Fertilized by lies, I grew into a cynical plant

I’m surprised I’m still alive. I should have died…I don’t know, at least a dozen times by now. I grew up with parents who taught me an important lesson, driven into the deepest recesses of my brain every single day during that crucial morning time when I struggled to hurriedly lace up my shoes and make it to school before the first bell. That lesson was: be afraid.

I don’t know why my parents chose to drill this particular motto into my psyche; they certainly did not grow up fearing anything. Heavens, I look at their photographs from decades ago and I think: fuck, I haven’t done a thing yet!

Oh, the lies they told me when I was growing up. But seriously, my people have the best imagination in the world. If imagination could be measured somehow using a ruler, say, or a scale, my tribe would win a medal every day of the year. Boy, were they good actors and storytellers. I remember the fervor with which my father told me tales of Santa Claus, a magical figure existing, apparently, solely for my pleasure. And the passion of each holiday season when my dad attempted, successfully, to make me believe such a fat jolly old man in a ridiculous red suit really did exist. Dad’s incredible imagination and dedication to the lie could only be matched by the plain speak of my grandmother, who, when I was five, blurted out the truth about the bearded fellow, though nobody asked her for it. She often spoke plainly, prompted by…nothing, really. “Yeah, kid, there’s no Santa. It’s your old dad making that noise outside in the snow.”  Yep, the next day the truth was confirmed by a little investigative work; that is, by the simple use of my eyes. I discovered Santa’s footprints matched perfectly the pattern on the soles of dad’s shoes. I’m not sure that I’ve ever truly believed anyone since then. I certainly learned to hate people who, for no reason whatsoever, always feel invited to tell you what they think. Thank you, grandma.

My family deceived me, and then threw the cold hard truth in my face when I least expected it. Wham, take that, kid! The truth is just about as pleasant as a clump of wet mud with a jagged rock stuck in the middle of it. I like to be hit by it almost as much as I like having my wisdom teeth pulled by a car mechanic.

I remember being very small, maybe four or five, at the age filled with vague memories of faces and places, and a few events that shaped me forever (yep, true story, I am shaped by vague memories). Things only got clear for me when my brother was born. I don’t know why. Time, and I mean Time with a capital T, started for me when my brother was born. But before Time started, I remember being small enough to fit into my father’s lap. He’d hold me there, sheltered from the world, as he sipped his afternoon cup of coffee. There was nothing in the world I wanted more than to have a sip too. Coffee fascinated me more than the foamy, sparkly beer  (which I learned to appreciate only much later in life). I remember once fetching a very large tea cup, something taken out of a rarely-used kitschy set (but made to last forever out of unbreakable material invented by NASA, no doubt) with a strange donkey wearing a red hat and smoking a pipe painted on one side (very Freudian). I ran to dad holding out this vessel and begged him to pour me out some of his coffee. Once or twice he did exactly that. To that drop of coffee he spared me I then added a bit of warm water and lots of sugar. Nasty stuff. Coffee colored, coffee flavored, sort of, water. But I remember drinking it with a relish. Ah, for just that instant, I was an adult too (another lie: things get better when you grow up). I tried to sip the brown liquid as slowly as he did, tracing the contours of the weird donkey on my cup and wondering where in the world such a bizarre animal had to be going, and how the hell did it fill that pipe with tobacco, donkeys having no fingers, of course.

My philosophical musings were interrupted once and for all by my grandmother, whose life’s mission, evidently, was to destroy every last bit of my childhood’s innocence. She was outraged by the sight of me drinking “coffee,” snatched the cup away from me and told me (perfect poker face, grandma, congratulations) little kids grew very long flee-infested tails if they drank coffee.

After that I didn’t sleep for a month. Each night I felt my butt changing shape to allow for a nasty tail. My ass itched, either from dirt (possibly, I didn’t like to wash) or from a genuine extension of my body taking form just below my tailbone.

I waited to grow a tail for many years. Luckily, instead of it eventually I grew out a pair of boobs. Turns out I’m a girl, not a squirrel.

As far as coffee goes, I didn’t start drinking it properly until I was well into adulthood. But even now I can feel my tailbone shape-shifting whenever I smell freshly brewed coffee.

Ah, the lies they told me.

When I was growing up it was unthinkable for a Serbian family to keep pets inside their home. Dogs and cats were kept outside. Dogs and cats were dirty disease-carriers. If ever they entered the living space of humans, the entire contents of the household had to be sterilized; or burned down. Touching a dog, for example, even with just a single finger and only for a split second, meant that hands had to be washed and clothes that may have come into animal contact had to be changed and immediately washed; or burned down. Cat hair was like plutonium back then. God forbid you should find a hair on the sleeve of your shirt. That shirt could never be worn again; best to just burn it down. Accidental swallowing of cat hair, I was told, led to hospitalization and very dangerous surgical procedures using robots and the Hubble Space Telescope. One woman in the neighborhood discovered she’d lived for months unsuspectedly carrying a tapeworm a mile long inside her belly. She only knew she had one when it poked out of her left ear, looked her straight in the eyes and said, “Hello, I’m running out of room down here.” Tapeworms, of course, jumped from cats and dogs straight into human mouths. I grew up hating cats and compulsively scrubbing my hands with sandpaper every time our little dog breathed in my direction.

I live with two cats now. I rescued them from certain uncertainty of a life on the streets last summer. They’ve been living with me for about nine months now and, to my shock, I haven’t died from their hair yet. They’ve spent the entire winter sleeping on every piece of furniture large enough to accommodate them. They’ve slept in my bed, even. My mother is stupefied by it all. How I’ve managed to survive this long is beyond her. She’s already mourned me a dozen times.  If I randomly scratch a section of my sunburned skin, she says “There! It’s a disease, you’re starting to scratch.” She long ago started believing her own lies. The truth is that those cats are more likely to die of my dirt than I am of theirs. They clean themselves a hundred times a day; which is, sadly, more than can be said about my habits.

Santa, coffee, cat hair. In one way or another, these things have all tried to kill me. But I’m still standing, against all odds. Genetically superior to others, clearly, I’m a survivor. If ever I have a child (and please, God, don’t let it be a Honey Boo Boo) I’m going to lie to her too. Or, better yet, I’m going to teach her to lie unflinchingly.

Read this next: Dinner? Over my dead body!



63 Replies to “Fertilized by lies, I grew into a cynical plant”

  1. It gives me a smirky smile reading all this and making me remember all the lies my parents told me aswell, some of which are apparently largely unpopular outside Serbia, like “If you swear, a priest will come and cut your tongue off”. There has not been a day of my childhood that I was not on the lookout for an oldman in a black robe with a huge cross round his neck and with scissors just watching me and waiting for me to swear. And the grandma, I see it as a version of yourself you wish not to become, I think it is a daily struggle here in these areas, not to get completely drapped in cynism.
    I enjoyed reading your text very much, thank you for a share of your persona, thank you for the memory flashbacks, thank you for reassuring me I am not alone in these crazy things that invade my thought process that rarely a person understands and finally, congratulations on being Freshly pressed 🙂

  2. I found you on freshly pressed. So glad I did…can’t wait to read more. We are all affected by our dysfunctional families (they all are to some degree) Serbian or not. Very well and humorously written.

  3. It reminded me of my parents telling me I could drown while swimming and fall and break everything possible while riding a bike.
    They still sent me to the swimming school where I used to swim around the pool perimeter so that I could grab hold of the border in the case of drowning.
    At 18 I suddenly got sick of being scared of water and started to seriously swim. But I’m still the only person in the world proud for not having tried cycling.. yet

  4. Great post! Yes we all grow up with fantasy stories and the odd lie to keep us on the straight and narrow. My boogeyman was the ragpicker who drove around with a cart collecting worn out clothes and linens. I was told to stay in the yard and not wander otherwise the ragpicker would get me! Despite their “stories” I made it…I’m still here! When I think back, perhaps my upbringing contributed to my fascination for ghosts and the paranormal…if so, I am very grateful!

  5. I saw this on Freshly Presses and I’m very impressed by it. Ah, the lies we were told. I remember a friend getting really annoyed at me because I said that a promise meant maybe if you’re very lucky…

  6. Haha, the rat tail cracked me up. Eastern Europeans seem to have a stronghold on the terrifying-superstitions-to-scare-their-children award.

  7. My parents told me that if I ate an apple seed then an apple tree would begin to grow in my tummy……. Yep I grew up believing that one…… Beautifully written post 🙂

  8. Why do people lie to their children? I’ve never understood why. There seems to be no reason for it, except if they want to frighten them or make sure that they’re not trusted by their kids.

  9. I think parents want their children to live in some fantasy world where Santa and the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy live to serve children. I am glad you are a survivor… I love the way you write, your voice is engaging and you held my attention throughout the story… Well done.

  10. So true. Once,my mother once told me that if I lie, the goddess of truth is going to come into my dreams and cut my head off, then she’ll take it with her. When I discovered that my it was her who was lying, I wondered why wasn’t my mother roaming around headless.

  11. My grandmother told me if I ate the crust of my sandwich bread my hair would get curlier. From then on I pulled the crust off my bread and 20 years later, my hair’s curlier than ever. Your story weaves a thread into all of our stories. Great writing.

  12. “What is truth” Pontius Pilate to Jesus of Nazareth, before he had Him whipped and nailed to a cross.

    I watch with amazement, when I get the chance, an artist painting a picture with no apparent effort. I’m amazed because I know that it would take me much much longer to paint the same picture, and it would look like crap when I’m finished. But such is not confined to the art of painting pictures. So here’s a little truth for ya. You have an artist’s gift for writing. I hope that doesn’t sound patronizing. You probably already know it. But nevertheless, sometimes, truth be told, it’s good to hear such things.

  13. Oh my gosh I haven’t thought of my life in this way ever! I actually remember recently when my friends were telling embarrassing or life changing stories, and I had nothing to contribute. I kind of felt like crying. It was horrible! This makes so much sense though! I grew up learning to fear everything that was dangerous… even thought the Easter Bunny doesn’t qualify… (: Thanks for sharing and congrats on FP! – nerdwithtaste.wordpress.com

  14. Reading this makes me think of what my girls will say in 10 or 15 years down the road. I’ve lied to them about these sorts of things, and the whole time in my head I’m going “shouldn’t I be teaching them NOT to lie..” Yet here I am, clearly doing the opposite. Rather instructing them that it’s ok to lie.. when you have to, or when you really don’t know what else to say. As parents we justify this with the excuse of “being parents”.

    1. knock, knock… If I may: that is exactly the point in all this! Teaching them not to lie as you lie to them all the way. I’d rather have it like, say, having them learn from your truthful, reliable behaviour; no need to “teach” all the time and even patronise them. We all surely learned lots more, and inadvertently, from our parents’ actions than from anywhere else. And I mean also the bad/lame/weak stuff 😉

  15. I am so glad I stumbled upon this! I grew up almost exactly like this! My father made an OCD out of me! because of all the bacteria/viruses and all the microbiology books I grew up reading! And now, I’m beating all these horrifying thoughts out of my system and have been studying to become a successful nurse! 😀

    1. Hey, you didn’t stumble upon this…I’ll have you know, I have been “Freshly Pressed.” 😉
      You have been studying to become a “successful” nurse?! How are they teaching you to become “successful” at it? Success, I’m told, follows years of hard work. But don’t listen to me, I’ve been told a lot of crap over the years 😉

      1. Yes, I actually agree with you on that.. it takes years of hard work, courage to stand up against whatever crap people give you and the strength to keep moving forward.. Nobody’s teaching me how to be successful at it.. I had to learn the ways of life on my own. I chose to be in the medical field so I can have a better point of view of what’s actually happening. I want to know the truth. I want to know if the ideas that I was constantly fed with as a child were real or just a result of fear and a figment of their fond imagination so I would choose to stay close to them. I have woken up to the truth that I will not die eating street food or the fact that family might mess you up first before everybody else does. and they’re so good at it.

  16. We are all taught to lie by our parents, and a pretty good skill it is, too! “Mom this tastes delicious.” (Not! Can’t stand peas!) “Thanks for the present, it is so nice.” (Not! I didn’t want more perfume from RiteAid!) “I’m fine.” (Not! I need therapy!) All the little lies that allow us to be polite, maintain our privacy and stay friends with people. “That sweater looks so nice on you.” (Not your color!) I’m happily enlisting the aid of my two older boys to lie to my 4 year old daughter about Santa, the Easter Bunny, the tooth fairy, ah, so many lies, so little time… It’s a hard world to navigate, and we all need to lie sometimes, at least about the little things. Your post was hilarious, thanks. Especially the tale. That was a whopper!

  17. “My mother is stupefied by it all. How I’ve managed to survive this long is beyond her. She’s already mourned me a dozen times.”
    Hahaha!!! This was cute and I enjoy your writing voice!

  18. I really enjoyed reading this. No cynicism, just plain truth. I don’t understand why parents think their children can’t accept or process truth. Mine blatantly let me know “you’re not supposed to know that,” which piqued my interest even more. Parents should give their kids a little more credit. Fine, the processing might still be a bit immature, but children will always connect to the emotion of whatever is said to them. Example, you clearly remember how you felt after Grandma told Santa wasn’t real. Great of you to bring this up!

  19. As far as lies go, are these ones really that awful? Personally, I don’t think so, but as a child I was lied to about much darker subjects. I think your family simply perpetuated what they wanted to from a cultural perspective.

    1. You don’t think the truth about Santa is a dark subject?! It’s the beginning of all great lies, if you ask me. My reasoning was, if they can bullshit me about this, they can bullshit me about anything. And they did!
      Thanks for reading 😉

      1. I think the origins of Santa are dark, yeah, but modern Santa is not. Nearly all parents tell that lie anyway, and the tooth fairy, and the easter bunny. I think they help to create a wonder about the world until someone comes along and ruins it, but it’s part of growing up, too.

  20. 🙂 very funny and entertaining. but the lies you were told were not so harmful. wait till you experience the marriage lie (love your man and he will take care of you) or the kids (in my country you can still be at the altar and they would ask you when are we seeing you a child)… but life goes on, and if you ever lie to your child lie out of need and to protect her from evil not to scare the shit out of her just to make her go to bed at 8pm. the stories they have told us are out of this world…

  21. My parents told me the crusts of bread was the healthy part. Ha. I *still* throw the crust away.

    Great post. Interesting to learn about Serbia. I wanna go!

  22. I thought I’d read about those Indigo children. Though not as expected, this post this post brightened my morning to say the least. Santa lore must be a Vampire’s creation.lol

  23. Well, maybe it’s too blasé for your liking, but this was my favourite part “…before Time started, I remember being small enough to fit into my father’s lap. He’d hold me there, sheltered from the world…”

  24. I think I may just tell my kids the plain ugly truth. Like my paycheck is funding your tooth fairy earnings. Everybody talks about you behind your back (even your friends). Going to college will not result in you finding a job. Door handles have more germs than a toilet seat. When you have no money your car will break down. I think these things will help them more when making life choices later. However, I must admit debunking childhood lies later can be pretty fun.

  25. Hah, hilarious! My anxious, safety conscious mother used to wake up every morning during my high school years and describe to me graphically the ways in which I had died in her dream of the night. I’m pretty sure her prophetic dreams mean I should have been drowned in the belly of a shark on fire in an exploded shopping centre by now! What is it about parenting that makes an otherwise rational person turn into a raving lunatic?!

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