It starts innocently enough.
The dental assistant is new. She’s smiling as she reviews my chart. I put my coat and purse on the hook and adjust the leather pillow thing on the chair as I sit.
“I see you need to take antibiotics. Did you remember?”
“At least an hour before you got here?”
I nod again.
She doesn’t put down my chart. She doesn’t move to set up. Instead, she looks at me curiously, which admittedly isn’t unexpected. Every time I go to the dentist some version of this occurs.
“If you don’t mind my asking, why do you need to take them? Usually, it’s older patients.”
I point to my left leg. “Artificial hip.”
“Oh,” she says. “I see.”
This is where I take the wrong turn. I just want to get this over with and go home. Only some sort of weirdo revels in the anticipation of feeling those pointy steel tools, neatly arranged on the metal tray, scraping against her teeth and gums.
But it’s obvious that the dental assistant wants to know more. And the frustrated teacher in me feels compelled to tell her the whole story. So she won’t be confused. So she has something out of the ordinary to share with her spouse when she gets home from work.
And there it is. The out-of-the-ordinary thing. With such temptation, there is nothing I can do to keep the writer in me from waking up, even though I know that she needs to stay hidden when in public, due to her overwhelming need to exaggerate. And embellish. Especially when somebody is bored and hopeful, which is the way I see that sweet, kind woman in the light blue scrubs.
The real story is that I dove for a ball in a tennis match, fell hard, and ignored my pain long enough for the cartilage in my hip to wear away to nothing. Thus, the typically senior citizen surgery at age thirty-seven.
In this instance, I try to be a good girl; I push the writer voice down and tell her the truth as I’ve just told you. But life isn’t fair. The dental assistant starts asking questions. She’s the one who pushes me over the line. She’s the one who forces the writer in me to rear her cunning, deceitful head.
What happened next is all a blur. Just like when I write a story. If I have a starting point, I can get so caught up in the work that when I’m finished, I actually have to reread what I’ve written to know what I have said. Same with telling a story, in particular a story organically conceived. So how did it turn out? The dental assistant with all the questions got to work that day on an American hero, somebody who could have been an Olympian if not for her horrible, life-altering fall on the tennis court.
If I had to guess, she got this impression because of the way I emphasized that we were in the semi-finals of a club tournament (which was true but only because I’d begged my brother-in-law, an amazing tennis player, to be my partner) or the way I explained how maddening it would be to have to play tennis non-competitively, as my doctor had warned (true), because I was so used to playing hard (which is clearly an overstatement.)
The thing is I don’t suffer liars well. Never have.
Which leaves me with one question: how do I justify to myself and others my own “writerly” lies so I don’t get dumped into the same category as “real” liars, the ones who use lies deliberately to mislead or frighten or cause pain?
I don’t have a satisfactory answer. I’m hoping somebody in cyberspace can help me with this one. Anybody?
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