The Lying Game
a prose piece by Ryan Song
The ringing alarm sliced through Luke’s dreams. He fumbled for his phone on the nightstand and turned off the noise. Slants of morning light peeked out from the blinds. Luke sat in his bed, blinking the sleep from his eyes. 7:30 am on another Monday. He was tempted to retreat under his covers and go back to sleep until it was noon. That wouldn’t have been the most productive use of his time, but he now had a lot of it.
This is it, he thought. It was finally here. My first day of unemployment.
No more emails. No more Zoom meetings. No more drama with the other people in the office.
He clearly remembered the moment he told his boss he was going to quit two months ago. Since then, he had been preparing for his departure. It had been a balancing act of executing the normal parts of his job while setting it up for his successor. Luke knew his responsibilities—analyzing data, communicating with clients, facilitating meetings—inside and out, to the point where doing them was almost automatic. He had to force himself to pay attention to what he did, so he could record the process for the person after him. The tasks he used to do “one more time” turned into “one last time.”
The job wasn’t bad by any means. Decent pay, reasonable benefits, and nice enough co-workers save for a select few. But Luke had been at it for five years and the work had started to lose its luster, especially because of the pandemic. Working remotely had its perks, like not having to commute and doing meetings in your pajamas, but Luke missed seeing everyone in the office—the meetings, the lunches, even the occasional Karen who walked in.
He was only 23 years old. He had plenty of time to move on and explore other parts of life while he still could. As some of his co-workers pointed out when he announced his leaving, now was the time to be adventurous while he was single and not weighed down with mortgages and other adult responsibilities he wasn’t familiar with.
Luke wanted to follow his dreams of being an author. He wanted to dedicate time to his writing instead of doing it on the side because his 9-5 job took priority. He wanted to invest in himself for once. At the very least, he needed a break from doing what he should and instead do what he wanted. The last three years had taken a toll on his well being, and so some much-needed recuperation was on his priority list.
He was more than ready to pursue his passions.
The only problem? Luke didn’t tell his parents he had quit his job.
His closest friends knew, a few of his cousins, too, but not his mom and dad. They wouldn’t understand why he was leaving his stable, salaried job. And for what? To focus on “mental health” and to write some words at the risk of never getting published and paid?
Luke could already imagine the disappointment on their faces and the arguments on their lips. They didn’t survive the Khmer Rouge genocide and cross an ocean to a foreign land so that their child could write. For his parents, their sacrifices mandated he live a life of wealth and security. That meant being a doctor or lawyer or engineer. An author wasn’t even on the fringes of their realm of expectations.
But the unexpected and the impossible are what called to him the loudest.
Yes, Luke’s parents sacrificed so much to come to the United States and even more to ensure that their children were educated and taken care of. Being a first-generation college student was an honor that afforded him with a plethora of privileges that his parents would never have. Luke didn’t deny what they had done for him and he could never repay them for it. But despite what they believed, their sacrifices didn’t create a straight path for him to walk on.
Luke saw an infinite number of roads that twisted through mountains and valleys, pathways that braved the frigid cold of the arctic and the blistering heat of the desert. His mom and dad provided him with the opportunity to discover what life has to offer beyond the parameters of a well-paying career. His parents gave him the chance to make mistakes and learn from them. Any mistakes they made when they were his age would have buried them. They had to learn English in order to visit the doctor’s office or the bank. They had to take whatever jobs were offered because work meant money, even if it also meant dropping out of college. Luke didn’t have to worry about any of those things, and he wanted to take advantage of the luxuries his privilege afforded him.
Luke had the rest of his life to settle for mediocrity and monotony if it came to that. Now was the time to mess up and get lost. Now was the time to choose himself.
Of course, that didn’t mean he wasn’t scared. On the contrary, he was terrified. This was the biggest lie he would tell his parents. The thought of them finding out the truth made his soul shudder. They would want him to move back in with them to save money, and he refused to let that happen. Doing so would mean they were right that Luke couldn’t handle being in the real world—and there’s nothing worse than your parents being right. On top of that, he would lose the independent life he had meticulously nurtured far away from his parents. Luke was lucky enough to have money saved up to help with rent, groceries, and other necessities for a few months, if not more. He definitely would not have quit his job otherwise—Luke was ready for change, but he wasn’t reckless. Having financial security alleviated some of his terror, yet he knew there would always be inklings of it lurking in the corners of his mind, ready to pounce.
In the worst case scenario that his parents unearthed the truth, he would tell them his job was cut because of COVID and that he didn’t want them to worry. Luke recognized it would be a lie on top of another lie, but he was committed to maintaining the facade. The ideal situation would be to land another job and tell his parents he would be putting in his two weeks at his current place of employment, even though it would have been well after 14 days.
He wished he didn’t have to stress over all of this. It didn’t matter that he was in his 20s and moved out of his parents’ house. Luke was still a child of immigrants, and that meant adhering to the rules and expectations of a collectivist culture. He visited his parents every weekend to check in on them. He knew they enjoyed seeing him in person because it gave them all a chance to catch up without relying on technology.
A small part of his brain kept whispering that it would have been easier to rip the band-aid off and tell his parents he quit his job. Ultimately, Luke decided that asking for forgiveness was easier than asking for permission. He knew he was playing a dangerous game. He would have to lie to his parents about how work is going, how his co-workers are, and any upcoming projects. But as Luke and many of his fellow brown friends can attest to, lying to your parents is a small price to pay for an ounce of freedom. The only difference in this case was preserving the lie in order to have an ocean of possibility.
He loved his parents. He understood their beliefs and values, but that wasn’t the same as agreeing with them. Luke fantasized about a life where his mom and dad accepted his dreams, but that reality only worked if he became a famous author and earned enough money to impress them. The income wasn’t Luke’s motivation, but he’d be lying if he said any profits wouldn’t be a pleasant bonus. He just had to put in the work, and he now had all the time and liberty to do so. The work included waking up at 7:30 am like he used to for his job and keeping track of the lies to his parents.
His phone dinged with an email notification. It was from his mom and had an attachment. “Can you print this at your work for me?”
Luke hadn’t accounted for finding a printer to be on the list of items he had to remember for his lie. This was simply another part of the choice he willingly made. Just like the rest of his life, he would find a way to figure out this new printer situation.
He sighed. No rest for the wicked, he reminded himself. You’re doing this for you; you owe yourself that much. They’ll understand eventually.
The last remnants of sleep faded with the rising sun. Luke pulled off the covers and stretched his arms, shaking off the creeping dread of lying to his parents. It was time to start the first day of his new life.
“Let the games begin.”
Cover Photo Source: The New Yorker