If you're here for links, try us as an email.

If you came here for the links, TMN is better as an email. Try our Headlines newsletter!

The Education of Elisabeth Eckleman

Lies, All Lies

It’s Elisabeth Eckleman’s first year of college, and she has a lot of tough choices to make. In this installment, Elisabeth keeps a secret while trying to survive a weekend of everyone else’s parents. You decide what happens next.

In the last installment, Elisabeth had to decide whether or not to reveal Kat’s definitely secret, possible pregnancy, even though the father-in-question begged her to tell him the truth. You voted for her to... lie, lie, lie.

 

I’ve never been a particularly good liar. My mind seizes up, my face turns red. When my mom found a package of condoms in my purse last year, I told her I was holding onto them for someone else. Sad thing is, she believed me. Man, I’m such a good kid.

So when I lie to Geoff, I’m surprised at how easily it comes. “Of course Kat isn’t pregnant,” I tell him. This is not technically a lie, as I still believe it’s true. “You can’t tell anyone this, but ... She’s kind of having a cancer scare.”

(See how I do that? Switch one person’s truth for another’s? That makes it easier to lie, I think, because you can keep the narrative straight and don’t have to invent plausible stories about how condoms mysteriously showed up in your purse or why your roommate is crying outside a health clinic most often used by women before and after sex. You just switch up the names, like it’s your own little roman à clef.)

Geoff’s eyes widen. “Oh, shit. Cancer? She’s so young.”

I nod. “It runs in her family. It might not be anything, but you never know.”

He readjusts his clunky black glasses. “Of course, of course.” Then he wanders off, most likely to get stoned.

I fall asleep reading a chapter on The Real World in my reality television textbook, and when I wake up, Kat is sitting on her bed staring at me. Her eyes are swollen slits. “I’m fucking pregnant,” she says.

I rub my eyes. “Are you kidding?”

A tear drips off the end of her chin and onto her bed. “Yeah, I’m kidding.”

“Kat...” I think about going over to her, about hugging her, about grabbing her hand, but her eyes are sharp and mean. I place my hands in my lap, useless.

“You can’t tell anyone,” she says, her voice trembling.

I stare right at her. “I won’t.” And this is not a lie. I don’t think.

 

Ugh, Parents Weekend. I hate you, Parents Weekend. Just when things seemed as bad as they could possibly get, everyone’s mom and dad (except mine!) come to town to make it worse. All I hear these days is people bitching about their stupid parental dramas. Kat’s mother won’t be in the same room with her father unless he leaves his new girlfriend at home, which he refuses to do. Chad’s parents are hicks who always say uncomfortable things. Geoff’s dad is newly single and hits on everyone. India’s Korean-born parents don’t know she dyed her bangs pink and still call her Kimberley or, as she quite cruelly but humorously imitates: “Kim-bah-ree.”

“That’s why I had to change my name,” she tells me and Kat one afternoon, smoking a Virginia Slim on the dorm steps. “Do you know what a humiliation it is to go through life with a name even your own parents can’t pronounce? Shit, I need a drink. You girls down?”

Kat leaps to her feet. “Absolutely.”

The night she told me she was pregnant, I made Kat promise to wait two weeks to decide what to do. Actually, she has to wait two weeks anyway, because it’s still too early, but I asked her to take the time to mull over her options. Look, I’m pro-choice or whatever, but my point is that it should be just that: a choice. At the time she promised this, Kat and I were both crying, and I believed her. But she’s been drunk every night since, and popping Adderall as if it were Pez.

“Don’t you have a test to study for?” I ask Kat, giving her a little nudge.

She shoots me a look. “No, it’s next week. India, can I bum a smoke?”

“Kat!” I blurt out and then finally recover: “You told me you were gonna quit.”

She cups her hand around the flame and inhales deeply. “Well, I lied.”

On Saturday evening, all the parents on our hall are meeting for dinner in the cafeteria with my dorm mates. I plan on using this time for a valuable nap, but Kat won’t hear of it.

“If this cunt of a girlfriend is going, then so are you,” she says, ripping off my covers.

“I’m tired,” I say. “And would you please stop using that word?” I don’t know why, but the c-word makes me bananas.

“What word? Cunt? I’m sorry. I meant to say ‘that cum-dumpster of a girlfriend.’”

I bury my head underneath the pillow. “Kat, I don’t wanna go. My parents aren’t even here.”

“And whose fault is that?”

My dad begged me to let him visit this weekend, but the thought of him coming alone upset me more than no one coming at all. Kat says I like to play the martyr, but that’s not it. I’d just rather settle for nothing than be disappointed by half of something I want so badly. Does that make any sense?

“Look, as you know, I’m in a vulnerable state right now, and I need your support,” she says. “Would you deny a pregnant woman’s one wish?”

I roll my eyes and stagger out of bed. I throw on a hoodie and some sweatpants lying on the floor while giving her a long, bitter stare. “I hate you,” I say.

“Aww,” she says, zipping up my jacket. “Don’t you look nice?”

Downstairs in the cafeteria, parents are milling awkwardly around a table of cheese cubes, eggrolls, and some greasy empanada dealies. It’s startling how easy it is to figure out who goes with whom: I immediately spy India’s short, elderly Korean parents, of course, but also Geoff’s handsome, tanned father chatting up the hall’s female R.A. and Chad’s chubby, awkward suburban folks shaking hands with everyone in the room. Kat’s mom is unmistakably related to her—the same untamable hair, the same lean build, the same twisted sense of humor—although she looks more like Kat’s older sister and don’t think for a second she doesn’t sometimes try to pass for it. Of course, she’s in her hotel crying right now, so instead we’re seated with Kat’s father (surprisingly old and boring) and his sweet, bubble-headed girlfriend, Tina.

“So where are your parents?” asks Tina.

I’m so not in the mood for this. “They’re out of town,” I say, crunching down on an eggroll. “They went to China.”

“Oooh, I wanna go to China!” says Tina, turning to Kat’s father, who simply stares at her and shrugs.

Geoff and his father appear at the table. “I wanted to introduce you to Kat and Elisabeth, two of the loveliest girls on the hall.” Geoff leans over and squeezes Kat on the arm. “How are you doing?” he asks in a gentle voice, and internally, I cringe.

“They’re beautiful girls, and one of them has a beautiful mother,” says Geoff’s dad.

Tina fondles her diamond pendant. “Aren’t you sweet?”

Kat kicks me under the table, hard. She rolls her eyes and mouths “douchebag.”

“Can we join you?” Chad’s parents scooch beside us. “We’ve just been dying to meet Chad’s new girlfriend!”

“Mom!” Chad bellows in a way that lets you know he’s said this many times already.

“What? She’s your girlfriend, isn’t she?” His mom looks from him to me and back again.

“Sure, I’m his girlfriend,” I say, and Chad gives me the most grateful look.

“Can you believe this university?” Chad’s dad asks the table. “I take out a second mortgage to pay for this place and they feed us TV dinners! Ha!”

Chad looks like he swallowed a hot coal, and I give him a reassuring wink. I understand what it’s like to have embarrassing parents. There’s no one who embarrasses me like my folks. Back in grade school, my mother used to sew fake name-brand clothes that everyone teased me about, and she showed up to school wearing curlers, and she sang opera in shopping malls, and when I got older she always corrected people’s grammar and engaged in long, pointless discussions with store clerks and a thousand other petty, dumb, horrifying things. And I hated it, and I complained endlessly to Brad about it, because his parents were cool and not weird at all. So it’s funny that as I sit in the middle of this table, all I keep thinking is that I wish my parents were here to embarrass me now. And when I look at Chad rolling his eyes and turning red, I don’t feel bad for him. Actually, I wish it were me.

“Hey, everybody. These are my parents. I’m India, despite the fact that they insist on calling me Kimberley.” All three of them sit down. We stare at India parents expectantly, but they just smile and nod.

Tina speaks first. “Those are both beautiful names.”

Everyone chews in silence for a while.

“You like the snakes?” India’s mother asks Tina.

Tina giggles uncomfortably. “Do I like snakes?” she asks, twirling her pendant.

India tosses down her empanada. “Jesus Christ, Mom, it’s snacks.” She turns to Tina. “She’s trying to ask if you like the snacks. Do you like-y the snacks?”

India exhales into her long pink bangs. And that’s when I realize I hate her.

 

I don’t think Brad’s relationship with Ariel is going well. She keeps showing up to Project FAITH with red eyes, and she doesn’t talk much to me or the kids. Last Friday, I got a total booty-call text message from Brad at 1 a.m., which—you’ll be proud of me—I did not respond to whatsoever. (Our motto=Fuck him.)

But I must admit I was curious. How could I not be? I keep fishing for clues—straining to hear whenever Ariel talks on her phone, asking her casually about her weekend: Do anything interesting? Or maybe, Break up with anyone I know? I’m not even sure what I’m hoping to find, really—as much as I’m delighted by the idea of Brad being distraught and heartbroken, I wanted him to feel that way about me, not her. And as much as I sometimes enjoy the thought of tearing off all her limbs and stuffing her in a trash can, she really is a nice person. It’s hard. God, all of this is so hard.

The thing with Chad is a mess, too. I stop by his room probably every other day, but I find myself inching away from him whenever he comes near. Kat thinks I’m just afraid of intimacy; I think I’m afraid of intimacy with him. Last time he kissed me, I found myself making compromises in my head: Well, he bought dinner, so I’ll kiss him with tongue. No feeling me up, though—he used a coupon.

The guy I keep thinking about—weirdly—is Raj. I know, I know, he’s my T.A., but he’s so smart, and he has these beautiful eyes. I keep coming up with excuses to stop by his office hours, and then I get nervous when I arrive and I give him these dumb girly smiles whenever I ask a question, like I’m so totally stupid and helpless because I’m a girl, isn’t that adorable, tee-hee? And normally I hate girls who act like that. Those girls suck. But then maybe they’re not acting stupid—maybe love just makes them stupid. Maybe those girls are just in love all the time.

Anyway, the point of all this is that next weekend is Kat’s drama department Halloween party, and I need a date. I guess I don’t need a date, technically. I could go alone or just stay home and take a nap. But I’d like a date. It’s been such a bad month: I’d really like a date. And I’d like to take Raj, even though I don’t know if that’s allowed and maybe it’s a bad idea even if it is allowed because he’ll say no and then I’ll be horrified. And I can’t imagine asking him out (eek!) and I can’t imagine telling Chad if I did ask Raj (boo!), because I’d break his heart and he’s been planning his Napoleon Dynamite costume for weeks now. And Chad really likes me, and he thinks I really like him. And Kat keeps telling me to ask whoever I want, but I keep saying I don’t know who that is. All of which makes me think that maybe—maybe—I’m not such a bad a liar after all. Imagine that.

Should Elisabeth invite her semi-boyfriend Chad or invite her T.A. Raj?