To some extent I guess many of us like to create our own little fantasy world. We tell ourselves we have the perfect marriage; if anyone asks, our kids are just perfect, top of their class. The question “how are you?” is always answered with “Great! Never better.” Every day. We spend money that we don’t have trying to impress our friends and sometimes our children, then worry about the bills later.
Our lives are like a never-ending play based on someone else’s life. We feel we must have this public persona for others on display.
But just how far are some of us prepared to continue this charade? How long before we begin to embody the character that we have created?
I’ve had two friends who bring new meaning to the word “dedication” when it comes to living in denial.
The first one was one of my best friends in high school. She was an only child and at some point between the 7th grade and the 10th grade, the man whom I had known to be her father suddenly became her uncle. At first, when she would mention her uncle I assumed it was her dad’s twin brother. As we grew into young adults, I realized that I was seeing this man every time I visited her house. It eventually occurred to me that this was definitely her father. I never confronted her on it. However, I would ask her questions like, why was her uncle always at her house and her father wasn’t? Where did he live? How come he and his drinking buddy would always be leaving her house to go to the bar? These questions were always swiftly and deftly shrug off and the subject quickly changed. As I would see her mom lots more than I ever saw her dad, I just ignored this as one of my friend’s strange behaviors.
I couldn’t imagine why she would want to lie to me this way. We had been friends for at least 15 years by then and she knew that my own father was a non-existent entity. So even if she were embarrassed by her father, I should be the last person for her to feel discomfort around.
Unfortunately, her dad developed a terminal illness. We visited him together at the hospital after he had his chemo treatment. He looked like a completely different person, but the one thing that never changed was that she still referred to him as her uncle.
Her dad/uncle eventually passed away. Her neighbor, who was also a co-worker of mine, gave me the news the morning after his death. On the radio, among the daily obituaries, I heard: “Mr. X, aged 45, has died leaving wife, Z, and daughter T. Funeral arrangements will be held at….”
I called her that day to say how sorry I was to hear of his passing. I specifically referred to him as her “father” several times and she never corrected me once. During that conversation I asked her why she always referred to him as her uncle. She said it started during high school. He was always drunk and she was always embarrassed by him. So he told her that if it bothered her so much, she should just tell all her friends that he was her uncle. And so she did.
I’m glad she didn’t continue the charade after he had passed. Turns out he was more than just a man who drank too much. He was a top engineer at a major paint manufacturer and, as I found out at his funeral, had formulated the number one paint product for that company. She had never told me that about him before as she was so determined to conceal all parts of his existence.
The other person I knew in this state of denial was a former co-worker of mine, whom we shall refer to as “Sandra”. She was one person who was really trying to bury her past. Unfortunately for her, my husband and she attended the same elementary school and he and his brother knew a lot more about her than I did. At work, she never socialized with us. We were all around the same age and sat in the same area. She never opened up to us. When she was getting married, she told none of us. We only found out the Friday before, too. She and her fiancee actually flew to Miami, had a town hall ceremony and then they both flew to Germany for a European cruise.
My husband used to tell me that when his dad would take them to school in his car, they would pick up Sandra, her sister, and her brother, if they saw them walking to school. I had also met her sister, quite by accident one day, while on a short hike with my husband. In front of her, he introduced her to me as “Sandra’s sister.”
So imagine my utter shock one day when, after seeing her sister sign in at my gym, I went to work the following day to tell Sandra that I saw her sister at my gym, and her response to me with a straight face was “I don’t have a sister.” I was not prepared for that.
I asked her what she meant and she repeated what she said. I was quite confused.
I said, “Did you and your sister have a falling out?”
“No,” she said. “I don’t have a sister. I never have. I only have a brother.”
I offered her a way out. I said, “Do you have a cousin who looks just like you and writes just like you and you share the same last name? Because I saw your sister and I saw her sign in at my gym last night.”
“No,” she insisted. “And I don’t have a sister.”
Okay, well having dealt with my high school friend, I guessed this was just the thing that people did.
It was always amusing to me when someone would come along and ask her something about her life like where she grew up. She would always give a vague and general answer and throw an anxious glance my way. You’d think she was in the witness protection program. She knew I was married to her former schoolmate and probably expected that any second now I would have “blown her cover.” But I never did. I’m sure she had her own reasons for her actions. Meanwhile she still maintains that she has no sister.