Pants on Fire

Lies, etc. Jack & Jackie


Lies, fibs, exaggerations, embroidery, weaving, elaborations, embellishments. Tangled webs. What you call it shows what you believe about it. One’s own exposed lies can put you in prison, a liar can put you in prison, fibs are for kids, exaggerations make a good story and embroidering/weaving imply beautification and functionality.


Phelans are by nature liars. Dad and Mom were accomplished, unapologetic liars. Dad lied about who he was when he set eyes on mom. He encountered her at a Montreal hospital where she was recovering from a ski accident. She broke her leg on her very first attempt at skiing. He wanted to impress her by saying he was the ‘chief resident’. She fell for it. He brought her books to read.
Forty years after this, when I was trying to dig up a solid fact about who my mom really was, I called one of the doctor’s wives that knew her. Mrs. Carraway recounted a story about Jack ‘foresaking the cloth’ . Mom implying he gave up the priesthood in a passionate rejection of celibacy and a religious life.
Clearly, my mother had a few cards up her sleeve. I wonder how she kept track of them…



They were the rule makers. From birth, the six offspring were bathed, powdered and diapered in the fabric of deceit.

It was up to each of us to make sense of what was being said and what seemed to be actually happening.
Dad could hug Mom in the kitchen and announce to us that they loved each other very much.

I would try to reconcile that with the fracas the previous night: her piercing shrieks punctuated by his barely audible deep voice behind the master bedroom door.

How easily they come, the steady stream of stretched “truths” . They carve their own course, and at least in my case, led to places I had no intention of going. It may need to be explained that these were nearly always my reaction to some form of punishing inquisition.

Part of the reason I keep a journal is to have my own truth down in writing in case I get confused later on in life.
It was on the playground at Crestview Elementary in Topeka Kansas when I heard the news about President Kennedy being shot. I had no clue what it meant, since I didn’t know what a “president” was, but the anguished tone of our teachers and general playground pall said enough.

I retorted “Hahahahahaha! So?”

Grown ups with some childhood development might have recognized something amiss, in this brutally open expression of glee at someone else’s expense. No one took notice of it in the hubbub, but once home, I was terrified by the sight of my father holding his face in his hands and sobbing as the tiny television transmitted the tragic news. I’d go straight to hell for that mocking tone.

Having been fully steeped in the Catholic Guilt Trip, I knew I was guilty of sin from the moment of my birth. This episode would just add another sin (Venial? Mortal?) to my account.

Topeka was the center of a particular school of psychiatry run by a pair of amiable brothers, the Menningers, who attracted people from both coasts that wanted to pursue a psychoanalytic way of treating the mentally ill.

As I watched the Mrs Kennedy who had ‘my’ name, crawl across the car’s trunk to retrieve her husband’s skull fragments, my dad (who shared the president’s name) assured me that Mrs. Kennedy would never remember this moment.
“Why not?”

“Because she’s in shock, and there is a mechanism that protects people from remembering horrible events” he said evenly.

“You mean, if something horrible happened to me, I wouldn’t be able to remember it like her?”

A surprised look crossed his face.


And thus began my writing career.

~ by jacquiephelan on July 1, 2019.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: