jason said.

“Finished so soon with Marlen—”

Posie shot me a look.  I didn’t
finish the sentence.  She was right—it was totally uncool.

Jason pinched my cheek.  “I love
that you’re jealous.  C’mon, I’ll ride with you guys.”

 

[3]

We pulled up in front of my house.

“Looks normal enough,” Jason said. 
He opened his door and started to get out.

“Stay  here,” I told him.  “You
promised.”

“What’s the deal with your dad? 
Doesn’t he realize what a hot little number you are?  Of course there’ll be
guys hanging around.”

I couldn’t let him see I was
flattered.  “He calls the cops on guys like you.”

“Really?  This I gotta see.”  Jason
bounded out of the car before I could stop him.

Our front blinds parted.  Someone
peeked out.

I jumped out to catch him.  “Jason,
go back.  I’m serious.”

“Oh, Lizzie,” he shouted, “I love
you, too.”  He corralled me into his arms.

“It isn’t funny,” I said, pushing
him away.  “You’re going to get me in trouble.”

The front door opened.

“Who’s this?” my father asked.

Great.

Jason stepped forward.  “Jason
Wilder, sir, petitioner for your daughter’s hand.”

I was having a serious problem
deciding whether to be happy or horrified.

My father ignored Jason’s
outstretched hand.  “It’s late,” he told me.

“Sorry,” I said.  “Posie and I were
doing homework.”

My father squinted toward the car. 
Posie waved.

Jason couldn’t take a hint.  “Yeah,
Lizzie was helping me with calculus.  Do you know your daughter’s a genius?”

“Good night,” I said, giving Jason
a push.  I widened my eyes and murmured, “Go away.”

My father finally gave Jason the
attention he so obviously craved.  “My daughter is not allowed to date.”

“That’s a shame, sir, because she’s
a sweet girl.”

My father’s face reddened.  Never a
good sign.

“Dad,” I interjected, “Jason is
Posie’s boyfriend.”

“Oh, that’s not true, sir.  It’s
Lizzie I love.”  Jason threw his arm around my shoulders to prove it.  I
elbowed him in the gut.

“Jason!” Posie called from the
car.  “Get in here!”

“See?” Jason said.  “I could never
date that.”

“You think you’re funny?” my father
asked.  He bent down and picked up a rock, then drew it back like he was about
to throw it.

“Dad!”

“Get out of here,” my father
warned.  “Don’t come back.”

Jason walked backwards toward the
car, still trying to charm my father all the way.  “Lizzie’s a fine girl, sir. 
She’ll make someone a wonderful wife.”

This was exactly the wrong thing to
say, considering that my father was still waiting for his adulterous wife to
bring their son home.

“Get out!” my father shouted.  “Or
I’ll call the police!”

Jason nodded at me approvingly, as
if to say
You were right!

Posie honked her horn.  I shoved
Jason into the passenger seat.

“You are a bastard,” I told him
angrily.  “That was not funny at all.”

Jason scratched the side of his
head with an upstretched middle finger and shouted to my father, “Good night!”

My father pitched the rock.  It
landed on Posie’s hood.  Posie screamed and peeled out of our driveway.

And now came the good part.

“Are you sleeping with that boy?”
my father demanded.

“Of course not!”

“Liar!”

“I am not a liar!”

My father pointed to the ring on my
left hand.  “That doesn’t mean anything to you?”

“Of course it does!”  I hated that
he would ask that.  I could feel the tears start to burn.

“Where did your mother take Mikey?”

“I have no idea.”

“If she’s not back in ten minutes,
I’m calling the police.”

“Great, Dad.  That’ll really help.”

“You’re just like your mother, you
know that?”

“Thank you so much.”  I fled to my
room before he could see me cry.

Bastards.  All of them.

Funny, the Things That Matter

It was the end of May.  School was
almost out.  My mother had been gone for over a month.

I still wasn’t taking her calls. 
Why should I?  What could she say? 

Gee, honey, sorry I disappeared
like that without telling you.  Whoops, sorry I left you to take care of the
house and my husband and child.  Darn, did I mention how much fun I’m having
with my new lover?  Hope your life can be this good one day.

I tried to pretend I wasn’t part of
this family.  Finals were coming and I needed to focus.  School is something I’m
good at.  I wasn’t going to let anyone mess that up.

So I pretended I was just a person
staying in that house, a tenant living my own independent life, reading,
studying, eating in my room, hiding out at Posie’s as often as I could.  That
poor Aimes family could go through their twisted tragedy alone.  It had nothing
to do with me.

Funny, the things that matter.

The thing that finally got to me
was that the food was all wrong.  My father didn’t know how to shop. 
Store-bought cookies—the cheapest kind, those vanilla and strawberry wafers
that melt in your mouth and come six hundred to a package.  Generic sodas,
frozen pizzas, huge rounds of cheese that my father ate by the hunk, chips and
crackers and candy bars—a bachelor’s pantry.  Mikey loved it.  It made me want
to cry.

After a while I couldn’t look
inside the fridge or the cupboards anymore.  I didn’t recognize the colors or
the shapes of any of the packages or cans or bottles.  It was as if my  mother
moved out and took all the good flavors with her.

So I took her place.  I did it
because to live in squalor was too near to having no mother, and I couldn’t
bear that anymore.

I had to eat regular food, so I
started cooking it.  For all of us.  I made grocery lists so my father could
get it right.  I did the laundry and ironing not just for myself but for him
because I couldn’t stand the smell in his room from dirty socks and underwear
and sweat-stained shirts.  I cleaned for my little brother who deserved a life
like the one I had at his age.  When I came home from school in third grade my
mother was always there.  It wasn’t fair that Mikey came home to no one.

None of it was fair.

As if that ever matters.

Virgins to the Core

[1]

Do you think you know the story of
Sodom and Gomorrah?  Yes, the sky rained sulfur and brimstone, Lot’s wife
turned into a pillar of salt—those are the movie details.

Here are the details I’ve never
missed:

Two angels come to Sodom, and Lot
sees them hanging out in the town square as evening falls.  Lot knows the men
in his town, and knows that strangers do not fare well after dark.  He insists
that the visitors come home with him.  He does not know they are angels.

As Lot and his wife and daughters
and the two angels sit down to supper, there’s a pounding at the door.  The men
of Sodom have come to welcome the two strangers.  “Send them out so we can rape
them.”

Lot begs the mob not to disgrace
his house or his hospitality by doing this shameful thing.  Instead, he offers
them his two virgin daughters.

Before the mob can accept or
reject, the two angels decide that was the last straw, and they smite the whole
crowd.  The angels had been sent by God to discover whether there were at least
ten good men in the city of Sodom, but apparently not.  The whole place must
burn.

Fine.  The rest we know.  But let’s
back up.

“Here are my two virgin daughters—take
them instead”?

What were the girls thinking when
they heard that?  What did their mother say?  What kind of a father chooses
strangers over his own children?  Or is it the fact that they’re girls that
makes that all right?

I saw an
Oprah
once where
this guy confessed to having intercourse with his daughter from the time she
was three until she was five.  His wife had left him and he was terribly
lonely, and he said it seemed like his daughter was the only person in this
world who loved him.  He said he felt that having sex with her was just an
extension of that love.  He said it with a straight face.

And all I could think was how much
that must have hurt the little girl to have a full-grown man’s penis inside
her.  It must have ripped her apart.

The father went to prison for a
while, and now his daughter was grown and he wished she would see him, but he
knew she had to make the first move.

He sat there, evil and bug-eyed,
acting as if his daughter had wronged him somehow by cutting him out of her
life.  He had taken from her the only purity she would ever have and he sat
there meek and abused, sad that his own life had gone so terribly wrong.

Oprah is a cool customer, but she
looked like she wanted to lunge from her seat and rip the guy’s tongue out. 
She handled it well.  She kept her voice moderate, she made eye contact, she
let him have his say, as sick as it was.  But I imagined her afterward,
desperately ripping off her microphone and bolting from the stage and running
to her dressing room for a shower.  She’s a lot stronger than I would be.

And then you think more about a
girl like that, helpless and small, her full-grown father looming over her and
maybe kissing her and saying sweet things, and inside she’s burning and
bleeding and she doesn’t understand why he has to hurt her like that.  What
child should ever have to give up her trust like that?  What did she do to
deserve such ruin?

And then your mind spins toward the
other injustices against children—AIDS babies, children born to famine,
children who die after a short life of nothing but misery.

That’s why I believe in
reincarnation.  What kind of God would say, “Oops, time’s up, sorry it didn’t
work out, but that was your only chance”?  It can’t be.  Children who have been
hurt must be first in line for the next glorious life that comes along. 
Children who have been raped or murdered or beaten must get to come back and
live those lives we see and envy—the people who have more than their fair share
of luck, it seems, but it isn’t more than their fair share at all.  It’s
justice.

And Posie and I are all about
Justice.

 

[2]

“Look at this,” Posie said.  “Angela’s
representing a girl this time.  Actually, a woman now, but she was a girl at
the time.”

It was a Saturday afternoon in the
middle of June, and we were having lunch together before Posie’s shift.

Regular school was over, but I was
in summer school now—American Government, eight to noon every day.  Torture. 
But it was better than hanging around the house.

Jason was in summer school, too,
but at the community college.  Even though he and Posie still had a year of
high school left, Jason decided to get a jump on his future engineering career
by taking some fun (for him) classes like Calculus and Physics for Math Freaks,
or whatever it was called.

Definitely a different species.

Posie was the only one of us
working.  She waitressed at a place called Jimmy Rock’s where all the servers
got to sing.  And every half hour or so, when certain songs came on, they had
to stop whatever they were doing and rock out and try to get the patrons to
dance with them.  Other than the few geezers who tried to take advantage of
Posie’s short short uniform, it was a pretty fun job.

Posie showed me the article about
Angela Peligro and her new client.

There were never any photos to go
with the stories.  “What do you think she looks like?”

“Who, Angela?” Posie said.  “I don’t
know, tall probably.  Really severe—like an ex-nun.  I bet she used to be a
nun.  She’s got the right amount of grit.”

That little piece of speculation
out of the way, I scanned the article.

Angela’s client was thirty now. 
When she was fifteen, five priests visiting her parish from Mexico decided to
spend their holiday raping her.

I couldn’t picture it.  How did they
do it?  Did they hike up their priestly robes and make the sign of the Cross
and tell her this was the will of the Lord?  Or did they just grunt and slobber
like any other rapist off the street?

The woman thought about killing
herself, the article said, because she had had a strict Catholic upbringing and
knew God wanted her to remain a virgin until she was married.  But she realized
suicide was a worse sin, and so she couldn’t do it.  And of course she couldn’t
even consider an abortion.  So she lived with the shame of her pregnancy and
the face of the child who reminded her every hour of the priests who had stolen
her life.

It was so unfair.  She didn’t ask
for that to happen.  You have one chance to give your virginity away—only one—and
they took it from her.  What did she have left to give?

And that’s when it occurred to me. 
I swallowed the rest of my chimichanga and thought it through a little bit more
before I posed it to Posie.

“Do you think that girl was still a
virgin?” I asked.  “Afterward?  I mean, was she still a virgin in God’s eyes? 
It isn’t fair that she wouldn’t be.”

Posie paused mid-bite.  She laid
down her taco and concentrated on the question.

“I think physically, no,” she said
at last, “but morally, yes.  It wasn’t her choice—she didn’t give it away.”

“But she has a child now.  Every
man will know she’s been used at least once.  No one will believe she’s a
virgin.”

Posie grumbled.  “Awful.”

“And all those boys who were
molested,” I continued.  “Are they still virgins?”

Posie shook her head, the rage
rising in her eyes.  “Those boys are ruined.  But you’re right—they can’t be
penalized.  They’re still virgins.  They’ve never had sex.”

“Do you think they’ll be gay now?”
I wondered.  “Do they really have a choice?”

“I think they’ll be the opposite of
gay,” Posie answered.  “I don’t see how they’ll ever let a man near them once
they’re old enough to fight him off.”

Round about the topic we went, in
through its worm holes, up along the borders and through the muck of it until
we felt dirty and diseased just knowing everything we did.

But out of it we reached a
conclusion, and I think it’s a good one.  It’s the only one that makes sense if
you believe in God.

There’s a purity we all have, that
we’re born with, down here in the core of us where nothing has touched us yet
and we are ignorant of evil and we are what God made us, His children, bright
and pure and immune to the world’s disease.  And no one can take that away from
us.  We have to
give
it away.  And until we do we’re still pure in God’s
eyes.  I believe that.  I do.

Think about it this way:  In the
Garden of Eden, there was a tree called the Tree of Knowledge of Good and
Evil.  That was the one God warned Adam and Eve not to eat.  He was trying to
protect us all.

But they ate.  And their eyes were
opened, and they saw that they were naked and that there was evil in the world,
and ever since then we can’t help but see the worst of what mankind has to
offer.  What a tragic day.  Why did they have to eat?

But what if that story repeats
itself in each new soul?  What if we’re all born completely innocent of how
ugly mankind can be?  If we die young, we might never know, and that is God’s
blessing to us—compensation for having to leave this world too early.

Otherwise, if we live long enough,
we eat so much knowledge of evil we’re bloated and nauseous from it, and we
wish we had never seen that beautiful, tempting tree in the distance.

At least that’s what Posie and I
think.

I was about to test it for myself.

BOOK: The Good Lie
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