Life is full of little white lies. At least mine is. I lied this morning to my boss and told her *cough* that I was feeling a bit under the weather so I could have a Ferris Bueller like day with D. I lie when they ask me my name at Aroma. I don’t owe those fuckers anything. I can finally be whomever I want to be when I order my half tuna sandwich on whole wheat. These lies are innocuous for the most part and have no real negative impact on the world (well, maybe on my company but I always make up the work at home and on the weekends). There is one lie, however, that I’ve been telling for over two years now that has me feeling like that Poe protagonist who hears the beating of the heart through the basement walls. It’s a devastating lie that has spawned awful nightmares and has, at times, caused M. such shame that it makes her blush. Let me explain.
At the core of every lie, conspiracy, scandal and cover up in history is probably a good intention. I’m sure of it. The road to hell is paved with them. My lie began with the best and most noble of intentions.
When D. was born I made it my mission to ensure that he spoke English. It was the single most important thing I could give him (besides a US passport). It was, as far as I was concerned, vital and yet it would prove to be agonizingly difficult to accomplish. M. and I speak Hebrew at home. We always have. I tried speaking English to her it but felt contrived. Like a generic can of coke you buy from Osher Ad. Or a pair of Adidos or Reebak sneakers from the shuk Like I wasn’t the same person. Or she wasn’t. The language barrier made us feel like complete strangers. Our own language, laboriously composed of coded text, slang and shorthand, had been forged lovingly through years of shared experience. Speaking English to her, suddenly and most violently, destroyed that cherished bond we had formed.
A few months after D. was born I made the decision that I would only speak English. All the time and everywhere (except for at home). I would pretend that I was an Oleh Chadash (new immigrant) and act dumb whenever anyone spoke to me in Hebrew. I practiced a Tal Brodyesque American accent to my Hebrew, making sure to mix up male and female and severely butchering every “resh” and “chet”. I purposefully and intentionally lied to almost everyone in the neighborhood, from the local grocery store clerk to the pediatrician. I became known as the “Americai Ahabel” (American dumbass) and everyone, everyone spoke to me only in English.
The plot thickened drastically when I went to the nursery to sign D. up for daycare. The manager, a kind lady in her mid to late thirties didn’t speak a word of English. So she called in one of the nursery staff to help. She couldn’t speak English either. One by one every aide, kitchen worker, cleaner and parent came in to assist in explaining the enrollment procedures to me. Finally, when all was almost lost, she called in Y., a nursery school teacher and my next door neighbor. Y. is a kind, elderly woman. She looked at me and then asked if I was her neighbor. I nodded, waiting for her to expose me as a fraud (she must have heard M. and I speaking Hebrew on more than one occasion) but she didn’t. She spoke to me softly in her broken English about the enrollment. I was so ashamed. What had I done?
I couldn’t risk speaking Hebrew anywhere anymore, least of all at home. If I had to speak in Hebrew for a business call I would close the door in the bathroom and speak in a low voice. All my clients suspected me of having IBS and M. must have thought I was having multiple affairs. M. was so ashamed. She is from the George Washington school of “I cannot tell a lie”. It’s what I love about her but it also made me feel like a total douchebag. We tried having play dates with other parents but M. was too ashamed of herself for aiding and abetting such a heinous and pathological lie. We couldn’t have anybody but family at birthday parties for D., because then, with her family there, my lie would surely be exposed. It was straining our marriage and it was exhausting. It’s not easy living a lie, that’s for sure.
And the snowball continues to grow. Every parent of every child in the nursery only speaks to me in English. Most of them do so with great pains. They gesture. They look up words on their IPhone. They try to accommodate me. But I understand. I even speak Hebrew better than most of them. I have to start looking over my shoulder every time I speak Hebrew. I see them everywhere. I’m at Dizengoff center with D. and I see the father of the twins. I’m at the beach and there’s Ben’s mom. I’m on the bus and I see Ariel’s mom. I’m so ashamed of myself but can’t bring myself to confess. It’s gotten to be too big now. Like Roswell or the Kennedy assassination. Too many people would have to die. Or we would have to move. Otherwise we would surely be shunned. Outcasts.
I begin to have a recurring nightmare. I find myself speaking in Hebrew to Abigail’s mom. She is a tall and skeleton like Pilates instructor who always looks at me suspiciously. She points her bony finger at me and laughs maliciously grinning her yellowish teeth. J’accuse! I wake up in a cold sweat. M. asks if everything is OK. I respond in English lest Y. hears me speaking Hebrew.
When D. started showing signs of speech delay we were referred to a speech therapist. At first I refused. After all most Bi-Lingual children, boys in particular, start speaking later. When he reached two years and ten months and all of his nursery classmates were already forming sentences M. began to get worried so we took him to a speech therapist. She performed a series of tests and then determined that the best course of action would be to speak to him in only one language. You do speak Hebrew, right? They both look at me and there isn’t a rock in the world small enough for me to crawl under.
Mark Twain once said that if you tell the truth you never have to remember anything. I cannot begin to tell you how true that is. Perhaps the saddest outcome of this whole sordid affair is that my son will have a liar as a role model. I just hope one day he’ll be able to tell me in perfectly articulated English how utterly pathetic I am.