Column: A great white lie

McKenna Cowley

Kaitlyn Hughes
“I pretended to have a life like Haley’s, but it turns out that Haley’s life wasn’t all that it seemed.”

Editor’s note: this column was named as an excellent personal column in the TAJE Best in Texas contest. It was also named as an honorable mention for opinion in the Press Women of Texas high school contest and it won second place for print personal columns in the ILPC contest. 

If I had not developed upside-down in the womb, my mom’s doctor would not have needed to break her tailbone when I was born.

If my mom’s tailbone had not been broken, she would have felt safer doing outdoor activities, which my dad wanted to do.

“If you broke a tailbone you would understand,” she always said.

She would’ve gone fishing more, and my dad wouldn’t have gone alone. If he didn’t leave every weekend, they wouldn’t have filed for divorce. Or at least, that’s how I simplified the break up of my family.

Then, I wouldn’t have needed to please everyone around me who was upset over my mother’s tailbone and the divorce and the fishing trips. It was easier to pretend to be strong than face any pity.

So I pretended to be fine.

Nobody would suspect that my family wasn’t perfect. I didn’t want anyone to know that, in our perfect town, I might be the exception.

One time, my first grade teacher, Mrs. Murphy, pulled me aside after class and asked me to sit at her desk. She told me that I was very smart. She paused and said she heard about my parents, and if I needed a hug to let her know.

I was relieved. I thought Mrs. Murphy was going to punish me for drawing a stick figure with female anatomy on a piece of paper for a boy at my table. He had asked me what a girl ‘looks like under her clothes,’ and being 6, I didn’t see a problem with it. But once I realized that Mrs. Murphy might see it, I was terrified. I had torn it up, but I was afraid she might’ve rummaged through the recycling bin and pieced the remnants together.

Instead, she wanted to talk about my parents’ divorce. My mom and dad are fairly private people, and I had only told a few of my friends. I could only think of one person who could’ve told Mrs. Murphy about my parents. Haley Brown*.

Haley was thin and tan with long brown hair. She wore matching bracelets with her friends. She knew how to play kickball at recess, and her yearbook was filled with signatures of the entire first grade class. She lived in a two story house with her parents and her younger brother, who was the same age as mine.

Some of the kids around me ate paper and flipped their eyelids inside out. I did not hang out with those kids. They probably had divorced parents. I wanted to be friends with Haley; she was normal.

Haley once told me that there were live sharks in her basement that she rescued from a flood in our town. I couldn’t seem to remember this flood. I took her word for it. Haley wouldn’t lie to me.
One day I went to her house for a birthday sleepover. I wanted to see her sharks, but she told me they would scare me. I trusted her and told her I could wait.

Her dad, mom, brothers and friends gathered around the dinner table and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to her. Her mom stood at her dad’s side, under his arm.

The next morning we woke up to her parents making pancakes. They were listening to old music and laughing at each others’ jokes. I thought about my parents when they were married. I was jealous. I daydreamed of living Haley’s life.

I continued to ask Haley if I could see her sharks. She eventually told me that their family had to give them to the local zoo. I felt for her. It’s hard to lose a pet.
When I saw Haley I saw my perfect life. I wanted to be like her.

I was embarrassed of my life, that my parents lived 20 minutes apart and sat in separate sections during my fifth grade and eighth grade graduation. Now that I’m a senior, they will sit apart at my high school graduation.

I pretended to have a life like Haley’s, but it turns out that Haley’s life wasn’t all that it seemed.

A few years later, I learned that there were no sharks in her house, and the man who was holding Haley’s mom while we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ was her stepdad. It shattered my illusions about Haley and made me realize how similar we were.

This May, when Haley and I walk the graduation stage together, her parents will be sitting in separate sections of the coliseum, and so will mine. I’ve learned to be careful of who I compare myself to because life is full of struggles and defeats. Because even people who supposedly have pet sharks in their basement can also have divorced parents, just like me.

*Name has been changed.