Once she admitted it, he became vengeful for the rest of her life. She was 87. He was 92. They’d been married 63 years. But shortly after they were married, 1942, while he was away at the war, and she had not heard from him in seven months, she presumed him dead. So did their family and friends. And she took comfort, eventually, in the arms of a friend of theirs. How many times? Well, does that signify? When he found out, he didn’t care. Once was too many. But for 62 years, he never knew about it, luckily. So, when he returned from the prison camp, he had enjoyed the presence of his wife, and she his, and they had had children, and adventures, and expeditions, living in a sense of love and fidelity. Until June, of five years ago. On moving (given his need for a house with no stairs,) an old shoebox spilled open from his fingers. He found the letters. And the birthday cards. They were wrapped in a purple ribbon. And they were dated 1942. And they proved that his wife, despite being married to him, so young, at the outset of the war, had been unfaithful. Way back then. How many times? It did not matter; once was enough.
Carly Simon sings, “Sometimes I wish, sometimes I wish, you never told me, some of those secrets of yours”.
Children soon learn to lie. Creativity, aggrandizement, yes. But often, a need for escape. Harsh parents make the consequences for truth not worth it. If truth were (always) received as a mark of honour, of courage, of integrity, then many of us would more readily admit to the errant passages of our times. But given an admission, derision, shame, judgment, and penalty have cowered most. We learned that others do not necessarily understand. Our teachers, our elders, our peers, do not necessarily have compassion. A single slip-up, like “the time you stole the chocolate bar when you were seven,” can have one branded by a parent as a thief, or liar, for the rest of one’s life. Tell me the truth now, which of us has never told a lie?
Adam Broadford, in ADMISSION, A Story Born of Africa, struggles for survival. He finds the need to obscure the truth, over and over. The cultural paradigms of his upbringing, given South Africa’s strictures against racial integration, homosexuality, and even secularism, disallows Adam to lead an invigorated life of exploration, integrity, and truth. Brutal consequences lie in wait if people know what was in his past. Harsh punishment, dreadful shame, and even imprisonment await him should his illicit liaison across the colour-bar be discovered. And dishonourable discharge, or worse, would befall him once his AWOL from an embittered, and desperately apartheid regime, was known. He had to escape!
But in the lies we tell ourselves, and others, do we ever escape? Is the insidious snake of truth always lurking, slithering up into our consciousness each time we know we are living with a lie?
“You cannot handle the truth,” declares the inimitable Jack Nicholson, in A Few Good Men. It is a line that resonates. It dances with the song, Takes Two to Tango, by Eartha Kit. One needs not only to be honest with oneself, but to handle honesty from others too. Forgiveness, let alone affirmation of the self, is differentiated from the wrong-doing of the deed. How else consciously to learn but through the making of mistakes? Do we have to leave “no stone unturned?”
“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive,” wrote Walter Scott, (not Shakespeare,) in Marmion, in 1808. Evidently, love triangles have invaded lives ‘forever’. Our lack of something, and the need to have a desire fulfilled, has us breaking boundaries, despite the fear of consequence. In childhood, and in adulthood too. We betray others, or ourselves. It takes much maturation, and a distinct integrity, entirely to be ‘greater than human.’ Betrayal, in its various guises, (from the addictive mind to the occasional dalliance,) is about just how much one can get away with. Still, for the guilty octogenarian, as above, and her hard nonagenarian, might it not have been better for her to have thrown that old shoebox of memories.... away?