UNITED STATES--I have a friend with a big mouth and a small body for which I, in company, must have posed an alibi to explain the hours we’ve shared. She wears cable knit sweaters like a blue-blood and Birkenstocks like a rebel. She has a family house on Cape Cod but a family hardly together at home here. She leverages her advantages—her voice, her mind, her body—in a manner foreign to most outside a masculine context. She carries a plain, envelope-leather tote and knowledge of having alienated herself from most but me.
I think of her now—as she texts me “i miss you.” I consider, at another’s prodding, why I put up with her. Why I stand obscure dinner dates where she eats little. Why I stand conversations about men who have wronged her. Why I stand false promises of Harvard visits. But the answer remains clear, fair, and logical, as it always has. That I like her. That I respect her, no more and no less than I respect the saving quality that I respect in myself—honesty. She is honest. Crudely and oftentimes unforgivably honest, but honest.
I respect her for what appears to most a recklessness but is actually a disciplined and cautious observation of loyalty to fact. Because she clings so dearly, as she does to the sailing rope she and her sister wrangle, to that oft-inexpedient and sometimes offensive virtue I’ve come to admire. Because however inexpedient, however dangerous, however downright boring honesty can, and often proves to be, I have, for better or for worse, lassoed my aims with this honesty.
I think of this spring, when I came as close to terms as I am going to come with November’s election. When I cleaned my desk, and threw away my APUSH prep-book, having survived the exam and its accompanying stressors. When I remembered the series of shocks I’ve harbored and masked with terse humor and blanketing cynicism in facing the news cycle. I find myself returning to that ligament of national history that I would, unlike the most of it, rather not forget. The history I’m remembering is in fact not history but myth, one of those historically rooted myths that, in passed time, has shed all the vestiges of fiction and been taken as fact in the collective consciousness.
How George Washington, age 7, is supposed to have suffered such violent remorse for axing his father’s cherry tree that he confessed with, “I cannot tell a lie,” an exertion of honesty that has, in the place of said axed tree, raised a pillar of exemplary American behavior that has stood henceforth erect. How hundreds of similar such pillars have been raised since then: Nick Carraway, the Lone Ranger, just about every black and white movie heroic journalist slash courteous suitor ever.
I realize now, removed from the space of spring, that it was more my disillusion, more my disappointment at the disregard of honesty in the election than it was my disillusion or disappointment at any one comment or action within it.
I think now from the obscured vantage of bloomed hydrangeas and beauty I am now appeased enough to appreciate—British mannerisms like “I suppose,” lavender dusk, a crown of the campanile at Berkeley—how I was sorry for nothing else but this: the nation has undergone a collective rejection of honesty. That the truth, which I had always held as a kind of icon, means less to some.