my journey with truth

Aunt Judy

Posted on: September 9, 2010

A long time ago, I lied to my Aunt Judy.

I thought I was doing something right in one sense, that it would save my life, in fact.  But in the end, it was an incredibly destructive lie.

I was about 7 years old.  And I told Aunt Judy that I couldn’t spend the night at her house because my mom said so.  It was just like what you had to say to friends who invite you over sometimes, it made sense to me.  Also, it was as simple as this: Mom’s word is final in all things (right?) so if I tell Aunt Judy that Mom said so, there is no room for argument.

Here’s the thing – Aunt Judy believed me.  And the other thing is that my mom never said I couldn’t go over to Aunt Judy’s house.  And beyond that, the problem is that my Aunt Judy and my mom have had relationship rifts in their lives, like sisters do, and without being an expert on their relationship (only they are) I am still pretty sure that my lie aggravated some of those rifts.  I did damage that day.  All on my own with my (big) little lie.

You see, Aunt Judy smoked.*  And I had seen all the films at school that documented the damage that happens to your lungs, turning them black like tar, giving you cancer, sometimes making your gums and tongue basically rot.  It was the high age of public service announcements and public health initiatives regarding second-hand smoke as well, and I got a full education between public school and the Public Broadcasting Service after-school programming.  I was absolutely convinced, sure to my core, certain in my heart of hearts that spending time at Aunt Judy’s house was going to kill me.

I’m not kidding.  I held my breath around her for as long as I could when she had a lit cigarette, taking in as few breaths as possible.  I would fret during the nights leading up to planned overnight visits, losing sleep in anticipation of losing my life.  I would sometimes even build myself up to have ‘the talk’ with Aunt Judy.  Instead of the wise and experienced adult explaining the birds and the bees, it would be the passionate and panicked child explaining the smoke and the sudden death.  But I never did have the talk with her for real.  The few times I brought up quitting, she quickly dismissed them.  I drew on facts and figures regarding her healthful prospects, but she would talk around them, assert her autonomy of choice mostly from what I recall.  I never just told her the truth.  I never said, “Aunt Judy, when you smoke, you’re killing me.”  Which, seven years old and weighed down with anxiety, was true in more than one way.

Instead, I lied – I said, “My mom won’t let me sleep over at your house.”  And even though my older sister (who may have had even deeper fears and anxieties in our childhood) and I spent many more nights over at Aunt Judy’s, she has always held onto that lie I gave her.  I can’t blame her for holding onto it, not only because I was the perpetrator of the lie.  Laying down a mother’s law like that was a much bigger deal than I understood at the time.

I never just told her the truth, though it’s true that smoking and second-hand smoke is bad.  It’s true your lungs really do turn black like tar, lung cancer is fast and furious in its destruction, and your mouth and all that is in it comprises the front line in a terrible war.  The truth really is that smoking is bad, and it will rapidly accelerate your death.  That is all truth.  And the truth was that I didn’t want to go over to Aunt Judy’s house.

Instead of telling the truth, I lied.  Ironically, that lie has worked its way into my familial ties like a cancer.

*I should say that my Aunt Judy gave up smoking a couple years ago.  While it’s exciting that I don’t ever hold my breath at Aunt Judy’s house anymore, it’s way more exciting that she has chosen this other life.  Also, the picture below is my mom and my Aunt Judy bonding over ebay.


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  • myjourneywithtruth: i had it in my office at my internship in Corpus Christi two summers ago. ellen davis is brilliant and glows with an aura of holy.
  • amy h: i love this quote. i think i may need it hanging on my wall where i'll see it daily. perhaps in front of the toilet? by the door? bedside table? i'll
  • chaz: That post made me really sad too. Mostly because I want to take young Lizzie by the shoulders and shake her (gently?) into sublime realization that sh


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