Sunday, January 18, 2009

Liars' Club

"Hey Cecilia," said Paul, a guy who's in my class in principal school. (Yes, I know.)

I like Paul. He's sweet and a little goofy over the baby his wife just had. He talks about staying up half the night with the baby and that makes me grin.

"Do you know a girl named ... " he mangled the name so badly that at first I said no. But then, it occurred to me: he meant Elizabeth. She never goes by her full name because it's too long, and the last names matched.

"Cute little thing?" he said. "Short, with curly hair?"

Yes. That's exactly her. Elizabeth is one of my favorite students. She's a tough girl from a tough neighborhood but works her ass off and is near the top of her class.

She wants to be an architect.

"Well," said Paul, "She's dating one of my boys, and he told me yesterday that she's two months pregnant. Showed me her picture and everything."

Oh, god no. I didn't even know she had a serious boyfriend. I had to sit down. Please tell me you're joking.

"Why would I make that up?"

Why, indeed. At least tell me that the boy is a nice kid.

Paul's mouth twisted. "Smart kid, but a definite gangbanger. And he's got a haircut that I just don't understand. Short on the sides and long in the back."

Sounded like a soccer player. Elizabeth loves soccer. She told me so. Crap.

I resolved to speak with her immediately.

Of course, god and the weather conspired against me -- we had a snowstorm that was so bad that we let the kids go home early the next day and the day after that school was cancelled altogether. Normally, I'd be overjoyed over this, but.

No, if I'm being honest, and I am being honest, I have to admit that I was overjoyed over the midweek break. It's been a grueling winter.

So I didn't see Elizabeth until Friday. She came to me before school because she knew exactly what I wanted to ask her about. I barely got a chance to get my question out before she interrupted me.

"It's because that gangbanger said I was pregnant, right?" She knew all about it. Apparently, she knew him but wasn't dating him at all. "You know I'm smarter than that,"she scolded.

So you're not pregnant?

"No. He was just messing with his teacher. Wanted to see if his teacher would believe him if he said he got a girl pregnant. He only said it was me because I went to a different school and he had my picture."

And it only got to me because nobody gossips more than teachers. And in the end, Chicago is a very small town. I can tell you what's going on at the grammar school down the street because I've probably sat next to somebody at some seminar who couldn't keep their mouth shut.

I told Elizabeth she ought to kick that boy's butt for spreading rumors about her.

She smiled. "I've got it taken care of."

She probably does, too. Last year, when a boy said something she didn't like, she slapped him across the face right in the middle of class. Got herself suspended over it, too. Nobody messes with Elizabeth.

Of course the minute I got to lunch I had to tell the story. Jimmie, a math teacher, just shook his head. "That's nothing," he said. "I once told a teacher I had a kid so I could skip her class on Fridays."


"I had a girlfriend in Champaign and only one class on Fridays. I said I had my kid some weekends and to prove my story, I borrowed a three-year-old from one of the athletic boosters and brought him with me to plays and stuff. It was a theatre class."

Did the kid look like you?

"Nope. Looked like his mom, and that's exactly what I said when I was asked. He looks like his mom. Luckily, he was Italian, so it didn't look too farfetched."

I could hardly contain myself, I was laughing so hard. Did the kid's mother know why you were borrowing him all the time?

"Nope. She just thought I was being really nice and babysitting for her. She was glad to hand him over."

Ray, one of our juniors, poked his head in the teacher's lunchroom.

"Get outa here," Jimmie called. They never leave us alone, the kids. Can't even eat lunch in peace.

The conversation moved on to other topics, and somehow we got to what high school we'd gone to. Jimmie wouldn't say where he'd gone. "I will tell you that I was the only kid who stayed at home. My sister went to the Math and Science academy. My brother, too."

I didn't know you had a brother. At your wedding, I only met your sister. You have a brother, too?

"Not anymore. He's dead."

Oh. I didn't know what to say. A long time ago?

"Yep. I was just a little kid. I don't even remember him. His name was Tony." Ray poked his head in again, but Jimmie waved him out.

How old was he?

"Eight. He died of leukemia. I don't even remember the funeral. I was too little. My sister remembers better -- she says she has better memories of him than of me."

It's amazing that your parents stayed together after that.

"Oh, my dad volunteered at leukemia foundation things for a long time," he said.

I looked at the clock -- two minutes to the bell. There's a leukemia race coming up soon, I said as I walked out the door. I'll pass along the information if you're interested.

"Sure," he said.

The rest of the school day was busy -- I teach the last two periods, which is two and a half hours with no break, so when the day ended and the snow was falling again, I decided to leave and get my grading done at home. (This plan, by the way, rarely works. I usually end up with twice as much grading the next day.)

I was on the road for about forty minutes when my phone rang. It was Jimmie.

"How many people did you tell about my brother?" he asked.

Nobody. Why?

"Damn. You were supposed to tell people."

This I didn't understand. When somebody pours their guts out to you, you don't run and tell the next person you see.

"It's not true."

Not true?

"I made the whole thing up."

Stunned isn't the word for my reaction. Whatever for?

"You know how Ray kept poking his head in when I was telling you about my brother?"


"He's been making up stories lately about dead family members and telling them to teachers."

And nobody's dead?

"Nobody's dead."

And you told me the story because ...?

"Because I wanted to prove to Ray that when it comes to death, adults believe you. That's why he kept checking on us. To see if you believed me."


"And I was watching the news right now and they were talking about a guy named Tony and I realized that I hadn't told you I was lying. You were supposed to tell people, though."

Sorry, Jimmie. I'll tell people on Tuesday if you want me to.

I was all about setting a kid up. I lie to kids all the time, tell them fantastic stories just to see if they believe them. Once, a colleague and I convinced a kid that before I was a teacher, I was a window washer of high rise buildings downtown. It's one of the fringe benefits of the job, just because it's so funny.

"Let me think about it. This might be enough to get the point across. Thanks."

I hung up the phone and drove on for a little while when it lit up again with a text message. It was from Jimmie: "The story about the kid was absolutely true."

Ha. Thank god for that. I would have been extremely disappointed if it hadn't.


Maryanne Stahl said...

oh man, this kind of stuff makes my head reel. I can't stand lies of any kind (except--of course there's an except!--to protect someone.) but lies to mess with people's heads? that makes the ground I stand on all wobbly.

as if it isn't anyway.

karisue said...

Perry Farrell and I are cousins. Absolutely true.