• Caroline Naughton

The First Lie

The first lie I told lives in the careful folds of a sharply pointed cootie catcher. A scholar in the world of girls’ games, Miss Picard apprenticed young mystics of gossip into playground pastimes. As she showered us in multiplication tables, the cooties multiplied, and so too did our catchers. We were heroines of immunity - repelling germs, seeds, sperm. Disseminating the dirt. Couldn’t be cooed by the mess. What a catch.

Our fourth-grade class reinforced female solidarity, turning girls into cootie catchers and fortune tellers - allies and sisters headed for a clean home. Flipping origami notes, counting magical eight’s, and prescribing fates. Drowning out the teacher’s voice as we zoomed into our adult lives, before we ever agreed to be kids. Chalkboard and eraser were for pussies. We wanted paper and permanent pen. We were wise beyond our years. Long, sparkly acrylic nails filing for divorce from the elements of elementary school.

The first lie I told was contagious. I never missed a day of school, even when I was sick. On these days, I’d ask my friends to leave me alone to my own vices. To avoid me for a period of time until my cooties were gone. I was too busy fluffing pillows and dusting countertops, only to catch the cootie-infested school bus and spin the wheels all over again.

The first lie I told was that I was due for a cootie shot, and that I didn’t need anyone to escort me to the nurse’s office. I didn’t want them to blame me for going cuckoo, too.

Miss Picard never indulged in our cooties. She watched us try to make a catch, and fail. She knew we weren’t exempt. She wanted us to fight. Chins up, jaw wide, shoulders back, skirt pinned. “Get in line, ladies.” One after the other. No messing with the order.

Miss Picard wanted to be a doctor, but women weren’t considered for medical school during her time. She wasn’t trusted to prescribe, and so she nobly transcribed milligrams of cursive. She apologized for the curls that had to be broken in order to come to completion. We watched her curse as we folded across lines, crafting what resembled a bird’s beak. The boys were nowhere to be found, until she announced that it was time for capture-the-flag. To me, that game was easy. It was hide-and-seek in disguise.

The first lie I told was that I didn’t want to play. That I wasn’t playing because I was scared of contracting cooties on the playground. Our sex ed teacher always told us to wear protection, but why not just opt out? The other girls were fearless. I wanted to be like them.

Rachael was my first crush. She was the most athletic girl in the class. Muscularly toned, suntanned legs with a shiny ponytail and bright smile. She reminded me of a black stallion on the soccer field. They never passed me the ball. I’d rather do backflips on the sidelines. Later, they’d call me a cheerleader. Carrying the tune of the cat call.

The first lie I told contracted cooties itself. It was neglected on my desk and thrown away by the school custodian. And yet, toothpick combs found the crime of lice, and I was sent to the principal’s office.

“I hear you’ve been spreading rumors, Caroline. Talking about people behind their backs. Backstabbing your friends, even.”

Where was my cootie catcher when I needed her? Oh, for god’s sake, learn to defend yourself!

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve only agreed to help people who ask to take turns.”

“Yes, but you’re distracting from the class. That’s not fair to the other students who want to learn on their own.”

I was out of order. Decommissioned from the rank. Folding in on myself, paper jam.

Couldn’t swallow. Had to go. Didn’t feel well. Acid reflux. A redundant art. Bathroom stall. Barf.

They’re so old and mean! When a girl can’t be herself no more, I just want to throw up.

“Caroline, you were in the bathroom forever. What were you doing in there?!” Humiliated. They wouldn’t believe me even if I tried.

The first lie I ever told was flushed down the toilet. Cooties swirling and unfurling. At least they were out of sight, and I could lie down.

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