by Colleen Kolba
Colleen Kolba is a writer and cartoonist originally from Chicago, IL. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming from The Rumpus, Entropy, and The Florida Review, among others. Currently, she lives in Tampa, FL where she teaches creative writing, literature, and professional writing at the University of South Florida. You can find her on Twitter at @colleenkolba.
Seminar for Chronic Liars
Drea is a liar, but she’s trying to get help. Every Thursday, she attends an evening Seminar for Chronic Liars at the local elementary school gymnasium. There, the semi-famed travelling speaker Gilbert Barry leads her and a group of 20 other liars in truth-telling exercises. This is particularly hard for Drea because everyone at the Seminar for Chronic Liars is a stranger. Strangers are the easiest people to lie to. Except for maybe yourself. But Drea tries not to think about that too much.
Drea’s marriage is over, but her husband doesn’t know it yet. This is why she needs the seminar. She doesn’t plan to give up lying for the rest of her life, like she’s supposed to. She just wants the phrase, “it’s okay” to come out as “it’s over” by the end of the two months. Gilbert tells her every week that it’s the same number of letters. That there are more identical letters than not in each phrase. So easily “it’s okay” can be “it’s over,” Gilbert says.
But Drea has been with her husband for eight years and anyone who’s been with someone that long knows there’s nothing easy about it. That’s why they’d spent four of those eight years in couples counseling, because, according to Drea’s husband, happy, healthy couples go to therapy. Happy, healthy couples do the hard work.
Inside the Seminar for Chronic Liars this Thursday evening, they practice reciting their truths from Fact Sheets. Everyone except Lorie Erickson is sweating. Drea thinks that Lorie Erickson is lying about being a liar. Her shirtdress and pumps and slick blonde bob made Drea label the woman her nemesis on their first day, when they were partners for the How to Make Your Truth Sound as Truthful as Your Lies exercise. This all before Lorie even opened her perfect, nearly lie-free mouth.
And when she did, the most non-lie lies came out. She told Drea that she kept lying to her friends about a Pilates class to get out of day drinking. She told Drea that she was even lying to her husband: she was going through early menopause even though they were actively trying to have another kid. Drea wanted to shake her and say, Big deal! Get new friends! and So what? Your husband will probably love you more when he finds out you’ve been braving premature loss of fertility on your own!
Today, though, Drea is partnered up with Boxer Short. Drea is pretty sure that Boxer Short is lying about his name, even on his government documents. But he’s a cool dude and more importantly he openly dislikes Lorie. Drea admires people who don’t lie about liking people. Drea lies about liking people all the time. Like her best friend Monica who calls her fat every time they go out to eat. Or her husband. Drea is so good at lying about liking her husband she’s not sure she ever really did. She especially doubts ever liking him when he leaps into the driver’s seat of their car for therapy each month, quipping that he’s so stoked for their happy relationship maintenance session!
“Pretentious bitch,” Boxer mutters. The way he says this makes Drea think that he hates Lorie because Lorie reminds him of the woman his mother never was.
“Let’s just practice,” says Drea. Boxer drills her with questions and Drea answers as quickly as possible. This is part of the quiz—to tell the truth as fast and seamlessly as a lie. So easily you can tell the truth, Gilbert coaches over and over as he weaves through partners.
“My name is Drea Davis,” she says.
“I’m 28 years old,” she says.
“I’m a museum guard,” she says.
“I’m happily married,” she says.
Boxer drops Drea’s Fact Sheet in his lap.
“Close,” he says. “So close.”
Drea doesn’t pass when Gilbert returns the scores at the end of the session. It’s that last question. It trips her up every time. She just wants to pass the stupid quiz for once.
“So easily you could tell the truth,” says Gilbert as she leaves. “But you’ll have to wait until next week.”
It’s the following Thursday and Drea eats dry cookies off the table in the back of the elementary school gymnasium. On the first day, the seminar offered lox and bagels from Sam’s Club. Drea doesn’t eat animals, but she liked that they were there. That they made this seem like a classy kind of seminar, like those self-help retreats bored rich people go on to pretend like they have problems.
Gilbert stands at a podium up front. It’s a Narrative of Lies day.
“I ask that volunteers come up as they’re comfortable,” says Gilbert. “And tell us about a time the lies you told hurt someone you love.”
In the beginning of the seminar, this was Drea’s favorite activity. You got to tell an extended lie and act all emotional about lying, all while lying. She wasn’t the only one who liked this. Lying to a riveted audience was the most power some people in this room would ever have.
Gilbert, of course, would bust everyone at the end of their lie, but there was a pleasure in that too. Because even as he coaxed each person towards the truth, the lie still resonated. It resonated as much if not even more than the truth.
Boxer goes first and tells the same old story about lying to his wife about bringing their daughter to Disney World. The story reaches its emotional peak when he tells the group that he left his daughter alone in a dumpy Orlando hotel room to go have sex with a road-tripping stripper instead.
“Cue dramatic pause,” Drea says to the person next to her. But no one hears. They’re entranced. Gilbert asks Boxer what the stripper’s name was. Boxer breaks down into tears and wails, I don’t even remember!
“Allow yourselves to not remember!” Gilbert pats Boxer’s sobbing shoulders, as the seminar attendees applaud. “You don’t have to fill the holes with lies! So easily you can admit that you don’t know!”
Drea claps three times and then checks the time on her phone. How boring this seminar is becoming. How easy it is for these people to tell the truth.
Drea steps outside to get some fresh air. She finds Lorie leaning against the guard rail of the wheelchair ramp that leads into the gym.
“Smoke break?” asks Drea.
“I don’t smoke,” says Lorie. “These things just get boring.”
“Do you think Gilbert has sex with a new student in each town he travels to?” asks Lorie.
“I don’t think Gilbert has sex at all,” says Drea. “He radiates a kind of sexless energy to me.” Drea knows she has no idea what she’s talking about. She thinks of her husband, crying in couples counseling, saying that she’s choosing to be emotionally distant.
“Believe me, that is not the energy he’s radiating,” says Lorie.
Drea thinks it would be so cool if Lorie had a cigarette right now. A long drag after that sentence would’ve oozed HBO mini-series drama.
“You should pick up smoking,” says Drea. “It’d look good on you.”
It was the most honest thing Drea’s said out loud in years.
Drea goes home that night and places her purse on the kitchen table.
“How was book club?” asks her husband.
She hears Gilbert’s voice in her head: so easily you can tell the truth. She imagines Lorie taking a drag of a cigarette.
So easily she could point out that she doesn’t have a book with her or that she’s never reading a book, so wasn’t that some kind of clue. So easily she could say that she wanted to leave him so badly she was attending a seminar in the gym at the school the kids they’d never have would never attend. So easily she could say that she was scared to end it, too. To end it before they even hit their 30s. So easily she could say that they’d both be happier. That this wasn’t just about her.
So easily she could say it’s over. So easily she could. So easily she could. So easily.