I’m Telling The Truth

From a very young age, let’s say 6 or so, I realized with certainty that I’d never tell the truth. Certainly not to you, not to my mother, and not to my classmate, Bobby Tong, when I told him my dad was a superhero. This continued ten years later on prom night when I looked into the bathroom mirror, fixed my bow tie, and said out loud “tonight you’re going to have sex”. I’ve continued to fail since then, many times in fact, and as a consequence, I’ve only become more sure that telling the truth was just not my thing. This of course all comes with an air of what I believe to be justified self-pity. I am a victim in all this, and I say that without apology.

I never said I’d lie, I’m not depraved. Semantics here are important. I could never tell the truth because language appeared to me then (and still does today) to highlight the gap between what I mean to say and what is actually said. And what’s more, in that gap there is an abundance of reasons not to try too hard to speak on anything really. My favorite ones being, “I better not say too much in case you know, I might say the wrong thing” or “people always misconstrue what I say, so it’s better to say less or nothing at all”. Perhaps you would believe that I’m just inarticulate or lazy. You call it whatever you want, really, but it’s very present in the shortness of my responses when meeting new people, in my text messages with romantic interests, or here, in my writing. No matter how hard I try, I can’t bring myself to do better or even to do otherwise; I simply just never get at what it is that I want to convey.  Again, I say this without apology, I don’t think any of this is my fault. The reality I’ve come to accept is that my words can never stretch themselves enough to wrap around the nuances and complexities of my lived experience and therefore for me, conversation has been starved of a certain dimensionality I’d call “the truth”, and although I won’t apologize, I’m going to try and earn your forgiveness.

Take for example right now, I’m drinking herbal tea in my dimly-lit apartment. I’ve just arrived home from a regular workday. I sit on my futon with my belt unbuckled, and John Coltrane music floats softly in the background. The mist from the honey chamomile is so soothing, I involuntarily exhale a heavy sigh and close my eyes. I welcome nothing that disturbs the stillness and quiet in this space. My phone is turned over somewhere in the room, I don’t even know where or care to. I glance at my fancy watch that reads “6,000 shy of your daily target”, and as I slowly lower my arm back down, I feel a deep sense of exhaustion. In these moments, an itch builds in the back of my throat, and a feeling of dread begins to couple the prior calm found through herbal blend. Let’s reflect on this for a moment. Aside from my being overly dramatic, what have you learned from the relaying of events? What mood am I trying to tell you I’m in, am I at peace or unrest? Maybe you’re thinking some more details might help you come up with an answer. I’ll add that although I’m objectively doing great, I think my exhaustion is a symptom of a latent but sometimes crippling state of frustration with myself. Also, the awareness of what I feel in these moments fluctuates and isn’t always so strong or as hard to navigate through. Finally, I often find delight in a dance with despair to be honest, and occasionally indulge in my sadness. Granted, you’re not my therapist, but having said all that, it’s fair to say all I did was just make things harder to understand. What is clear in trying to explain all this to you, is that what I feel doesn’t really “make sense” even to me and that’s exactly where I’m stuck. How could I have made that clearer to you? Where was my account incomplete? Was I not descriptive or exhaustive enough, is how I feel not relatable?

I’ll state a cliche and say our lives and experiences in the world are not simple. In something as basic as sitting on my couch while drinking some tea, there’s “stuff’ going on that I really have a hard time telling you about. Although this may be a reflection of my incompetence, I don’t think it’s one of my lack of intelligence or will. I suppose one can use their smarts to “shed more light” on a topic, to give the appearance of having a more nuanced understanding, but I’m talking about telling the truth here and not just giving more information. And how many words does it take to screw in a light bulb, really? See, the truth as I see it is fickle, in infinite motion, and the words I’ve been using are stuck in time. Syntax is this primitive, cerebral tool and always feels as though it’s lagging behind my visceral experiences. I see the truth, the whole truth anyway, as what is revealed to me in the present, and yet, it can only be approached through language in reflections of the past. That is also to say, truth happens in real time or not at all. I believe it when people can say they’re in love, for example, but I rarely accept their responses when I ask them “when?”

Perhaps you will say that much more communication is done through body language. I’d have to disagree, Watson, I can’t even bring my body to tell the truth. For example, I’ll walk into the office and say, “good morning, everyone” with a tone that is bold and alert when I feel neither, or I’ll visibly struggle to keep straight-faced in serious or sad moments. Even stranger, when the patterns of my breathing suddenly change to reflect a self-conscious anxiety when I know and believe the situation to be innocuous, like speaking to my little cousin. These are all simply not true of what I think, feel, or want to express. My body commits mutiny and reacts in these peculiar, often inappropriate ways, and if you were tuning in you would be receiving the wrong messages.

Of course, this is not a unique conversation and is for the most part, unremarkable. My friends too fumble when trying to tell me stories about occasions in their lives they find special. They sound and look like they’re metaphorically untangling iPhone headphones with their words. They grab their phones and flip through pictures, seeing a favorite artist play live in a small venue, watching their daughter take her first steps, and realizing that their dog is their spirit animal. Of course observing all this is like meeting Zoe Saldana, sketching up some depiction, and it looking more along the lines of Jada Pinkett Smith. The answer is always just “no” or if I have the patience, “not quite, they’re really just two black women with similar features. I still have no clue what you saw and even less what it was really like to have lived through that”. I take no comfort in saying that it appears as though there is nothing exclusive about my shortfalls, you seem to have them too.

It’s not all struggle and writhing. Sometimes the truth is not said, but it is received. There are moments where words admittedly fail, and we harness that lack to our benefit. We throw out life vests such as “you know what I’m saying” and it’s crazy because sometimes I do. Would that then suggest that there is truth in the unsaid? You would be justified in holding that assertion as too over-simplified to be meaningful, but there may be something useful there.

So far I have been talking around the point, avoiding saying the truth. I’ve been trying my whole life, both in lip service and deeds, to run from, jump over, pray out of this thing; this white noise that appears in my thoughts when I’m not distracted. I think the “right” word to use here is loneliness, or possibly alienation, I don’t know. It’s here with me in this dimly-lit room and the now lukewarm tea in my hand. It was with me ten minutes ago before I closed the Google Chrome incognito tab that read “Topless College Girls on Spring Break”. Oh, and if you too are being honest, it was there with you about nineteen finger strokes down your Instagram timeline and about nine down the back of your tinder date. What was their name again, Jen, Omar, Shandra? It appears there are moments when our inability to tell the truth, even to ourselves, is haunting and papably bitter. And now, I might be telling the truth.

Yet In the midst of all that, I feel joy. Because in this space, in my ineffable suffering, I’ve flourished. The gap is really between “being a human” with all the dimensionality that suggests, and trying to share what that’s like, but being unable to. In this psychological grey area sits the beautiful, overflowing of my fondest experiences, and in them the divine recognition that truth doesn’t come through rigorous analysis. Because really, to me, all that exists on either side of the gap between truth and complete untruth, is just noise we cast up in the open air hoping it will land in someone’s Apple airpods, hoping we can earn their attention.

Maybe we’ve all been talking too much. Talking ourselves into a mess, while pretending to tell the truth. Maybe telling the truth is a journey, one that unfurls in some perpetual growth. Maybe it’s a tension, a pulling between imaginations and events. Maybe it isn’t in a dictionary or a thesaurus and to will it to solidify, define it, and to claim it, is very much beside the point. It’s what leaves me in a state of nausea the days around my birthday when I realize another year has passed of my speaking a foreign tongue, my words falling out in front of me but appearing at a distance.

You must be exhausted. You came here for answers, and I should have said much earlier instead that I don’t know how to tell the truth. I do believe however, it’s not sufficient to say that telling the truth is hard and suggest we look at truth as something lived and forged and not said. So maybe, actually, it’s a good thing to be exhausted in the quest for truth. I would almost hold that being unable to grasp truth with something as simple as words is what gives it depth, life, and meaning. Maybe we are all on this arduous but unspeakable journey towards something that reveals itself in how we stand, walk, and fall before our lives. Maybe you really need to be “living your truth”. One that must be dug out and mined, bravely but quietly.

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Stephan Ledain

And still too beautiful for words, he said.