This Is a True Story

Most of us fib more than we’d care to admit. Julianna Baggott, once a first-class fabricator, explains how she learned to stop lying—and to show the world her real, honest-to-goodness self.


Photo by Ditte Isager

I spent my childhood listening to my mother tell one whopper of a story after another. One set of our ancestors allegedly found a baby wrapped in vines after a storm, she said. Another discovered a valuable diamond brooch covered in tar in a bathroom stall. What’s more, three of her uncles, all baseball aficionados, were buried at the site of a North Carolina field where they once played. And here’s the kicker: They were supposedly interred in their respective fielding positions. No wonder she held people in rapt attention at dinner parties, in line at the market, at bus stops.

Jaw-dropping events were apparently commonplace in my mother’s formative years—no surprise, since she was such an outsize character herself. A saucy redheaded southerner, Mom could be demure one moment and shocking the next, with a laugh so loud and sudden it turned heads. And she had stories to tell.

I didn’t, as far as I knew. I was raised in Delaware (referred to by many as Dull-aware and Dela-where?) with three older siblings in a garden-variety suburban atmosphere. I yearned to be unique like my mother; I wanted to fit into the world of fascinating dinner-party conversation that she so effortlessly inhabited. And so I invented other realities in order to make myself equally intriguing and charismatic.

After my brother and sisters flew the coop, I frequently traveled as an only child with my parents. Our journeys provided me with countless opportunities to make things up. I often pretended to be Lebanese, speaking in a broken accent and refusing to do certain things that went against the “rules of my culture,” like eating Pop Rocks, which I hated anyway. On other occasions, I told people my mother was a flamenco dancer, or that I was related to Goldie Hawn. I was careful not to bring up these fibs when my parents were around, and so I never got caught. Later on, in college, I kept on lying. Why not? I was good at it. Studying abroad in France one semester, I felt truly fluent in French the night I was able to tell an histoire à dormir debout (tall tale) in a bar.