- Commentary on “Pie”Secrecy, Honesty, and Creative Nonfiction
When I was young I had a real diarrhea of the mouth and, when around people I trusted, talked incessantly unless I was told to stop speaking. You couldn’t make me shut up for anything. My mom tried to pay me to keep quiet during car rides and I never earned a dime. I’m not exactly sure what I talked about—there was so much generalized bubbling over—but it may have included every superficial thought my brain could slow down enough to catch and then throw forth. I mean, at times I remember taking deep, gasping breaths of air, just to gear up for another round of babble, and I actually, not figuratively, got out of breath from talking. I know part of my agenda was to appear intelligent and delightful and funny, because I had some sort of low self-confidence and lack of grounding, even as a little kid. I believed that if I was a captivating thrill to be around, people would love me and I wouldn’t be lonely.
It didn’t work. I wasn’t particularly thrilling, because I never talked about anything important, and I felt lonely most of the time anyway, beset with a secret melancholy that came on young and was hard to explain, one that can best be described as what it feels like at around 5:30 in the evening on the shortest day of the year, when it has been dark for an hour, and there is no cable TV but you are not yet tired, and outside your front door is a cold wind that, if you were to stay out without a coat, would bitch-slap you before freezing you to death. It felt like that.
Despite the chatter, I was actually secretive about my real thoughts, and I didn’t share them with others. If you are not telling the truth about who you are, it makes you a liar, right? I was essentially a liar, a little kid liar, hiding my [End Page 167] real thoughts and fears from others in order to appear a certain way, like a crab in a cave, gathering my tiny truths, protecting them with one big claw of fibs that I swung around the place. When I was in elementary school, my grandfather smoked cigars and I was worried it would kill him. I asked him to stop, not knowing that he probably couldn’t, and when he didn’t, I determined to understand the origin of his addiction. One day he set his stogie in an ashtray and left the room. I picked it up, put the wet, chomped tobacco mouth-end up to my lips, and took a long, honking drag of it. It burned my throat and trachea, and I started coughing and quickly put the cigar back in the ashtray. By the time my grandfather came back, I was green with nausea. He asked me what was wrong, and I lied to him.
I said, “Nothing,” though what I wanted to say is, “I smoked that cigar to see what is so good about it that you would choose to smoke and risk dying from cancer instead of watching me grow up.” It was on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn’t say it. I didn’t want him to think I thought about cancer and death. I didn’t want remind him that he was going to die one day. I didn’t want him to suspect I was upset with him, though I was. I went outside and puked in the bushes instead.
As I grew older, I realized that my dense, imaginative, often serious, occasionally fantastical thoughts didn’t fit in with what my friends liked to talk about, so I continued to hide them. By this point, I knew that behaving in this manner wasn’t honest, but it didn’t stop me from doing it, because most of my actions at that time were fear-based. Like any high school kid, I was afraid of rejection. I was afraid to be seen as...