A Very Important Person

I was taking applications at a model call in the summer of 2011. I noticed Becca immediately. Working in the modeling world since childhood, I knew a supermodel when I saw one. Becca was 5’10”, a size four, and had one of the most amazing faces I’d ever seen. This girl was going places.

I was planning a photo shoot for the next week. Something beautiful, inspired by old movies and Italian Vogue. Becca had to be there. Becca was accompanied by her mother, Elizabeth. She was only fifteen, most girls that age bring their mothers to model calls. Model moms can be very difficult, but we tolerate them more when the girl is under eighteen.

I’ve worked for my mom since I was twelve. We run a modeling agency and produce fashion shows. It’s a family business, and my mom and I are very close. So we respected the fact that Becca and Elizabeth were equally close.

Elizabeth was a very attractive woman, in her late thirties, which made her younger than most of our other model moms. She had tons of energy, and was very talkative. When I get going, I also talk way too much, so I didn’t really consider that a problem. There was something unique about this woman; she used phrases like “epic win” and “w-t-f”, her favorite movie was The English Patient, and she was a very important person. She had been a model for Wilhelmina in the 1990s.

She was a journalist, she wrote for the Huffington Post, she knew everyone who was anyone. She was always talking about her book. It was going to be a bestseller. She was just finishing up some revisions; it was going to come out in February of this year. George Clooney was writing the forward, and Nigel Barker was taking the cover photo. She was going to see that he also took some pictures of Becca, which we could use to promote her as a model.

In the next few weeks, Becca did the photo shoot, and came to several other events we were involved in. By October, we saw Becca and Elizabeth at least once a week. Elizabeth was brilliant; she understood the most obscure references and had seen the most artistic of independent films. Becca was equally bright; she was a big Anglophile like me, and she reminded me a bit of a more elegant, confident version of myself at that age. She was what I had wanted to be as a teenager but couldn’t. I should have been annoyed with her, but she was my absolute favorite model.

Elizabeth wanted to volunteer with our event. She was eager to help out. She would have some free time before her books came out. The movie rights had just been sold. Angelina Jolie would be playing her. She told me I would be welcome at the movie premier. She even said I could work as her assistant during her book tour. She sent me Facebook messages with links to her favorite blogs. I liked her as a person, and she was one of the most fascinating people I’d ever met. And she was a pathological liar.

There was never going to be a book. Her supposed publisher, Random House, has never heard of her. She doesn’t know George Clooney, she doesn’t know Angelina Jolie, and she’s not an important person. She even lied about how Becca’s father died in combat.

I don’t know how she made me believe the things she did. All I can say in my defense is that everyone else we knew, including people who do have legitimate connections, believed every word, too. When you take all of Elizabeth’s lies and look at them in one place, it seems ridiculous and over the top. But she built an amazing narrative in which all of her lies seemed plausible. Her father owned an important publishing company and she grew up surrounded by literary greats. She worked as a model in her late teens, and fell head-over-heels for Becca’s father and ended up married with a kid in Oregon. He died tragically, and she ended up using her father’s connections to get a job in political journalism covering different campaigns. She worked in the Clinton White House, she worked for Bush, she was the head speechwriter for John McCain’s campaign. But her real passion was Africa, and she met George Clooney through charity events. Her book was going to be a memoir on her experiences traveling in the Congo trying to help victims of genocide. Angelina Jolie, noted philanthropist that she is, took an immediate interest in the project. There were dozens of other stories that I can’t even clearly remember; celebrities she was friends with, important things she was doing.

I’ve known plenty of liars in this business. A fashion designer who was living out of a budget hotel once told me he owned a company worth twenty million dollars. A supposed “film maker” claimed to have won three Oscars and two Academy Awards. A woman working at a Rudy and Kelly salon in a dead mall once swore to me she was Beyoncé’s personal hairdresser. Every time I nodded along quietly, and then went home for a good laugh. But Elizabeth was an absolutely phenomenal liar. While she certainly name-dropped far more than someone with so many connections actually would, at no point was there any kind of obvious tell. She never acted like a star-stuck hick. She never tried to use her supposed connections for financial gain of any kind. Most pathological liars you hear about on TV are trying to cover up a crime, or get people to give them money. Elizabeth never did that. There was no motive but to seem important. Looking back, there were some minor contradictions; her timeline was a complete mess, and at one moment she was talking about working in the White House and in another she was claiming to have been in Oregon for the last sixteen years. But nothing jumped out at the time. Her daughter also never talked about any of her mother’s stories, unless directly asked. And then she usually changed the subject right away. It sickens me a bit to think of this child being forced to feed her mother’s delusions.

The turning point was at a photo shoot in December, and I didn’t even realize it until a month after the fact. Elizabeth was talking eagerly about calling a friend to get her daughter a SAG card. Obviously, that’s not a real thing people can do, but it didn’t jump out at me at the time. I jokingly asked if she could get me one, too, and she got rather upset and claimed her connections were for her daughter and her daughter alone. She was also going on about how she was doing a reading at the London Book Fair. It so happens that I know a royal blogger turned author who has been at the London Book Fair. I made some casual comments about my friend’s experiences, and Elizabeth went quiet and didn’t talk to me much for the rest of the day. I had no idea what was wrong. It was only two months later, when I discovered her web of lies, that I pieced it together. She thought she’d been caught in a lie, and now she was determined to avoid me like the plague.

The event that caused the whole mess to unravel was a lie she’d told about being best friends with 1990s supermodel Christy Turlington. Apparently, she and Christy had modeled together as teenagers, and they had been close friends ever since. Christy was throwing a party for New York Fashion Week, and my mom and I were invited. Becca and Elizabeth were going to be attending Fashion Week as representatives of GQ, thanks to a connection Elizabeth had. They were going to every show and would meet us to tour New York agencies to try to get Becca a contract with a major agency with my mom as mother agent. We were also going to Fashion Week, but in slightly less glamorous circumstances. Elizabeth had been avoiding me for a few weeks at this point; I had no idea why but I’d assumed my joke about her getting me a SAG card had offended her. My mom casually asked her if this party was still happening, so we’d know if we needed to pack an evening look. New York in February is pretty chilly, so there was no need for us to bring cocktail dresses and heels if we weren’t going to the party. Elizabeth never got back to us. On the day we were supposed to tour agencies with Becca, Elizabeth claimed she was working at the UN all day and had no way of getting Becca in touch with us. At that point, it all fell to pieces.

Everything she told, except for a few off the least interesting details, was a lie. Even things that were easy to check. Even things that didn’t serve to make her seem more important at all. She demanded we drop Becca from our website a few weeks later. Apparently, Christy Turlington had taken some time out of her busy schedule to get Becca signed with Wilhelmina in New York. Needless to say, Becca is not on Wilhelmina of New York’s website. Becca has apparently signed with a local agency that pays a licensing fee to use the Wilhelmina name, but she is not being promoted by them and she will not appear on their website because it’s basically a scam in which clients have to pay $900 to be promoted. Elizabeth doesn’t have anywhere near that much money.

Elizabeth’s lies did some long-term damage. We alienated some close connections because of things she’d told us they’d done. We now know Elizabeth and Becca were never in New York. While they were supposedly in New York, as well as during a supposed trip to Florida, Elizabeth called us from a landline phone number in Virginia. Needless to say, there’s no book, there’s never going to be a book, and there certainly isn’t going to be a movie.

For the life of me, I don’t know how I believed her for so long. I don’t know why I didn’t check out some of her claims before I took her word as fact. I remember doing a quick Google search and did come up with some results related to a blog she was doing on Africa. I focused on what was there and how that might tie into her claims, rather than all of the things that should’ve been there but weren’t. She was so charming and so engaging that it was hard to see her as anything but sincere. I’d known plenty of liars, but never any who were so invested in their lies. I’ve never known anyone else to go into such elaborate detail on stories that they make up. She could talk for hours about people she’d never met or who didn’t even exist.

The fact that she told these elaborate stories in front of her daughter, who knew she was lying but was never going to expose her, gave her stories an extra layer of credibility. I couldn’t imagine making up stories in front of someone who knew I was a liar, but Elizabeth had raised Becca by herself and forced Becca to be compliant in her lies. Becca doesn’t like it, but her mother is the most important person in her life and she’d never betray her. I strongly suspect that the reason they left Oregon was because of Elizabeth’s lies catching up with them. When Becca first realized we knew her mother was a liar, she unfriended me, my mother, and several of our associates on Facebook. Elizabeth never did. I ran into Becca at a fashion show and she ran in the other direction. She look terrified. I can only imagine how much her mom has embarrassed her over the years. Becca’s behavior hurt me a bit because I had considered her a friend, and I still think she’s a wonderful person. What her mother has done to her is nothing short of child abuse.

I don’t think Elizabeth could stop lying any more than she could stop breathing. I suspect her stories have gotten more outrageous over the years as she’s become more aware of what she could get away with. I hope Becca doesn’t grow up to be like her mother. I wonder what growing up with a pathological liar as your only parent would do to someone. I wonder what age Becca was when she figured out her mother was making up stories. She’s struck a delicate balance of supporting her mother’s lies to the extent she doesn’t expose them, but nothing more. At first I thought she was just shy about her mother’s accomplishments and that she didn’t want to seem like she was stuck up. I wonder if she’s ever confronted her mother. Does Elizabeth lie to Becca when it’s just the two of them? I’m sure she has, but I wonder if she knows her daughter knows she’s lying. Perhaps Elizabeth truly believes everything she says. Either way, I think she would die, or perhaps even kill, rather than admit that she’s anything less than a very important person.

18 thoughts on “A Very Important Person”

  1. “ I wonder what growing up with a pathological liar as your only parent would do to someone. ”

    That was a good post, and this could describe my father who was a single dad when he raised me and my sisters after mum died. The thing to get about dad was that he never lied in order to hurt people, he wanted to tell them what they wanted to hear. And since he was a salesman, this sometimes meant fraud and had landed him in prison for six months once.

    i knew from very early on that my father lied a lot, and like Becca I just carried on and tried to pretend it wasn’t happening in public. Later on, when I was about 15/16 I was quite angry about it all, but I still generally wouldn’t contradict him in public because I knew he’d be gutted and in tears. I remember parents evenings at school being especially fraught because I’d come in the next morning and have to wonder what tat my dad had told my teachers. There was this once time when he told the music teacher that there was an organ in the synagogue, just like in church, for example. (Which is like totally untrue, we went to an orthodox synagogue and there just wasn’t.)

    But I always assumed that the adults would believe him and not me, so I had to swallow it. If any of them, ever, had taken me aside and said that they understood dad had an offbeat relationship with the truth but it was him and not me, I’d probably have been quite grateful. As it was, we kept it in the family.

    What happened? Oh I left home at 18 and didnt’ talk to him for about 10 years. There was no big argument, just he was the way he was, and I wanted to be in control of my own life and not have to rely on someone who lied all the time about everything, especially money.

    1. Wow, I am so sorry you had to go through that. At least you did get away, which was probably for the best while you were still young enough to seperate your values from his. I hope Becca gets away. I seriously considered sending her some kind of message letting her know that I know her mom is lying, and that it’s not her fault and no one blames her, but I got cold feet.

  2. May I just say, I read this article with riveted attention. You had my interest the entire way through. I know this person actually exists, but what a fascinating character she is, too! And her daughter: what complex emotions must run through her brain on a daily basis? Does her mother ever feel challenged by the idea that her daughter might actually become a very important person in truth, thus leaving her in the dust?

    You’ve really captured something incredible here and turned a negative life experience into something of interest to everyone. Thank you!

     

    1. Your last point is rather interesting. She is not the usual stage mom who wants to live out her dreams through her child. She’s convinced she’s done all these wonderful things and she may not want her daughter to live up to her dreams because that might distract from her fairytale.

      Thanks for your kind words about my writing!

  3. When I was in high school I dated a guy who was a pathological liar, and I believed all kinds of weird shit, until it all fell apart. It left me feeling nauseous that I had believed, and repeated, so much bullshit. Mr.B is a chronic story embellisher, and it drives me crazy. He rarely lies outright, but he will add details to make a story better. I’ve learned to ignore anything that sounds like it could have been in a movie.

  4. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve been through the exact same thing.  A friend, who I’d known for a few years at that point, had me convinced she was dating the drummer of…. some band that everyone but me listened to. I had group chats with them online… Li called me, and she passed the phone around so that the “boys” could say hi – and they were really good imitators, too. Her lies were perfect, until some gossip came out about the lead singer and everything fell to pieces.

    I wish I could say it was the first time that had happened, too, but it wasn’t. There was someone I was close to who claimed to be good friends with a boyband member’s sister. I got to talk to “them”, too. One of these imitators emailed me once, and told me I was very pretty (after having asked for my photo) and said that we would have to get together next time they swung through Texas. I tacked that sucker to the wall. A FAMOUS HOT GUY THINKS I’M PRETTY! And, oddly enough, she had a shit-ton of pictures of her in their bus. That didn’t prove anything in the end, though – it just meant she was lucky enough to get a stupid bus tour. Also, Mr. “You’re Pretty, Let’s Date”? Yeah, he got married in a really huge ceremony two weeks later. I was REALLY easily snowed over. They were my friends. Why would they lie?

    I don’t understand why people like this feel the need to do this. Both of the girls that started all this shit… I would have been friends with them no matter what. I didn’t need the guys from Fall Out Boy, and I didn’t need Brian Littrell telling me I was pretty. None of that MATTERED.

    It just plain sucks. And it’s a hard lesson to learn, that you can’t take things at face value sometimes.

     

    1. I’ve had it happen in groups I’m friends with, but never directly to me, and the reaction tends to be the same from me; why lie? Why make up a relationship or claim a connection to a famous person, or say you have a job that you don’t if people are already talking to you and have made it clear that they enjoy your company? What’s to be gained from it? More admiration? But how can you enjoy that when you know it’s based on something that’s not true?

      It’s a bit fascinating and a bit sickening all at once.

  5. Wow, such a fascinating story! Poor Becca! She must be mortified by her mom. I hope she doesn’t end up with a tendency to lie like her mom. I guess if you saw lies get results throughout your formative years, it might be a compelling reason to start telling lies yourself. I hope better things are in store for her.

  6. Woah. I’ve always been very fascinated by pathological liars. When do they skip the line into believing everything they come up with? How does that happen? Can they be snapped/smacked out of it? Why do they always go big (won’t small lies be so much easier to keep up)?

    1. I think if you tell the same story enough times it sort of goes into your memory and it starts seeming true. I know she didn’t believe some of her stories, like the ones relating to the London Book Fair. It sort of spirals out of control; I think she started with a few little lies just to make herself seem more interesting, and it got her so much attention she just kept building and building on it. In Elizabeth’s case (as well as the cases of some other famous liars like Taylor Armstrong and Casey Anthony) it was a few big, recurring lies (the book, them modelling career) and dozens more little lies that were sprinkled in for effect. I don’t know which lie started it off for Elizabeth since I didn’t know her that long, but I followed the Casey Anthony trial pretty obsessively over the summer and it went into how her first big lie was her fake job at Universal Studios, and then she made up other things like fake friends and the fake nanny that tied into that first lie to create a whole narrative of lies. Elizabeth has the narrative of lies, but I have no clue when and where it all started.

      Thanks for reading/commenting!

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