Close to midnight. We watched Othello tonight. Some of us had never seen it. Philip said Iago was the most evil character in all of Literature. Maybe, I thought, as the play went on. And Branagh was simply the best. Completely compelled us. Glamoured us. But, Philip has never been a girl. Any girl in America has experienced sheer cruelty along the lines of Iago’s at the hands of her peers by the time she’s fifteen. Iago may be the most evil character in all of fiction, and may seem unique to Philip. Lucky Philip. Perhaps he has simply never known a pathological liar.
I have. Brilliant, conniving, and mean, not because she was a girl but because she could be, she toyed with lives as Iago did, and destroyed them. None died outright, that I know of, but friendships were shattered, reputations ruined, lives changed irrevocably. It’s too long and sordid a story to recount completely, now or possibly ever. Suffice to say, Iago did not surprise me. I knew his female counterpart.
“That girl can turn a blue sky gray,” said one of her victims. And I watched her do it. I saw this sickness emerge in her, maybe for the first time, unfurl like an evil bloom. We shared a ground-floor apartment in a seedy little complex junior year of college, after becoming bosom buddies the year before. One afternoon she answered the phone and lied to a suitor, hung up, and laughed about it. She encouraged me to lie to the next one, for the fun of it. Prank became pathology. I shied away.
A snowy day, I hitched a ride with the plow out into the country, escaping to my boyfriend’s house on the river, just to get away from her “stories.” Later, over summer, “He raped me,” she claimed about a friend. For all the respect I have for that refrain, I knew she was lying. I could not prove it, she did not pursue it. But I knew.
She could not stop. One day months later, I telephoned her apartment to speak with her roommate. She answered. “I thought you were at work,” I said. She’d called me literally one minute before, “from the office,” she said. No reason to lie. No caller ID back then, no proof except the ticking clock.
“I rode home really fast,” she said. It was not possible. This sick feeling as I silently conspired with her to let it go. Once knowing, I could not not know. I could never again believe a thing she said.
After graduation, on a road trip across the country with a mutual friend, the questions came at me hard and fast. “Did your father go to Vietnam?” No. “When did you lose your virginity?” From Iowa across to California the questions came, shyly, discreetly. I discerned early on the source of the questions, and bided my time to learn the reason. On a night drive to Arizona finally came the explanation. Our Iago had told our friend her own life story—or perhaps one she made up, but which she had already told me as our friendship first formed—and attributed it all to me. I didn’t suffer when my father went away to war, repeatedly. I didn’t turn to vodka at fifteen.
After the trip, with a list of her lies in my head, I visited the friend those lies had taken from me, and untangled the web. The proof was incontrovertible. We cried and kissed and made up, but that friendship never recovered. And for decades, I could not believe anything remotely unbelievable that anyone said. When you think about it, people say unbelievable things every day.
Though her specific lies have finally faded from memory, the shock to my system remains. And as with Iago, so too with his female counterpart. Lies eventually come undone. Often not before a terrible toll is taken, but eventually.
Knowing someone who, like Iago, can be so convincing and so utterly untrue at the same time, has made it hard for me to trust completely since then. If she, whom I loved and thought I knew, could play so randomly and meanly with the lives around her, how could someone new be trusted to be telling the truth?
But now I begin to see it was not resilient of me to have let that three-year long unraveling of trust color so much of my future. Perhaps that I let it affect me so deeply for so long reveals my own pathology. It’s time to release my attachment to the damage done me by that relationship, by knowing Iago (and escaping with my life). Time to replace Othello with a new paradigm.