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True Stories: Lying My Way to Love
Everything about me was made up, except the one truth I couldn't tell her.
By Snowden Wright
At Bud & Alley's, a Florida bar overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, I told four women I'd just met, a group in their mid-forties on a ladies-only trip to the coast, about my plans to ask my girlfriend to marry me. Jocelyn was in the bathroom. Earlier she and I had coaxed the women from their bar stools and asked them to join us on the dance floor. We all managed to work up a sweat. Afterwards, sipping our drinks, the women asked me how long Jocelyn and I had been together. That's when I told them about the proposal.
Jocelyn and I first met three years ago, I explained, when we were sophomores at Dartmouth. One fall day, while jogging through the woods, she and I literally ran into each other on the Appalachian Trail. I knew we were on the trail because it is marked by lengths of twine strung between the trees. We went on a date the next day. "And y'all are still together," one of the women said. "That is just too romantic." I asked if I could let them in on a secret.
"Tomorrow when we get on the plane to fly home," I said, "I'm going to ask Jocelyn to marry me."
Although I'd gone to college up north, I was born and raised in Mississippi, which is to say the women's flamboyant, drawling gasps of "Aw muh Gawd!" did not come as a culture shock. I explained to them that, because I wasn't yet making much money at my job, I couldn't afford a ring. Instead I was going to tie a piece of twine around her finger. The women fanned themselves with cocktail napkins, saying they wished their lives were such a fairy tale. I told them mum's the word just as Jocelyn got back from the bathroom.
They were right about one thing. The story really was a fairy tale. Not a single word of it was true.
The act of lying has been one of the few constants of my love life. More so than clumsy first kisses. More so than awkward first dates. Telling elaborate lies is something I've done more often than getting my heart broken. Throughout college and into early adulthood, my go-to name when hitting on women in bars was "Gardner Barnes," a character played by Kevin Costner in Fandango whom I'd idolized as a teenager. During my twenties and up until recently, my standard persona with girlfriends made me out to be a talented artist undaunted by my prospects, though I secretly agonized I'd never succeed as a writer. I have acted like a handsome man while believing I am ugly, and I have acted like a kind person while believing I am cruel. Honestly, I have considered myself a complete fraud.
At the bar in Florida, returning from the bathroom, Jocelyn could have easily ruined the ruse. She could have wrinkled her brow and shook her head at mention of a jog through the woods and meeting around twine. So, before the group of women had a chance to break the spell, I said to Jocelyn, "Honey, I was just telling them the story of how we first met. Can you believe it's been three years since that day on the Appalachian Trail?"
"But I thought it was four years ago." Jocelyn took her seat, no confusion in her eyes, no strain to her voice. "Wait, you're right. We were sophomores, not freshmen."
"Consider yourself lucky, sweetheart," one of the women said to her. "My husband never remembers our anniversary."
I pantomimed loosening the knot of a necktie and asked them not to put any ideas in my girlfriend's head. One of the women sitting out of Jocelyn's line of sight gave me a less than subtle wink, and another of them pinched the side of my kneecap while pretending to pick up a straw. I didn't know what to say next. All the sudden I became very thirsty.
Without a moment's hesitation, Jocelyn took up my slack by telling the story of how, about a month into our relationship, we had made plans to elope. She told our new friends how the two of us would stay up late discussing our life together. "We weren't just talking about a future," Jocelyn said like a world-class grifter. "We were talking about our future." We planned to move to L.A. I would write screenplays, and she would produce films. We'd buy a house in the hills, drive matching sports cars, and own at least two dogs. Again, it was nothing but lies.
None of the women asked Jocelyn what we had planned to name the dogs, but if they had, I am certain Jocelyn could have effortlessly spouted off a list. Dirk Doggler, Rover Cleveland, Sherlock Bones, Virginia Woof. That night at Bud & Alley's was not our first con.