An excerpt from the dark and poignant new memoir by Liz Scheier '00 about growing up in '90s Manhattan
“I need to tell you something.”
I looked up over the edge of my book. My mother was standing in the living room doorway in one of her endless array of flowered, crepey muumuus—the Shut-In Chic Collection, I called them privately—with one hand on the knob, her face grave. I was on fall break, my freshman year at college; the last year, after this conversation, that I would consider my mother’s apartment home. I let the book fall facedown on my chest.
“Well.” She fiddled with the knob, coughed. “You said you were going to take driving lessons and get a learner’s permit when you go back to school.”
“That’s going to be . . . hard. I don’t think they’ll give you one.”
I laughed, a little offended. “I’m sure it can’t be that hard. Millions of idiots do it every day.”
“That’s not what I mean. Look.” More fiddling. “They’re going to ask you for identification, a birth certificate. You don’t have one.”
“So I’ll send away for a copy.”
“No. No. Will you listen to what I’m saying? There’s nothing to get a copy of. I never filed a record of your birth at all.”
I scrabbled my elbows under me and sat up, my breath sharp in my throat. Finally, I thought. This is it. A bureaucratic boulder she couldn’t lie her way over. An official document even she wouldn’t dare forge. At last: answers. “I don’t understand. Why not?”
“Well.” Deep breath. “I was married when you were born. But not to your father.”
No one lies like family.
We lie to each other all the time. We lie to keep each other at a distance, to give ourselves some elbow room in the claustrophobic nuclear unit. To spare each other’s feelings. To cut short a conversation, or to begin one. To ensure that the artichoke-heart softness of our insides is sealed safely off forever.
As I write this, my two toddlers are in the next room, cheerfully belting out some interminable preschool song and throwing stuffed animals at each other. They’re too young to ask me about my missing father, or my never-spoken-of mother, or why I am the way I am. They’re too young to understand how much they don’t know.
Then again, I haven’t started lying to them. Yet.
This is the story of digging out the biggest lie I was ever told.
Excerpted from NEVER SIMPLE: A Memoir by Liz Scheier. Published by Henry Holt and Company. Copyright © 2022 by Scheier, LLC. All rights reserved.