My father used to take me on long drives to tell me things. Convince me of things. Tell me I needed to be nicer to my mother.
My father expected me to do what he could not.
I stared out the window at the rows and rows of corn.
I had a job when I was 12. I de-tasseled corn. They lined us up at the end of a corn row, assigned us to one of 10 steel baskets, big enough for two girls to stand butt to butt. The baskets, suspended from a pole, traveled the space between corn rows. Attached to a steel arm the length of 10 rows of corn, 5 baskets and 10 girls rode on each side of a tractor the crew boss needed a ladder to climb into. The crew boss drove what might have been a massive carnival ride for rural Indiana kids. It was a job, though, so it wasn’t fun. In 100 degree heat we faced our row of corn and pulled the tassel from each corn plant, ensuring cross-pollination didn’t occur. The corn was for farm animals, pigs, cows, chickens.
My mother lost it a few times each year, left us with our dad. One August he steered his wheelbarrow to the corn field next to our yard, stole as much corn as it could hold. He brought it home and told me I’d be freezing it all. I was 15. He set it up. Once the corn was shucked, I boiled corn cobs, put them in cold water to cool, cut the kernels off the cob. My fingertips turned white with corn water. I packed the kernels in freezer bags tied with a twist tie. Wombs of corn.
When my mother returned she threw all of the sacs away. “We’re not eating pig corn,” she said.
We had good times as kids, but the fundamental truth of our family was my dad was a compulsive liar. He wanted to be a good man but his lying infected us all. Liars have tools to avoid being honest with themselves: manipulation, flattery, coercion. My dad was a charming liar. Many people have lived with lying for so long they see it as necessary. I used to. I’ve been trying to shake myself from a lying fog most of my life. The biggest obstacle: re-experiencing the pain of betrayal, of a lie found out or, the worst pain; years and years of a kept secret.
When I remember my dad’s tactics now, clarity comes in truth constellations: the knots in my gut, my mother’s constant headaches, the arguing and fighting, the making up, the sound of ice cubes in the scotch glass, my own webs of lies. I’m walking through the Haunted House of Horror again and again, because I’m willing to feel the pain, without taking it personally. This is my journey. A story I was given to tell.
My dad was not a selective liar. He lied to everyone.
We lie, I think, because we don’t believe there is another way to be loved.
I’ve stared out many windows knowing I was trapped, planning my escape. Like my mother, once I knew what it was, I refused to eat pig corn.
My mother died when she was 54, breast cancer. She stayed with my dad until her death.
I visited her a few weeks before she died and I was as loving, gentle, and kind as I have ever been. I laid in bed beside her, rubbed my forearm over her back in long strokes, repeated in my head, “you are loved. you are loved.” Ours was such a complicated relationship. A triangle with my dad, a man who did things when he was drunk and didn’t remember them the next day.
“What is he going to do when I am gone?” My mother asked me.
“I don’t know,” I said.
I am 54. It’s never too late to start from where you are, build another way. Honesty is at the center. Love grows every day. It pollinates the people around me.