Candidly Reading #2: Tell Me Lies, Carola Lovering

Candidly Reading #2: Tell Me Lies, Carola Lovering

There is nothing that will sell me on a guilty pleasure read quite like twin recommendations from Cosmopolitan and theSkimm. So when I came across the ombre cover for Carola Lovering’s Tell Me Lies (which, through the novel, you learn is named after Fleetwood Mac’s song “Little Lies”), I was quick to make it my next read.

The premise in essence is very simply collegiate girl-meets-older-boy. But very quickly, I became aware of how Tell Me Lies was going to serve as more than just a fun read. Heroine Lucy Albright is introduced as an aspiring journalist in a non-industry job trying to mentally prepare for seeing the guy who epically broke her heart at a wedding they are both attending. Her narration, altering between her college years and the hours of the wedding, is coupled by those of Stephen DeMarco’s college narration, the very boy who broke her heart. Their duality offers cutting insights into both sides of an addictive and spiraling love affair that derails not once, not twice, but thrice.

And more than once, I saw my relationship — my only relationship to date — unfold on page in glaring ink and typeface.

DISCLAIMER #1: This post contains spoilers. Sorry. Don’t come here if you don’t want the tea.

DISCLAIMER #2: If you are close to me and you don’t want to relive 2015-2016, for understandable reasons, then this post is not for you. You do not need to be supportive right now.

For eight tumultuous months, he was my favorite person.

But those months were brutal. They started with an argument about what the “rules” were for behavior at music festivals. It escalated from there to losing my best friend over their old flame (something I, admittedly, should have been more prepared for). There was the night that I screamed in my sleep in rage because he was fazing me out, my mother in bed next to me having driven two hours up from Annapolis to comfort me in ways she simply could not have done over the phone. There were the Christmas presents thrown at me from the doorway of his bedroom, and the (light) push backwards when I came too close during one of his rants that followed.

People always talk about realizing they’re in love during the happy moments, but I think you realize it in the bad ones. The ones that knock you off center, scaring you when they prove that no matter what kind of logic is in your head, it’s what’s in your heart that determines fucking everything.

Tell Me Lies, Lovering

And yet if you asked me during this time what I was doing with him, I would have said he was my best friend, my person, my soulmate. I loved him more than I loved anything in the whole world. When we were good, it felt like I was alive in another plane than I had ever experienced in my previous twenty-one years. So, yes, against all reason and all judgment, I kept returning every time that he would take me back. As long as I was given chances, as I viewed them (instead of me giving them to him), I was okay.

I was delirious and idiotic and naive and irresponsible and self-destructive, and I knew all of that. But none of it weighed anything against what I actually felt. Do you follow your head or your heart? which do you do? Your heart, always. Right? I didn’t think I would ever stop believing that.

Tell Me Lies, Lovering

When it actually did end, I descended into my darkest mental health to date. It was shocking to me how bleak my life seemed in his absence. For the six months to follow, I was a shell of the person I was prior to our relationship. It took moving to another country, completely detaching myself from the ghost not only of him but also of those who had separated themselves from me in the aftermath, in order to grant myself the clarity and chance to start fresh. I gave myself permission to go on dates again, although I didn’t kiss anyone for another year. When I finally did re-enter the physical arena of romance, I found myself avaricious, eager to gain some sort of confirmation that I was still desirable now that I was capable of optioning myself that way.

Three years passed and (just like Lucy in Tell Me Lies) I found myself in New York City, fully redeemed and confident again. And then he was nine miles away from my apartment.

Whoever I was then seemed like a long-lost version of myself, someone I didn’t know anymore, and I couldn’t figure out how I’d gotten to where I was. I’d been experiencing the same recurring thoughts since I’d moved back to New York: What was I doing? Why was I still chasing him? Did I even like him as a person? How could I ever bank on a future with someone I couldn’t trust? There was that one stubborn, annoyingly veracious part of me that knew wanting Stephen had to be wrong. If you ignored the gray and got really honest, if everything in the world was separated into black and white, into good and bad, Stephen would fall into bad.

Tell Me Lies, Lovering

I knew that I shouldn’t have gone to drinks with him. I kept it quiet, not telling anyone what I was doing beforehand and only a few after the fact. I knew it would hurt many who stood by me, alienate their loyalty, but I couldn’t stand strong, stand reformed, without having the chance to shove it in his face and say, “Look! Look what you did to me, and I’m still here!” And — if I’m being honest — there was still affection.

We are no longer in contact, and I don’t anticipate that will change anytime soon. Like Lucy at the end of the book, when Stephen comes up and tries to flirt with her at the wedding with his fiancée just feet away, she knows that there is no reason to pursue something that to him is just a game. Much like the end of the book, Lucy is able to go and pursue her writing and Stephen is stuck in a dead-end finance job (just like my ex).

Tell Me Lies was exactly the cathartic read that I needed. At the end, I feel as strong and empowered as Lucy. The world is capable of so much more than the multitudes of cookie cutter Stephen DeMarcos. I know this because I see it in my parents, in my friends’ relationships, in my relatives. I feel it in the love they show me.

One day, writing this won’t even cross my mind. It will be, as my ex said when he broke up with me, “a blip on [my/your] radar.” Because, one day, there will be real love in the picture. That all-encompassing, past-relationship-amnesia-causing love that comes into your life in the most common ways. As CJ, Lucy’s mom, tells her in one of their last scenes:

Love — real love — isn’t something you construct or hope or imagine or plan for the future. Love is something you live and feel in real time, in every single moment, big or small. It’s reciprocal and often unglamorous. But we bank on it because it’s what gives life meaning.

On transparency

I always say what I’m feeling. I was born without a zip on my mouth. 

“Woman Like Me,” Little Mix

When I was around five years old, I developed an interest in lying. The problem was, I was also very gullible — and my parents were aware. They used this to their advantage by telling me one evening that they could tell if I was lying by looking in my eyes. In an effort to thwart their omniscient sight, I would continue to tell my eyes with one extra additive: I would close and/or cover my eyes. Needless to say, this was a very effective technique for my parents. 

To this day I still am a terrible liar and terribly gullible. My lies come out as half hearted run-on sentences, or vague descriptors that leave too much unsaid and, as such, fail to convince even me. People who know me now understand that when I do resort to lying its because I am desperate. And as for being gullible, well, let’s just say that I once was convinced for ten minutes on a date that Tupac came to Brixton, London and that’s why there was a mural painted of him next to the bar where we were drinking. Yeah, twenty-four years does not cure all foibles. 

But, in effort to combat these two terrible but manageable faults of mine, I’ve adopted one very reasonable trait — transparency. Just earlier today I was buying two bottles of wine (for a party, not just for me, I swear) and the cashier goes, “You look over twenty-five.” Now, a reasonable person would just let this go. But no. No, no, no. I go, “I’m twenty-four. I’ll show you my I.D.” Why? It made no difference. I’m clearly overage. The cashier just laughed and said it was okay. I sheepishly put my I.D. back it its sleeve in my wallet for another time. 

Now, I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but by most degrees I’m a good person. Yes, I swear, and I drink, and I occasionally f*ck up, but I’m human and if my Catholic father has instilled only one saying in me it’s that “There’s only been one perfect person and we nailed him to a cross.” But I compliment people. I give second chances. I give my spare change (and then some) to the homeless and hungry. I actually pull out my Google Maps when people ask me for directions so that I put them in the right direction, because we all know I’m directionally challenged. I listen when my friends call me at midnight because its 7 pm on the East Coast and they forgot again about the five hour difference because they’re dealing with whatever the new day has brought them. 

But the combination of transparency and good naturedness — well, it can easily get manipulated.

Some people would call this naïvety. And certainly it can come off this way. Hell, I feel it that way approximately 15% of the time. Just last night, I was contacted by an ex who was feeling emotionally distraught and in need of comfort. So what did I do? I texted for an hour to make sure that he knew he had options career wise. And then at the end, when he decided to ask about my sex life and say he was over me, I felt emotionally used and empty. I signed off and listened to “Make It Hurt” by Sydney Franklin for longer than I care to admit on repeat. 

But my transparency and good heart has helped me more often than not. When I was thirteen, I was the only girl who found Lauren crying in the party bathroom after Jimmy Rogers said some hateful things to her. As the new girl in school, I’ll be honest, I was just hoping for a new friend, but for her I hope I was a comfort. Now that I’m nearly twenty-five, I think it makes me more relatable and amicable than most people expect me to be. I’m never anything but real with people.

I could turn around from last night and say to the world, “I’m done. I’m tired of being hurt and I need to grow a thicker skin.” And sure, I did learn a lesson for next time (i.e. leave some messages left unread), but I’m happy being the adult version of that little girl who covers her eyes when she lies because her parents can see the deceit in her pupils. I’m not about to stop being who I am just because it opens me up to the world in ways that are potentially unpleasant. Because if I’ve learned anything in the last three years, the more you hurt, the more you can celebrate when you win the battle

Oh, the past it tormented me. But the battle was lost, because I’m still here. 

“I’m Still Here,” Sia

On attaining integrity

Admitting one’s own faults is the first step to changing them, and it is a demonstration of true bravery and integrity.

– Phillip Johnson

When I was seventeen years old, I attended a religious retreat held by my Catholic high school titled Kairos. The premise was secretive to those who had never been before (aka all underclassmen) but it was a great privilege to be asked to attend during your junior year. Usually it was something restricted to the senior class.

Anyway, it was our last day and we were broken into small groups, as we had been all weekend. The core group we had been spending to had been a family of sorts as we went through what can only be described as an emotional roller coaster. The first time I implied to peers that I had an anxiety disorder was in that retired monastery office. And so, on that last day, as we sat around in a circle and gave each other affirmation based on what we had learned about each other during the week, I was told by one of the B.M.O.C.s (Big Men On Campus for those Non-Americans) that he respected my “integrity.”

Instantly I felt guilty.

I felt guilty because I felt fake. I felt undeserving. I felt phony. I felt unseen. I felt misheard.

I felt guilty because I did not see myself as in possession of integrity.

This happened a year after I lied to my theater director to hide my biggest panic attack to date in order to get out of rehearsal by saying I had an orthodontist appointment. When I was caught in the lie, I said I just wanted to sleep, something that haunted me until graduation as being lazy. And so when Sean called me a person of integrity, I felt a flush of embarrassment at these contradicting versions of Rose.

And, if I’m being really honest with myself, I think seventeen year old me had it right. I didn’t have integrity then. Because I was still in my very mutable development. I had the right idea certainly, in trying to have integrity. I knew certainly that I was aiming for it, and that I was on the track to possessing it, but I didn’t have it yet.

Today, however, if you asked me, I’d say yes, I have it. But almost entirely because I own my faults. I’m no longer afraid to say, I fucked up — something I most certainly would not have admitted at seventeen, regardless of the profanity. I’m willing to own up to my flaws, and I even celebrate them, maybe a little too stridently.

It’s a new me, this Integrity Rose. She came to the forefront when she stopped hiding her mental health and trying to lie her way around what had been a very big part of her life for fourteen years. Thank you, blogging! But making that first post on We Are Alive on January 1, 2018 was a huge change for me. It led me through the big declaration and that has made the smaller ones even easier. The smaller ones like remembering that compliment from Sean in 11th grade and the guilt it brought on me. And the incentive it gave me for every day forward to be an even better me.