I looked down on the playground from the second floor. Below, I saw fifth grade Tyler, long bangs, green eyes, chipped tooth and a big mouth which Melody – light skinned girl with thick arms – offered to shut, no charge: “Shut it now so I don’t have to pop a hole in your head.”
I knew that she made only real threats and as verification for this one, she moved her face about an inch and a half from his. To shut things down with a shout from above or to let things play out? I decided to wait and watch.
Melody’s gravel scratch of a voice carried. From overhearing her main points I determined they were still just chatting. Melody had brought four of her fifth grade associates – fact checkers it seemed. Still, my little inside voice advised me to hold off and keep a close eye.
Tyler was, in fact, a confirmed liar. At age ten, he looked eight but talked sixteen. He spun tales about some rich uncle who raised him and let him drive his smooth ride across the bridge whenever Tyler wanted. In truth, Tyler lived with his mom who worked three jobs. No uncle. No father. No male in the house other than this boy.
The two faced off and he shouted back: “I ain’t lying. Get out of my face.”
His fists thrust to his side and he proud-puffed a skinny boy’s ribcage- his best cut at being big. His approach daunted not one of the girls. Instead, I heard his rapid breathing as he inched backward and as Melody and crew muscled in.
“You tell me you in some uncle’s car, driving over some damn bridge. For real? Who you think you are? Come on!”
I remembered Tyler’s first grade tales about how he lived in a fantabulous beach house and how he talked to lizards every morning. He told me once that he had held his breath for more than an hour. He could go for six weeks without food and he had even had lifted five hundred pounds with one hand. Rich tales yes, but his fantasies had, it seemed, progressed.
Melody kept on him. The fact that he lied – that he misrepresented himself in fundamental ways – disturbed her such that she brought it right to his face. Seven minutes into this relentless interview and I could see tears gather at the corners of Tyler’s eyes. He stopped speaking, started to tremble, and looked at her the way a losing fighter stares at his opponent’s glove before the knock out punch.
“Enough.” I shouted from the second floor.
My shout sent the girls scattering, but and Tyler remained below, looking up. Our eyes connected, his wet and bewildered, and mine, curious. The discovery that came to me: He knew that I knew. Not the details so much as the essential truth. Behind him stood no one. He could not back down. Not an option! If his story snapped, he would snap with it.
Truth can liberate or destroy. Both can crash down upon a child. It’s not about winning! Mercy, patience, and timing have to count as as much as being right. I want to hold out this further truth for this boy, just in case he can see it through.