Telling the Truth

This essay is the tenth installment in a series of 12 monthly creative essays for the year 2021 (now flowing into 2022 because I fell behind). Each month’s topic is selected using cards from the party game Apples to Apples. This February’s card was “Telling the Truth.” Thanks for reading!

Once when I was in fourth grade my family had just returned home from a camping trip. Everyone was helping to unpack the car and for whatever reason (I certainly can’t recall), I was in a foul mood. This wasn’t shocking to anyone; I often was grumpy and frustrated as a child. My family’s response usually was to ignore my moodiness, and that always made me more mad.

To fuel the unpacking that afternoon, my mom had made PB&J sandwiches for us children. On one of my trips into the house from the car, I saw the last sandwich sitting on the counter. I don’t know what gave me the idea, but in a moment of hot rage I took the sandwich and threw it whole into the garbage can. Logically, I’m not quite sure what this really accomplished, but in the moment, trashing the sandwich was so perfectly vindictive and satisfied the festering rage I was harboring in my chest.

For a few minutes, I thought I had committed the perfect crime. That was until my dad came into the house to throw something away and saw the sandwich resting at the very top of the garbage can. Five minutes later, all the children were rounded up in the living room, my dad sitting on a kitchen chair in the middle of the floor, staring at us. Though he is an attorney, he’s never practiced any type of law that would place him in the courtroom. But that didn’t stop him from launching into an intensive cross examination of all four children in order to find the culprit.

I remember him sternly asking me, more than once, “Did you throw away the sandwich?” Each time, fueled by my anger, general stubbornness, and fear of getting caught, I would look him straight in the eye and, without blinking, flatly deny any blame.

I think he knew it was me. Still I wasn’t cracking under the pressure, and he had no hard proof. He threatened to take the sandwich into work and have one of his colleagues with contacts in a crime lab process it for fingerprints. I didn’t budge. He put the sandwich in a plastic bag and placed it in his briefcase to take into the office. I didn’t blink. He threatened collective punishment–no TV after dinner, confiscating our bikes for the rest of the week… I stayed silent.

In the days following the interrogation, I waited with grave anticipation for the fingerprint results to come in. As an adult I figure this was probably an empty threat, but 9-year-old Megan believed it. Still, I was so committed to my lie that I was willing to wait the process out rather than admit my guilt preemptively.

Time slowly moved on and my parents never brought the sandwich up again. No lab results ever came. And I never got in trouble.

I think of this memory from time to time. I wonder why I ever felt provoked to throw away the sandwich? Was I just being petty after a long weekend bickering with family and baking in the summer sun, or was my mood and actions that day a symptom of a broader, trending unhappiness that would carry into my late adolescence and teenage years? Did my parents sense any of this and decide not to push the issue, or was the loss of a single, insignificant PB&J simply forgotten? At the end of the day, you could say that it really was just a petty, meaningless episode. But then why does it still bother me?

There are some objective truths. Either I threw away the sandwich, or I didn’t. But when it comes to the question of why–why did I throw it away–telling the truth isn’t quite as simple or clean cut a concept as we might at first hope. In life, there are many parallel narratives with their own sets of assumptions and resulting truths. So maybe the objective can’t always be to find out what is true, but rather, to find out what is most authentic.

A likely truth is that I was tired from too many sunburnt days at the lake and late nights around the campfire. And tired Megan was grumpy and decided to be a brat and do something provocative. But an authentic truth, supported by the discomfort the memory still causes me today, is that maybe Megan was hurting and feeling unheard that afternoon.

Authentic truths aren’t easy to come by. They’re messy, incomplete, sometimes imperfectly justified, and often compared to the nicer, edited, contextualized, and paired down “truths” that we choose to share with others, or that others choose to believe.

In this sense, the sandwich debacle isn’t the only thing that periodically bothers me. While I don’t think that I typically lie to myself, I do expect that I am very often not acknowledging my most authentic narratives. This is why I started writing this blog to begin with, and why I now share with you one of my more painful realities: my current loneliness.

Living in Idaho Falls has been great in many respects, chiefly my access to quality family time. That is something I lacked living in DC, and something that my adult self has come to value and greatly depend on. But a downside is when it comes to socializing and meeting new friends, I spend most Friday nights alone.

It’s always hard to meet new friends, but when you work remote with colleagues who live 2,000 miles away, and you live in a region where you’re a cultural outlier (single without children at age 27), it becomes a little harder. Additionally, a fault of mine is my own snobbery. I don’t want to be friends with just anybody.

I’ve felt lonely before. But it was different. I always carried the attitude that the loneliness was what I wanted, self imposed. American poet Charles Bukowski once wrote, “Loneliness is something I’ve never been bothered with because I’ve always had this terrible itch for solitude.”

I’ve adopted this strong front at different times. In high school, for example, I never got asked to Homecoming or Prom. I always told myself that this was what I wanted–that I hated the whole production of “prom-posals” and didn’t want to spend all that money on a dress I would only wear once. And in a way, those are real truths. Still, those were the edited truths I shared with others. A deeper, more authentic truth may just be that the loneliness I felt was not self imposed, and that on those evenings when most of my friends were dancing in the high school gym, I was at home, sad that no one wanted to be with me.

Other times in my life, I haven’t been able to adopt quite so convincing a Bukowskien attitude–whether authentic or not. In 2017, I spent the year consumed by a loneliness external to me, isolated from my friends and my own happy thoughts by a confining, dulling episode of depression.

During that year, young-adult novelist John Green had published a book and was going on tour with his brother Hank Green, an internet-based entertainer and science communicator. I have always respected the Green brothers’ work, and decided to buy tickets to the book tour when it came to Washington, DC. I remember sitting down in a seat in the large auditorium, surrounded by hundreds of excited fans. I had come to the show alone, yet as I looked around me, it seemed like everyone else there had come with friends. In that moment I felt a potent rush of that familiar loneliness and I started to cry. I had hoped that going to the show would make me feel better. But it was just forcing me to confront realities for which I had no manufactured emotional armor. I was alone, I knew it, and I hated it.

I wiped my eyes and distracted myself by opening the evening’s program and reading in the dim light. By page four, I was crying again. Not because I was sad, but because I suddenly felt seen. John Green had included in his program “A Letter to People Who are Here by Themselves,” discussing his own relationship with aloneness, and his gratitude for the solo attendees. That acknowledgement provided a comfort I carried with me for weeks after, that someone out there could anticipate and speak to my pain, and help me find comfort without unauthenticating my sad truth.

Maybe that’s what I’m again wishing for as I experience a general lack of friends here in Idaho Falls. Hoping of course to resolve my loneliness through making friends, but also longing for interim relief. Hoping to be seen through the isolation–for others to understand my authentic pain, and not just accept my convenient truths.

And maybe that is what 9-year old Megan also wanted when she threw the sandwich away. She didn’t shove it down to the bottom of the bin. She placed the PB&J at the top, almost daring someone to catch her. Maybe she felt a degree of isolation or loneliness in her moodiness as well–the kind that comes from not expressing (or not being able to express) our fears or our frustrations. Did she want to be caught? Did she want someone to ask her “why?”? Did she feel alone in her anger, and just want to be seen?

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Megan Casper

Megan Casper

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