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The Best Lie I Told as a Child

It was the first day of third grade. After a few hours in our homeroom, my classmates and I were herded down the hall to science class. Once we’d settled in, the teacher — who I’ll call Mr. X since I’ve blanked on his name — asked us to go around and introduce ourselves. I was an anxious child who lived in constant fear of doing something to embarrass myself in front of a teacher, so when we got to me, I mumbled nervously, “I’m Cassie.” But Mr. X, who was on the other side of the room, didn’t quite hear me and so he confirmed, “Jason?” I don’t know the exact calculations my 8-year-old brain did in that moment, but I somehow concluded that it was easier to pretend to be a person of AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT GENDER than to correct the teacher. “Yes. I’m Jason,” I replied with a straight face, even as I felt my soul crumple into a tiny raisin of shame.

What followed was months’ worth of Mr. X calling on me with a “What do you think, Jason?” and me answering as if that was totally normal. The longer it went on, the more terrified I became of embarrassing Mr. X by revealing his error. The low point of my deception came one day when we did an experiment that required us to divide up into boys and girls. Without hesitating, I slunk over to the boys’ side of the room, avoiding eye contact with any of my “fellow males.” Ugh.

At the time, I assumed this whole mess was my fault (which it kind of was). After all, I had lied. Plus, I was taller than a lot of the boys in my class, and I did have short hair. So maybe I did look like a boy… but, wait, WHAT? No! First of all, there were plenty of visual clues that I was a lady. I was decidedly not a tomboy — I wore colorful jumpsuits and those awesome stick-on earrings and neon pink socks, for God’s sake. And this was in the ’80s, before children became internet sensations for refusing to conform to gender norms. So “Jason’s” super cool wardrobe definitely should’ve raised some red flags. But I guess Mr. X was just unusually accepting of cross-dressing eight-year-olds.

Also, don’t teachers have an official list of students? Shouldn’t it have dawned on Mr. X that there was no Jason on his class sheet? And, in an odd break from character, I always chose to write my real name on my homework. Didn’t that confuse him enough to investigate? And why didn’t any of my classmates speak up? They all knew me as a girl named Cassie during the other six class periods. Didn’t it seem strange that I pretended to be “Jason” for an hour every day? We will never know!

Though looking back on it, I can see the most logical explanation for why it went on for so long is that Mr. X was an aging hippie who really wasn’t paying much attention. He wore tie-dyed shirts and Birkenstocks to work, so he was probably just so relaxed that he couldn’t be bothered to think that hard about any of us.

I never did find out who revealed my true identity to Mr. X, but I suspect it was a teacher’s aide who’d started during the second semester and must have been on the ball enough to notice it was unusual for a boy to be wearing 50 jelly bracelets. Regardless of how he found out, Mr. X ended the lie as unceremoniously as I had begun it. One day, completely out of the blue, he called on me as “Cassie” and I answered to it, almost as if it had been my name all along. —Cassie Murdoch

This is more of a trick than a lie (or, an attempted trick), but when I was little I tried to convince my middle-aged neighbor Tom he’d been in the presence of a ghost. I did it by waiting, hidden, in a clump of trees behind our condominium, and then saying his name in a ghostly way as he walked by: “Taaa-ooooOOommmMM.” “Edith?” he said, immediately. —Edith Zimmerman

I ate acid for the first time in eighth-grade Spanish class, and had to meet my mom after school to go to an event. It was actually all going really surprisingly well until I saw her and instantly and preemptively said “IF I’M LAUGHING A LOT IT’S CAUSE SOMETHING REALLY FUNNY HAPPENED AT SCHOOL TODAY” so she wouldn’t know I was on drugs. And I was soooooo pleased with myself for coming up with that completely unnecessary and insane lie on the spot, like some junior Talented Miss Ripley, being like “I can’t believe she doesn’t knowww, aaahaha!” even though I was literally playing a game of Dots with myself in the back row of my piano teacher’s solo concert and everyone, everywhere knew I’d eaten all the drugs. —Anonymous

At my Catholic pre-school things were never very fun. The teacher would often just scream, “PUT YOUR HEADS DOWN” out of the blue. I never fell asleep during naptime that year because I had to keep an eye out in case she did anything sudden and crazy. This is how I am justifying my decision to tell my mom one December day that I was assigned the task of making a diorama-type nativity scene for school even though I had been assigned no such thing.

That was OK, we set to work anyway, spending a few evenings one week creating this piece of art, which we ended up keeping for years, and by “we” I mostly mean my mom, because she is an artist. We cut out little cardboard figures of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men, and some cows, as well as a manger, some palm trees and the shack structure, and hand painted them. “We” decided to depict the sandy desert environment of Jesus’s birth with some sandpaper. We got some hay for the cows, possibly taken from the back yard or chopped off a broom.

Then the day arrived when I had to actually take the thing to school. My mom proudly presented it to my teacher in the crowded chaos of the playground while I hid behind her and tried to zip my entire body into my jacket. The teacher, suddenly less evil, proclaimed, “Oooh, what is this? What a nice surprise! Is this for the classroom? Thank you, Mrs. Colville!,” and the jig was up. My mom really should have been more angry, considering that this was just the first (but most time-consuming) of many lies, but she was just kind of mom-mad, with a little twinkle in her eye, because you know, we’d had a good time making that thing. —Liz Colville

Previously: The Best Time a Negligible Cultural Thing Caused Me Literally Years of Torment.

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