Breaking the rules: Con artist

I have not quite learned to weigh the importance of rules. Of course, rules vary in importance, but by and large, I think I tend to take them all — whether trivial or genuinely weighty — too seriously. In fact, it could — and has — been said that I take everything too seriously. If there are no rules or expectations attached to a given situation, I can pretty much count on myself to dictate how things “should” be. This is a habit that I wish I could turn off, but it is instilled in my moral being. Early on, I already had a strong sense of propriety, which was probably due partly to nature, partly to nurture. That is not to say that my character leant itself to these expectations of rectitude I carried around with me.

Although I was not strictly a rebellious child, I was strong-willed, cheeky, and wild, and knew how to bend the circumstances in my favor. However, these traits went widely unnoticed — I did my best to conceal them and was shockingly adept at it. My mom’s colleagues, teachers at school (though not my own), observed that I was “always so serious and never smiled,” which, besides the gloom it attached to me, gave me an air of conscientiousness and credibility. The former judgments irked me, and I protested them vehemently. Despite finding the rash generalization that I was “always so serious and never smiled” preposterous, I now recognize the kernel of truth I must have been refuting so fervently. I may still be told that I’m too serious (though not that I never smile) in the present day and have the same troubled reaction, because it pinpoints an internal dilemma: the tug-of-war between my deviancy and my morality. (My attitude of taking stuff too seriously — whatever “too” means — is so deeply ingrained in me that I speculate I was born with it.) The obvious way in which this seriousness impacts my relationship to rules is that I tend to take them too literally. I don’t leave enough wiggle room or lee-way. I fear they are hard and fast. I’m afraid that if I break them, my ship will sink, or something equally dramatic. I will be banished. I will lose my dignity. There will be no forgiveness. The villain I am will be exposed. The game will be over.

And that’s the thing — this life has, at times, felt like a game to me. If you play right, you’ll stack up points and see your way successfully through to the end, gaining approval. If you mess up, your disguise will be lifted and you will be exposed as the fraud you are, condemned to a humiliating defeat. There is something in me that believed, even early on, that my “goodness” was a hoax. And I definitely had a manipulative, cunning streak (even if not downright evil). So, I was a child that consciously lived with the pressure of upholding this angelic facade, afraid of slipping lest they (parents, teachers, friends) should discover my ugly side. Needless to say, this was hard work, which perhaps explains my predominantly serious expression. In a sense, I felt that I was getting away with something — not murder exactly, but unnameable petty crimes; my nobler-seeming achievements nothing more than a laborious effort to fool everyone that I was not so bad, and maybe even a little bit lovable. For whatever reason, I could never fully internalize the praise and affection I was able to win, probably because I couldn’t convince myself I deserved them. After all, no one knew about the baser thoughts and deeds that dwelled under my hard-earned official record.

All of this sounds pretty serious, and in light of the claims I’ve just made about my seriousness, I’d expect you to believe me. Yet, I also trust you to see the mischievous twinkle in my eye, to call me out as my own devil’s advocate.

I realize that I’ve so far only declared my disobedient nature, without providing a single example. I’m very careful, you see. And, at this point, even though I want to believe my inner rebel still lives within me, I may have eradicated all evidence of her existence. And while she was still actively kicking, I contested any association with her. Honestly, that is the thing I am most remorseful about: thanks to my veil of saintliness, I was usually able to deflect responsibility for my offenses. It’s not that I blamed others; I just defaulted to my well-trained act of innocence, and no one suspected me to begin with. Even when I was clearly the only possible culprit, I got away unscathed. You could call me a smooth criminal, but my cowardice to own up to my messes makes me feel completely shitty. My little pranks, lies, and slip-ups weren’t worth the bigger villainy of their denial. I guess you could say that, ironically, my guilt points back to my good core or whatever, but the fact that everyone thought I was good in the first place is what makes me feel like a faker. Of course, that impression is something I knowingly cultivated, so don’t let me fool you into thinking I’m a victim of other people’s poor judgement. I’m just particularly good at appearing virtuous.

Now might be the appropriate time to tell you that I’m not a complete conniving asshole. I’m not going to try to prove my goodness to you after having just told you that it’s all a masquerade. (Of course it’s not. Very little of it is.) I just know when to use that general opinion to my advantage. Much of the niceness I hope you perceive in me is actually there. To return to the motif of seriousness: I seriously care about almost everything. Most of all, I care about people and other living creatures. I never want to hurt anyone, and I’m almost pathologically compassionate.

God, this is tricky. As soon as I’ve convinced you I’m a wolf in sheep’s clothing, I go back to bleating like a little lamb. Well, make of it what you will.


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