When I was five years old. I told a whopper to my mother in order to save my own skin. I didn’t wish to be a lesser person in her eyes so the whopper was absolutely necessary — under the circumstances.
The situation began honestly enough when I twisted a simple fact into an alternative one. In my kindergarten class when someone had a birthday, our teacher Mrs Alexander would ask, Does anyone have a birthday today?” Up went Jimmy’s eager hand, and then mine. Jimmy was turning six that day, one year to the date of his fifth birthday. I was however simply one day older.
“Are you sure,?” asked Mrs Alexander, giving me a gracious out.
Here was my big chance to bow out, to admit I was just kidding. Or confused. Or looking for attention. “Yes. Today is my birthday. I’m six. ” I almost convinced myself; if I could wish it, it could be true.
So both Jimmy and I received 28 paper birthday cakes crayon colored by our classmates to take home.
Hoover Elementary School was four blocks from my home. When Kindergarten ended at noon, Mrs Alexander released us into the hall with smiles and hugs. I avoided her eyes as I left class with the paper cakes heavy in my cloth tote bag. I walked down the 20 plus steps to the school parking lot, crossed the street to a sidewalk along a shaded avenue, dawdled alongside the ivy covered chain link fence securing the Whiteside family estate, and climbed the 30 steps up to Alvarado Avenue. As my feet inevitably moved me closer to home, to lunch and my waiting mother, my mind was at work on an explanation about the paper cakes.
If I slipped into the alley that ran behind our houses on Alvarado, I could dispose of the papers into a neighbor’s trash can. I stopped at the first trash can and reached into the tote bag. The papers clung to me like glue. What if someone sees me and asks what I’m doing? I’ll keep them a little longer. At the next trash can, I thought again, a little longer.
Torn between disposing of the paper cakes and fabricating a clever story for Mommy, I walked on, passing one trash can after another until I reached the back gate of our yard.
One voice said, toss these cakes in the garbage right now! Another voice said tell Mommy that everyone received 28 crayoned colored birthday cakes that day because Mrs Alexander didn’t want anyone to be left out.
What a happy, wishful thought! Everyone with paper cakes. A perfect solution! Into the yard, through the back door of the basement, up a flight of stairs to the kitchen, I went.
There was my mother at the kitchen sink preparing lunch. Did I happily hand her the bag and say, Guess what happened today?! No. I slipped off to my bedroom and set the bag down on my desk.
“Where’s your school bag?”
My tuna fish sandwich felt like cotton in my mouth. “Mmhh. I’m not sure.”
By the time I’d finished my grapes, Mommy had discovered the school bag and the paper cakes.
“0h nothing. Just color book cakes. That’s what we did today. Color.”
“Oh, how pretty. Look this one is chocolate! Oh here’s a nice strawberry cake. This must be lemon. And on she went. Through 28 cakes, admiring each one, but barely noticing mine.
I was stuck at the table.
“Who had a birthday? Today isn’t YOUR birthday “
Here goes, I thought. “Jimmy had a birthday, and Mrs Alexander said it would be nice if everybody had a birthday today so we all colored cakes.”
“Everyone went home with this many cakes?”
“All that coloring must have taken a long time.”
“May I be excused?”
“Well, how very thoughtful of Mrs. Alexander. You should save these cakes. They are all so nicely done.”
Like a scarlet badge were those cakes hidden in my dark closet in a paper bag until I could safely dispose of them.
Of course, in my heart I meant to say, we all need attention and because of that I ended up with a bag full of cakes that felt like hot ugly rocks. That was a fact which stuck in my throat.
I didn’t get off easily. I still remember the incident as if it were yesterday– words stuck in my throat, guilt in a bag in the closet.