So I was googling myself the other day….. sure, like you never did that. Anyway, I like to keep track of my image on the internet, because everything on the internet is true, right? It may be out of character, for a sarcastic loudmouth like myself, but I really do care what people think of me. It is important that the information about me is true. People’s perception of me matters, maybe a little too much. The truth has always been imperative to me. Not like it was an attribute that ever specifically taught growing up, it was just expected, if not demanded.
I can remember my father, a good and kind man, who was taken from us way too soon. In his heavy Italian accent, I can remember him always telling my brother and myself to be respectful, always introduce yourself when you are speaking to a new person, say please and thank you, you know, the things we all try to teach our kids to do. But he never came out and told us to be honest, instead, he would talk to us and say, in a slightly intimidating tone, “answer the question” which really meant, “tell the truth”. His assumption that we would always proved true.
Funny enough, when I was 17, I went for a job interview for Rite Aid, and they asked me if I would be willing to take a lie detector test. Sure, have at it I thought, nothing to see here. I failed that freaking test. The confidence I had as the tester was hooking me up to that machine faded quickly. “Have you ever stolen anything ?” he asked. “No” I replied. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the needle moving up and down erratically on the paper. It seemed as if it was about to be propelled across the room. ” Are you sure, you never stole anything? gum, a pack of cigarettes ?” I can remember the outrage I felt, thinking, Holy Shit, this machine is making a liar out of me. I began to try to convince the tester that the machine was broken…then I saw his expression glaze over….likely story lady was what the expression looked like. My career with Rite Aid ended before it began. A word to the wise, if you need to prove your honesty based on a lie detector test, consider yourself screwed. The real kicker here is that my post graduation career in the financial services industry ultimately positioned me as a leader of a team that had handled thousands of financial transactions per day, and during tax season, my team was responsible for processing millions of dollars in mutual fund trades per day….in your face Rite Aid.
But if I think back, I am not sure why I was so offended by lying, it is not as if I could have been considered a moral compass, to which all others should be compared. I can remember one night, it was ladies’ night at Fudgies Disco…. and……well…… anyway…. I digress. The point I am trying to make here is that I was a normal, somewhat bratty teenager, who sometimes drank too much, stayed out too late, and gave my parents a run for their money. But what I did not do was lie. It is not as if I was not skilled in the area…because I really was. Seems I was a storyteller from a young age. I was also know to be quite an actress too……but that’s a story for another day.
I honed my storytelling skills on my mother, much to her dismay. If I do say so myself, I excelled in this area. Even as a young child, I would make up these stories to intentionally freak her out. Remember the whole bratty thing. With a completely straight face I would begin telling this fabricated story, that was mingled with just the right amount of truth, to make it completely plausible. I was sure to push all her buttons, and believe me, there were plenty to push, we’ll talk more about that in the future. Anyway, when her face started turning red, and I knew I had gone far enough, I would start laughing. Mommy believed whatever I said, which may have been a testament to her gullible nature, or her complete faith in me. Perhaps a little of both. After she got over the shock of one of my fictional scenarios, as she was reaching for the wooden spoon, (a staple in the Italian houshold for both stirring Sunday gravy and instilling discipline) she would shake her head, and wave the spoon in the air “you’re gonna have 5 kids just like you, then you’ll learn .” Twin daughters with severe autism…. five kids like me….yes Mommy, I guess I did learn.
You see even from a young age, I just felt that lying was such a bad reflection of your character. How could it benefit you ? And, importantly, once I have caught you in an untruth, how could I ever trust you again ? My father was a good, honest man. He ran a small neighborhood store, and when he passed, at the age of 55, his reputation as a good, honest man was demonstrated in the most humbling way. His viewing at the funeral home was met with lines of people, who came to say goodbye to a man of his word. Eveyday people, nuns, Hells Angels bikers, all stood in line to honor a man who valued the truth. He taught my brother and myself by example, and we learned well. He was by no means a goody two shoes kind of guy, trust me on this. He was, however, someone who was true to his word, who always had your back, sometimes to a fault. You see trust and honesty must be reciprocal, and when it is not, it can be quite disappointing.
Now, certainly with age comes wisdom….. and hot flashes…. and the ability to cough and pee simultaneously…..but mostly wisdom. To my great disappointment, I have realized that the biggest mistakes in my life were a direct result of not being true to myself, or more importantly, not accepting people on the basis of how they represented their true self. I can distinctly remember an argument I had with a gentlemen (am using the term loosely) friend of mine. He expected my allegiance in a situation that was based on a series of lies. He clearly did not know me very well. I can remember telling him, “I’m not going to tell you you’re right when you’re wrong, that’s your mothers’s job.” Nothing like killing two birds with one stone. One extremely large, pointy stone… covered with disdain… and regret……….what, too much ?
The truth can also be a bitter pill to swallow. Unfortunately, I learned that accepting what is true does not always come easily. I struggled terribly with the truth when my girls got diagnosed with autism. My family, as a defense mechanism, were reluctant to accept the diagnosis. I, on the other hand, had to acknowledge that truth, so that I could begin advocating for them. It was the only way I could move forward and be productive. As time passed, it became equally important that I talk about our journey, with soul baring honesty. The struggle for my girls and myself was, and continues to be real. Too real to not share. That was why I decided to write my book. However, before I wrote it, I interviewed several self published authors, and they all gave me the same advice. If you are writing it to make money, don’t, because you won’t…… truth y’all !!! However, they all agreed, if you are writing it to tell an authentic story, then carry on, so I did. It was one of the best things I have ever done…money is overrated anyway…am I right ? So, when I wrote Worn Like A Badge, about my girls, I chose to publish it under a pen name, J. L. Verita. In Roman mythology, Verita was the goddess of truth. Given that Rome was my father’s birthplace, coupled with my affinity for all things virtuous, it was a perfect match. And of course, any opportunity to use my name and goddess in the same sentence works for me.
Interestingly enough, in a discussion I had with a friend of mine, my honest to a fault style was complimented in the most amazing way. In our discussion, we came to the conclusion that I was kind of the Howard Stern of Autism…. now wait a second, before I offend anyone else, let me explain. When I write about my girls experience with autism, it is not sugarcoated, because I’m not very good at that, and because there would have been no point in writing that type of book, as it already exists in spades. The Howard Stern reference comes from my choice( perhaps a unpopular one) to say the things about autism that others might want to say, but had the good sence not to. I am not sure what that says about me that my true feelings are so harsh. As I think of our journey through the wonderful world of autism, it is difficult to envinsion a different perspective. I am, however, so glad for those who have had a different experience, and often wish I were them.
I am sure that Howard would really love being compared to a grey haired, somewhat fluffy, AARP card carrying truth teller. Howard, please accept my apologies for the unwanted comparison, but know that imitation is certainly the sincerest form of flattery.
Now, to be clear, I am not saying that a little lie has never passed my goddess lips (insert sarcasm here). That chicken was delicous !! No, those pants don’t make you look fat. And let’s not forget my favorite, It’s not you,… it’s me! And, as we all know, there are times in our lives where an untruth is the kindest gesture of all. When my mother started to decline at the hands of Alzheimers, in a moment of clarity, she asked me, “Johanna, do you think I have Alzheimers ?” To which I answered, “No Mommy, you are just fine, a little tired, but just fine.” That was a truth that she could surely be spared.
And of late, I have become skilled at tempering my truthful opinions, especially when it comes to Autism. One would have thought that I would have learned that lesson from the number of bad book reviews posted on Amazon. Nope… not me. As Dr. Seuss so eloquently stated ” I meant what I said and I said what I meant.” However, I have been fortunate enough to have been a resource for some families who are struggling with their child’s diagnosis of autism. When speaking with a family, you can quickly determine where they are in the process of acceptance. Their place in that process must be used to determine how much information they can handle. It is always important to support and educate, but never overwhelm. Parents are fragile during this process, and however honest and well intended information is, great care must always be exerted. I can remember my need for information when my girls got diagnosed, but also my fear of getting too much information, which 20 years ago, was mostly scary as hell. I always keep that foremost in my mind when speaking with families.
But for everyone else…… all bets are off. Do not ask my opinion unless you want the truth. Please make sure you know what you are getting into. I will attempt to distract you with my sparkling fucking personality…… but I can’t make any promises.
So finally I would like to share with you the more popular quotes on the truth. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. You can’t handle the truth. The truth hurts. If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything, and my personal favorite….The truth shall set you free, but it will first make you miserable.
Ask anyone who knows me, they’ll tell you, Johanna knows a lot about making people miserable.
“Johanna Cascione is a mom of adult twin daughters with severe autism, and a first-time author of an autobiography – “Worn Like A Badge, Published under the moniker J. L. Verita.
After a career in the financial services industry, and a 10-year journey to have children, Johanna received the news that her twin daughters had severe autism. She experienced profound depression and anxiety. The diagnosis of her girls, especially in light of her struggle to have them, was almost too much for her to bear.
Ultimately she decided that the only way she could advocate for her daughters, was to become a stronger person, stronger than the fear that gripped her , stronger than the depression that paralyzed her, stronger than the diagnosis.
Her decision to replace the fear with hope, weakness with strength and the anger with kindness, was not an easy one, but she found it to be her only option. Her resolve to focus on hope, kindness and humor, especially when they were in short supply, served her well.
Today Johanna continues to advocate for her girls, as well as provide support for other families of individuals with autism. She has many stories to tell, from a life that was not at all what she expected. She is finding that her voice is one of honesty, hope, and yes…humor. Laughter heals the soul, and don’t we all need some of that.