Twenty-first century confessionals
We met in an online forum, hoping that sharing our secrets would let us live with our guilt. It didn’t work of course. If guilt drives you top join the discussion ‘my life is a lie’ then telling cartoon avitars about it is unlikely to solve your problems. Still, it didn’t stop us trying.
We were quick to explain our secrets. We described our scenarios in great detail, and left bland but sympathetic comments in reply. “Must be soooo tough” “I feel ur pain” … To be fair, it eased the guilt for a moment. Then it faded we set about justifying our deceptions.
The lists of advantages proved to be long ones. Sarah was the organiser of her local Pride march and had failed to mention to her team of dedicated volunteers that she’d had a boyfriend for the last three years. She listed the benefits of being part of a community, of feeling like a leader, of being committed to a cause, of the exhilaration of the march, the rituals, the noise, the colours…
The list, however, didn’t impress us as much as she’d hoped. It wasn’t a community you could really justify admission to on the strength of kissing a girl when you were 19. And, as for the colours, perhaps she could invest in some new curtains? Put some pictures on her wall?
The colours thing got me thinking though. Our church is modern, but it has a stained glass window. Early in the morning it leaves coloured patches of light in the floor. If I pass through them as I walk to the altar they dance on my skirt, my arms, my legs.
Our lists kept us happy for longer than our confessions had, but soon enough that faded too. We tackled this problem with the reasons we couldn’t reveal the truth. For some, this was straight forward.
Graham had made some ‘bold investment decisions’ with the money his wife believed was building up as his pension. Gambling, as it turns out, was more foolish than bold. If he revealed the truth he would, presumably, be without a wife and a share in her pension.
My reasons were perhaps less compelling; they simply revolved around the disapproval and potential loss of my closest friends. Modern day excommunication, a kind of crowd-sourced dismissal.
This was the first point at which the possible advantages of being truthful were discussed.
The sensation of being trapped was aptly described by PrincessLeah1 (I don’t even know these people’s real names!). “Whatever I do is a betrayal for which I cannot forgive myself.” I must admit, she’d got herself in a tricky situation in which the arguments in favour of truthfulness were pretty strong. She was an animal rights activist who had infiltrated a research laboratory. The man who can best be described as her handler insisted that within a month of working there she’d have secret video footage which would have the tabloids in a frenzy of excitement. Now, 16 months later, she had made friends with her fellow technicians and the ‘handler’ explained that her only option was to frame them. Her posts started with “I’m trapped, I need to stop the animals’ suffering, but I can’t betray my friends”. At this point you had to stop reading and skip to the emoticons at the end. She sent smileys with big tear drops, we replied with icons of tissues, flowers, hearts. Once Sarah thought a cute animal picture would cheer her up. Oh boy was that misjudged.
Pictures of cake were all I could contribute to the process of sharing the advantages of truthfulness. How could losing my friends be easier than keeping up my pious act? Inevitably, however, there was a final stage: the reason we could no longer live out our lies.
For me, that reason was Luke. He was a fellow member of the 18-30 Bible study group and had the kind of smile which made you believe the world could always be happy. He was young (too young?) but his round face was perfectly completed by the bristles of a beard. When his smile was focussed on me the tingling throughout my body was like my guilt multiplied by the size of the church. Every time we exchange a look I blush and return my gaze to my Bible where the words float around on the page. My friendships could be a lie but if I was going to marry someone it had to be based on the truth (and, OK, if we’re thinking about marriage it had crossed my mind that it was wiser to have more ‘try before you buy’ than my fellow worshipers went in for). I either needed to get Luke to see reality or to meet different boys.
Still, I was one of the last to sign up for the forum’s pact, to reveal our secrets and support each other as we lived with the consequences.
One day PrincessLeah1 left during the morning round of cage cleaning and never returned (does this count? Her life’s no longer a lie but she didn’t actually tell her friends the truth). Graham’s wife had a lawyer and divorce papers within an hour but was yet to get round to signing them. Sarah’s committee asked whether her boyfriend would like to be treasurer, a job nobody really wanted.
If I was going to do this, I needed to prepare. I listed the things I’d miss and planned ways to tackle each one. I would have free Sunday mornings so I joined a netball club (and added ‘buy trainers’ onto my to-do list). I asked Natasha, the 18-30 group leader, for her chocolate brownie recipe. I looked out for pubs which did Monday night quizzes. When everything was taken care of, I went three days without checking my emails so I didn’t have to read the reminders which ‘My life is a lie Discussion Thread’ kept sending me. Again, this was only a temporary solution.
The Bible study is followed by a chat with tea and cakes, which seemed as good a time as any. My brownies were a disaster, so I left their charred remains in the tin and bought chocolate digestives on my way.
I spent the study session trying not to steal glances at Luke. The words of Proverbs 12 (Lying lips are abomination to the Lord) drifted over me while I worked out what to say. You can’t really say “I think I’m an atheist” like you think you’re gay – it’s not as if it’s out of your control. And it sounds as if they could persuade me otherwise, but if five years of their Bible studies have led me to this conclusion it’s a bit of a lost cause. It was easier for Sarah. She was only telling people how she felt; I’m telling them that their entire world view is nonsense. Perhaps PrincessLeah1 had it right by just walking away…
When the discussion was over, people broke into small groups to gossip over their tea. I loitered near the perfect brownies made by Natasha. By the time I was onto my third brownie my heart was beating as loudly at the thunder the Lord had promised to Samuel. Natasha seemed like the right person to tell first, like first telling your boss if you have a new job. I braved looking up to see if I could catch her eye. But she wasn’t the person looking at me; it was Luke.
He waited a moment before coming over, his face looking bare without its smile.
“Hi.” The last mouthful of brownie seemed to pause in my throat, and my greeting came out hoarse.
“Did you find that interesting?”
“Yes, did you?”
“Mmm, I did.”
Painful silence. Perhaps he was the one to tell? Maybe he feels the same and we’ll slip away together to laugh at what we’d been caught up in. I was all ready to say it when he spoke.
“Listen, I was thinking, if you’re free sometime, would you like to have a drink somewhere?” He focussed his gaze on his feet and kicked at a loose thread in the carpet. “Only if you’re not too busy...”
It was time to fulfil my promise to my online friends. “Um, thank you, it’s just there was something I had to…”
He looked up and I saw just a flicker of his smile.
I’d lived this lie for five years, surely I can lie in an internet forum to keep this going just a bit longer. I paused.
“What was it?” He asked.
“Yes please.” My smile felt as if it could match his. “That would be lovely.”