I looked my wife straight in the eye and lied.
This is far from the first time I’ve fibbed about this issue. In fact, I’ve been misleading friends, family and educators my entire life.
Magoo and I were getting ready to head out on a bicycle ride. This was the exact same outing that my mate did the day before. We have an amazing collection of marked hiking and biking trails in our community; this ride wasn’t on any of them.
This jaunt was a combination of paths, dirt roads and easements. The reason we were taking such a circuitous route was that by doing the ride Ellen did the day before, we would pass by the best wildflowers in the world, she assured us.
Granted “the best wildflowers in the world” is a bold boast, but my wife is a wildflower aficionada and floral fanatic. When she says it’s “the best wildflowers in the world” any skepticism by me is an invitation to celibacy.
Since she returned from her ride she had raved about the color, smell and beauty. She did, however, admit it was a meandering route that would require some navigating.
Now, to be clear, I had been on all the trails, paths and dirt roads, either running, skiing or biking. But few are on any map or have an official designation. Instead, she listed the nicknames we have given them over the years: “Bad Trip,” so named because it is home to lots of mushrooms; “Neutered Trail,” where Magoo ripped the crotch out of his ski pants when he straddled a stump; “Bitter Nipple,” where I inadvertently placed the nipple of my CamelBak into a pile of moose poop.
Thus the directions went, in part, “Go up Morning Thunder, take a left on Bad Trip, take a right on Neutered, hit the green gate and take a right on Bitter Nipple.”
Ellie insisted that Magoo and I do that exact ride but was concerned that I couldn’t replicate her route. I am notoriously bad with directions. So, over evening cocktails, in our front yard, she went over the itinerary again and again.
Yes, I was well familiar with the paths but I had never done them in that exact order. I was mostly able to conceptualize her directions. The only trouble was, in my mind, when you came off Neutered you had to take a left on Bitter Nipple. There was no way to take a right. Ellen walked me through the route a few more times and I followed along in my head, but every time we got to the Nipple I saw the trail going left. I could see the route clearly in my brain. But that said, in my heart of hearts, I knew I had to be mistaken.
I long ago learned not to doubt my mate when it comes to directions. So while taking for granted that she was correct I became less convinced that I was clear on the route up to that point. But I was too embarrassed to admit that.
She said, “You’ve been on those trails a hundred times, you know what I’m talking about — right?”
My confidence began to crumble. I learned from an early age when that happens to go on the offensive. I said, “I know exactly where you are talking about. I’m not stupid. I was just making sure YOU knew where you were talking about.”
She looked doubtful, “So you know that you have to go right on Nipple?” I looked at her, offended. “Of course.”
No one likes to feel stupid. Truth is I’ve felt that way much of my life. Now to be honest, I also felt clever/funny, athletic, attractive (not so much anymore) and happy. But I also felt less than intelligent. I was the youngest of six with five very intelligent siblings. We all attended the same school system. My brothers and sisters won the science fairs, were in the honor society, presidents of their class and won various scholastic awards. My claim to fame was I could impersonate Gomer Pyle and pick locks.
Many of my teachers, who also taught my siblings, were convinced that since my grades never measured up to my heritage, I was not trying. Truth is I was trying, but I was hopelessly mentally lost. To make up for that I pretended to understand, and when that didn’t work I pretended not to care.
In high school I was able to get by with bravado, deceit and sports but still managed to barely graduate above the bottom third of my class.
Since then I’ve come to realize that I’m not impaired but that my brain, like millions of others, works differently. I know it is better now for kids with learning challenges than it was 50 years ago, but I do know some parents who have children who struggle. Those kids are not anywhere near stupid; they are blessed with a unique intellect.
As for me, in truth I didn’t need to lie to my mate. She of all people understands and respects both my gifts and my limitations. She knew I was lost in my head, but she also knew even if I got lost, like always, I would find my way back to her … as I always do.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.