How to Save a Lie

What would you do if your son was at home/
Crying alone/
On the bathroom floor/
‘Cause he’s hungry and the only way to feed him is to/
Sleep with a man for a little bit of money?

Our eighth grade art class had been tasked with creating CD jackets to songs or albums we felt spoke to us, though my reason for choosing City High’s EP had less to do with the subject matter’s relevance to my life — I was thirteen and had barely been kissed, let alone slept with, let alone slept with for money — and more to do with my seating assignment. I occupied the sixth stool at a table otherwise populated by our middle school’s resident wolf pack: boys who’d been suspended for smoking pot on a school trip to Plymouth Rock, girls who’d traded braces for ninth and tenth grade boyfriends, a collective posse whose basement birthday parties were highlighted by girl-on-girl makeouts and breathless flights from our town’s singular night cop. Sitting among them, I felt like Cady Heron showing up as the corpse bride when all the other girls were sexy kittens. Could a song like “What Would You Do?” show the wolf pack that under the fake blood and dirty wedding dress lurked someone with real sexy kitten potential?

It was a question that never got answered, because I forgot to bring in my custom-illustrated copy of City High. And then I lied about it. “I left it by the boombox yesterday,” I said, when it was my turn to press play and explain my mordant depictions. The lie had had twenty anxious minutes of Ja Rule and Sublime and Jack Johnson to foment; it came out smoothly. But my art teacher didn’t tell me I could bring in a different illustrated song the following day, as I had hoped: instead she turned to my classmates, asking, gravely, if anyone had seen City High, or moved it by accident, or borrowed it and forgot to put it back. No one had, of course, but the art teacher seemed to take silence as a group admission. Fine, she snapped. There would be no more expository DJing until City High was found.

The remaining minutes of class inched by, but the relief I felt when the bell ended was short-lived. During gym, I was called to the Vice Principal’s office. When I walked in, the first thing I saw was City High. The second was my art teacher. The third was my mother. City High glinted benignly, but the other ⅔ of the triumvirate were furious.

City High never got its moment in the sunlight, but I did, as I stumbled through a public apology while my teacher glared and the wolf pack, unfazed, drew on their arms and legs with skinny permanent markers. Then I never lied again. Just kidding, but I did learn to tailor my lies so that the only person they ever implicated was myself. For, as the wolf pack, with their nightly window drops and myriad pocket roaches knew, the best lies were islands, independent and capable of floating away, towards truth.

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