Stories and Lies
By Hilary Holbrow
I remember my mother peeling my fingers off the bedpost, one by one. Her efforts were futile; as soon as she moved on to the next finger, I would re-latch the first ones back on just as tightly. But she was bigger than me, and more stubborn. In the end, though, I always ended up next to her. This was my cue to close my eyes and bury my face in a pillow, whimpering. “I don’t WANT to learn to read.”
Given that unpromising start, I have no idea how I ever did learn to read… much less how I fell in love with it. I once read, in an eggplant cookbook, that if you taste something 12 times, no matter how much you originally disliked it, you will overcome your aversion. Maybe reading was like that—my mother force-fed me alphabet soup till I not only overcame my dislike, but was hooked, for better or for worse.
In fact, I think it was stories, not reading itself, that I fell in love with. Stories were my constant joy, while reading was and remains a kind of compulsive addiction. Riding the T, I get motion sick while being guaranteed Swahili in six easy lessons. In the bathroom, I decipher the ingredients listed on the back of the toothpaste. I’m always delighted to come across personal and forbidden reading material in other people’s bathrooms—wart remover, herbal aphrodisiacs, or home pregnancy tests. Once I almost followed a boy into the men’s room because I was so immersed in reading his T-shirt. Reading really is a compulsion: something that I would rather not do most of the time, but am unable to restrain myself from doing all of the time.
Stories, however, just keep me coming back for more. When I was 10, I read nearly a book a day. This unquenchable thirst for stories remains, although I have cut back since those days. That thirst was likely the catalyst that helped me to overcome my aversion towards the printed word, because with the powerful tool of reading, I could drink forever. Before I read, stories were still everywhere. Cleaning my room, I would construct an elaborate narrative concerning my indentured servitude. On long car trips, I was an escaped prisoner, a traveling minstrel, and sometimes a pioneer. I would even dream these long and involved stories that subtly developed. I was a creative writing teacher’s dream, except for the fact that they nearly always involve piranha hamsters or something equally absurd.
Stories seduce me, luring me away from the real world. Often, when I meet people for the first time, I can’t help but construct their pasts. The scar above his left eyebrow is from a tricycle accident when he was three years old. She drinks only Perrier due to a typhoid scare her mother had as an exchange student in Turkey.
Fictionalizing my environment provides me with many hours of amusement, but it has its downsides, too. The real world is often not as interesting as I would like it to be, and I am often tempted to tweak the facts—to make a better story. As much as I try to be a truthful person, I have been known to go off on a long story about my life, only to realize halfway through that it never happened. This inevitably results in tortured guilt, followed by shamefaced admissions. Take the anecdote I began with, for example—I must admit that not every fact is strictly true. But it might have been. And by now, I half-believe it myself.