At the age of 5, I heard the first lie I ever recognized. It was the 1990s and I was in elementary school, an endeavor that included being woken up before sunrise by my mother. “You have to get up,” she would say. My mom was in nursing school and had long days, meaning I had long days too, ones that began before early-morning cartoons excited my older brother and sister and me into being. Days were bookended with TV shows, the age-appropriate ones reminding me that I was the youngest, which made me try to stretch my understanding to the older kids’ level. But none of us knew what was age-appropriate to begin with, so we also watched whatever was popular, like Saved by the Bell and Married With Children. Those shows told lies, but I didn’t know that then.
The first lie I recognized came when my classmate Amanda said I was the one who used crayons in the pencil sharpener, and I cried. I was so embarrassed of my tears that I began to cry worse, an ugly cry of snot and the severe breathing of an inconsolable child. I began to cry, less from the injustice—Amanda ruined the pencil sharpener and lied to get out of trouble—and more because I was crying at all.
Five-year-old me rarely saw emotional depictions of men in front of my family’s TV in the ’90s. Instead, on Saved by the Bell I watched Zack Morris scheme and maneuver to get what he wanted; he was a charismatic and often cold trickster who sometimes made other kids at school cry. On Married With Children I saw patriarch Al Bundy sound off about a version of manhood that involved nostalgia and superiority: “It used to be so great to be a man,” he said. “Women were there to please us.” I saw him found an anti-feminist organization called NO MA’AM and fake-cry when he was made to kiss his wife. All this also explains why I’m now jealous, as an adult, of a fictional boy: 5-year old Mateo Gloriano Rogelio Solano Villanueva, the son of Jane on the fantastic Jane the Virgin, which is now rounding out its fourth season.