by BRENDAN MACLEAN
Boy howdy, doesn’t consciously having your teeth plucked out of your head give you a moment to reflect on things? With a fist half way down my throat and a pipe slurping up the residual blood and drool I was struck by a single thought, a thought that now seemed more glaringly obvious than the rotten brown tooth at the back of my mouth: I have to stop lying so much and trust people.
How terrifically silly does that look on paper. Feels like I’m advising a man doused in petrol to hold off lighting a campfire. But ask yourself: Why do we trust a stranger to hurl us through the air in a winged tin can but question our partner when they come home a few minutes late?
How often do we speak up when our friends are in failing relationships or just get a bad hair cut? And what is that causes so many families to fall apart over conflicts only aired at tipsy Christmas dinners. Like the tooth I let fester for fear of visiting to the dentist, my inability to confront my trust issues has caused me time and time again to curl up in the fetal position wishing I hadn’t been such a gutless wonder. Habitual mistrust has been the gingivitis of my unflossed life (okay I’ll stop with the dental metaphor now).
Lying is a specialty of mine. She’d hate me for saying it but I probably first learned the benefits of lying from my mother’s legendary youth: a teenager so well versed in trickery she once convinced her boarding school that she had gone blind for an entire year. Whilst I haven’t been fooling any Catholic nuns about my vision I did grow up with lying or, at the very least, acting built in to my every day life.
To make truth twisting more tempting I had a sister to pin the blame on for broken TV sets, a dog for stained carpets and two Baby Boomer parents who wouldn’t have known better if I told them Russian spies hacked our computer and broke the printer. It certainly wasn’t always me doing the fibbing: I didn’t give it a second thought when a family member blamed some curious bruises on “cooking accidents” even though there wasn’t a pan out of place in the kitchen. As it turns out some lies aren’t designed to fool people but to protect them.
Withholding the truth is the flipside of lying and in some cases leaves you hanging from the same noose. This is
another lesson I learnt a little too early. My parents had divorced when I was just old enough to understand the process but too young to know the rules. Splitting my living time between the two I witnessed new relationships, new marriages, a new baby, ever-changing addresses and, on one side, signs of abuse that I could only do my best to wish away.
Children are supposed to ask questions and tell you about their thoughts but I learned quickly that quizzing one parent about the other inflicted an acute sadness not even the most stoic parental smile could veil.
So for some time I stopped asking questions and stopped talking about my weekend at the other’s house. And whilst I succeeded in minimizing my contact with awkward adult emotions the downside from keeping all these secrets became tangible when one doctor diagnosed me with ‘the youngest case of a stress ulcer’ he’d ever seen.
Once I woke up screaming from a nightmare where I was a Ringmaster attempting to hide an elephant behind a big red curtain so it wouldn’t spoil the show. Even the scriptwriters for Neighbours couldn’t have conjured up a soggier analogy than that. Years on I discovered that they were completely aware of almost everything going on with the other’s relationship; either my older sister passed on the information or the two of them had simply talked things over. It was only in my head that I was keeping secrets at all but my compulsion for hiding the sensitive truths had already been rooted in my system and I’m not sure I’ve ever kicked the habit.
So here I sit with an instrument that resembles a blunt screwdriver being forcibly jammed down the middle of my tooth, in the hopes it will end the ache I experience every time have a cold drink. And though I’ve examined my body and I’m not sure what has to be removed to help the trust thing: It’s not hair, as a professional gay I’ve shaved off every inch, and I do hope it’s not my willy as I’ve grown quite fond of it, though that would cure my problems with infidelity.
I don’t know what the answer is but I do know this: thinking I could get by not trusting anyone has held me back in work, in life and in love. One possible cure is that perhaps, by scouring over how I got in this mess, I could shed some light on why I act the way I do: Maybe I assume the worst of others because I’ve seen the worst in myself, maybe we lie because know how much it hurts when someone tells us the exhausting, difficult and complicated truth. Someday I hope to have more trust in the man I live with than the one hovering over me with a pair of pliers.
Brendan is a regular presenter at Triple J, a singer and an actor. He is also an obsessive compulsive Tweeter – you should follow him here. He will be seen in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.