I am free to tell you this much about myself: I tell lies. At my house, we call them Joni Lies. And they’re not always just little white lies. Sometimes, Joni Lies are big old whopping out of this world lies that make normal, well-adjusted people like you shake their heads and wonder out loud what the heck is wrong with me. I have no answer for that question. Even weirder than that is the fact that I am so brutally honest about the fact that I am a big fat liar. Here’s an example. My very best friend in the whole great world is named Jan, which is true, but I tell people her real name is January, which is not true. Her last name used to be Saturday, which is true. I thought making her first name January was funny, because that would make her name January Saturday, which was not true. Then she remarried and her last name became Beard but I kept telling the same lie because there is nothing funny about the name Beard. After many years of telling that lie, Siri came along and didn’t understand when I said “Call Jan” so would instead call people named Shane, Jaime and Jane, then I changed Jan’s name to Bubba in my smart phone because I was tired of explaining to people I did not know well enough to call at 7am that it was just a mistake and that Siri had a hearing problem. This woman January Saturday Beard Bubba knows almost every single one of my deepest, darkest secrets but I am no longer certain of her real name and I am reluctant to introduce her in public. At this point, she could be Carla-Faye for all I know, but I treasure her beyond all hope and measure, even if she is a tall, thin blonde, which used to be true but isn’t any more. Please don’t judge her. We all get shorter as we age, and it will happen to you too. Just wait.
I’m also competitive and January-Saturday-Beard-Bubba-Carla-Faye or whatever her name is decided she would start couponing with CVS and challenged me to try and save more money than her. I suppose you could say I embraced the challenge. Within a few weeks, I had set up a multi-columned spread sheet and was tracking coupons available on the internet and in a variety of print mediums. I had developed several plans allowing me to accumulate a wide variety of personal care items at deep discounts or flat-out free and I had spent more than a hundred dollars on shelves and baskets for the storage of these products. I could not have used this stuff in a hundred years and I was about to start selling my plus-sized designer clothes to free up space in my closet, so I decided I would donate my supplies to all those poor people in Cambodia who needed hair spray and shaving cream more than food. I think you could say I had lost perspective, but I was beating the socks off January-Saturday-Beard-Bubba-Carla-Faye and that had become a driving factor. Unfortunately, employees at CVS noticed my shopping habits and started asking questions. This is where things went south—like straight to hades South—one sunny Sunday afternoon when I was shopping after church, adding an additional layer of irony to my story. I still had my bible with the embossed Southern Baptist logo on it inside my purse when this happened and that’s true, but I won’t blame you if you don’t believe me. I was purchasing, if you could call it that, about 18 bottles of hair care items for 1.50 and using coupons that earned me what CVS calls Extra Care Bucks totaling $17.95 when the cashier asked me what I was going to do with all those products. I told her that I was going to give them to my daughters, which was true. She asked me how many daughters I had. I fully intended to say two, which is true. I did not make a deliberate decision to lie, but something very strange happened. I actually abandoned my own body—something I’ve been trying to do since 1979 when the great bloat began—and suddenly became a vaporous and very thin version of myself hovering over the shoulder of my still standing right there body as its mouth opened and said “Three. I have three daughters.” Now, let’s take a minute to reflect on the circumstances I had just created. At this point, I had a decision to make because I am by nature an intuitive woman and I sensed the conversation was going to progress. I could either admit the lie or forge ahead. I will allow you to venture a guess on which avenue I chose. I decided to commit to the lie, because in the first place I am not a quitter and in the second place I could not imagine saying anything remotely like “Oh please forgive me, I was mistaken. I don’t have three daughters, I have two,” because what kind of woman does not know beyond a shadow of a doubt how many children she delivered? You can forget where you left your car keys, your social security number or even your wedding anniversary, but you cannot forget how many children you delivered. It violates the most fundamental law of nature.
So now, let’s return to the story. My instincts proved true, because just as sure as I’m standing here, and you know I am because you can all see or hear me just as clear as day, the cashier asked me their names. Without missing a beat, I said, “Caitlin, Alice and Olivia.” And when that sales-clerk asked me their ages, I said 34, 27 and 25. I didn’t know right then why I made Fake Alice my middle child, but I pulled her out of my failing ovaries just as easily as you fit an extra biscuit in a baking tin and I actually gave that drugstore counter a little pat-pat, just like any proud mother would do if she wasn’t telling the biggest lie she’d spit out since she told the DMV clerk she weighed 118 pounds when she renewed her driver license last August. I was going to make Fake Alice a nurse if asked about their careers, but cashier lost interest, just like I’m sure all of you are beginning to do. Ashamed of myself, I left the store amazed that my pants had not caught on fire and wondering what sort of devil had possessed me when a thought struck me. With sudden and absolute clarity, I knew that I had named her Alice and made her the middle child because of a long-suppressed memory of an episode from the Brady Bunch, which I am sure I had thoroughly enjoyed and obviously related to on a meaningful level. I’m not going to lie—well, not this time anyway. I put my key in the ignition, looked in the rear-view mirror to make sure the devil wasn’t chasing me, and I drove away happily chanting Marsha, Marsha, Marsha while rejoicing in my narrow escape from the clutches of several drugstore demons. And that my friends, is how you tell a Joni Lie. It will never be chiseled on the wall of a cave, but I do consider it an art form.