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Delicate Art of Lying
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
One of the hazards of being on Facebook is that there's always the chance that someone you've blithely dismissed from your past will hunt you down and try to be friends again. This is inevitably painful — after a few sessions of "remember whens," the conversations dry up and you remember, precisely, why the old friendship couldn't sustain itself. I'm no great fan of nostalgia for nostalgia's sake, so I usually cut these communications off pretty quickly. I remember being in a bar in Fort Wayne a few years back, and a drunken guy was staring at me. After a few minutes he staggered over and placed himself directly in front of me and I could recognize the face of somebody I had known when I was a teenager. "Chris Colcord!" he finally figured. "I haven't seen you since high school!" I nodded and for a second I didn't say anything. An instant response had flashed in my mind but I bit my tongue, thinking it was too mean. . . and then of course I said it anyway. "It's not a coincidence, guy," I said, and I clapped him on the shoulder and got the hell out of there.
And I swear, I'm not a cold-hearted man; I just can't fake interest anymore in a past association that I can scarcely remember. I've received dozens of inquiries on Facebook since I've joined, all from high school and college ghosts, and I've refrained from responding to almost all of them. It's a principle that I know I should never break, because if I did, the consequences would be depressing and destructive. Unfortunately, though, I'm an incorrigible sort with absolutely no control, so of course it was inevitable that I would break my own rule. And when I did it was a disaster.
It happened this way. A college friend, who I haven't seen since the Reagan years, found my profile on Facebook and shot me an e-mail. I knew I was in trouble when he addressed me by my college nickname — yes, I had a nickname, one of those embarrassing monikers concocted after an endless drunk weekend, a name I thought I left in Bloomington when I moved out my final squalid apartment. Anyway. He expressed delight at finding me, he mentioned a couple of decades-old anecdotes that I barely recall participating in, and then he asked me what I've been doing with myself for the past twenty-five years.
Well. Instead of brushing him off, I decided that this was the perfect opportunity for a little creative license, so I composed a lengthy e-mail that described a wholly fictitious, alternate-reality version of my own life. Instead of regurgitating the shame-filled highlights of my true peripatetic existence, I spoke of a conventional path, complete with career, marriage, mortgage, and golf game. After college, I got a job in (think, Chris) human resources, then I married (let's see) April, a girl I met when I moved to (um) Minneapolis. The home, the kids, the career trajectory followed, the vacations in Sarasota and Mexico, the kid's braces, etc. I decided the narrative needed a little drama, so I talked about April's growing disenchantment at 35, her tear-filled admission about the dance instructor (Colin), the separation, the sterile new apartment, the desperate late night phone calls and pleading, and finally, the joyful reunion and revowing of the marriage. On a roll now, I added a kicker that reflected the current state of the world: the bank meltdown killed my investments, cost me my IRA and my job so I was forced to move the family to Fort Wayne where I got a part-time job at a local business college. But we're doing okay, I said. We have no money but the kids have their grandparent and cousins. We're poor but happy.
I have to admit, I was very proud of this last bit, which showed some symmetry — I truly do have zero money, though the real reason (I've been screwing off for 25 years) is far less dramatic. Very pleased with myself, I sent off the e-mail, curious to how this past acquaintance would respond. And this, by the way, is the cautionary part of the tale. His return e-mail — which took him a full week to write, he told me — expressed how shocked he was to discover that my personal history mirrored his almost EXACTLY. He didn't have to sell his house, he said, and he still had a job, but the marriage troubles and the financial disasters occurred in his life as well. He said it was fate that we got connected again, because he knew that finally, he could talk to someone who had gone through the same thing.
Damn! Horrified beyond measure, I immediately responded and outed myself, and to his credit, he managed to laugh it off. (I wouldn't have.) We've even managed to keep up a correspondence since then, though I still apologize and express mortification in every e-mail. He's not a humorless guy, and when my guilt subsides I realize we do have enough in common to keep talking. I think I've learned my lesson about lying, but April told me at dinner last night that she's not too sure.