Stories We Tell Ourselves
I’ve been thinking lately about the stories we live - the ones we tell ourselves or let others tell us.
A colleague at work recently remarked to me that she didn’t like it when teachers who had previously taught a student begin to tell her what to expect the next year. “I like to form my own impressions of them,” she said, elaborating on how much a student can change in one school year. I like her clear-eyed perspective.
Human transformation doesn’t stop with age unless we choose to remain stuck. Some of us are determined to become a better version of ourselves until the day we die, ever hopeful that we can outgrow some of our vices and grow into wiser, more patient, loving people. Others, it seems, are not aware of the self enough to consider it needs improvement.
I tend to be a circular thinker, reflecting and ruminating with my pen in a Moleskin journal at a clip of filling up about four books a year. My husband, though thoughtful, wouldn’t write down his thoughts in a book if you paid him. I wonder sometimes how we have made it as we process life so completely differently. I tend to notice change and write it down. I reread what I write in order to remember. I assume that is the only way to keep the story straight.
We recently had a disagreement and the idea of story came up. I said I believed I had changed in our twenty-eight years of marriage because I no longer slam the kitchen cabinet doors as punctuation marks to my sentences when I am angry. I thought he still saw me as that person, that he believed an old story about me.
He kept quiet.
I wanted to slam a door at his silence.
But I didn’t.
We worked out the issue at hand; but because of how I process, my narrative says I am the one who stretches and changes and he’s the same guy he’s always been believing an old story about me.
A few days later an issue arose that he knew would make me angry when I heard about it. He told me anyway. In spite of whatever verbal reaction might come at him, he told me. I was angry, but I channeled it toward the offender, not my husband, the messenger. I noted his courage. In previous years, he might have waited until I asked before telling me something he knew I’d be angry about, but I didn’t yet think about story.
Then the dog started limping, badly at first. We didn’t know what had happened so we just watched her for a few days and it seemed to get better. My husband then decided to take her to the vet. “She needs her shots for the year anyway,” he said, as he loaded her in the back of his pick-up.
Pancho came to us nine years ago by putting herself in the path of my husband’s truck on a dark street in late October. He stopped to pick her up, thinking someone’s puppy was loose, only to realize when he picked her up she was a skinny puppy without a collar and with the mange. She’d been dumped. He brought her home to our daughter and our other two dogs. (I was in Turkey at the time; the only reason we ended up becoming a three-dog family.) The plan was to take her to the vet and get her adopted by someone. That ‘someone’ had become us by the time I returned from my trip.
She has lived happily as a yard dog, eating dry dog food, drinking from a bucket, killing possums, and barking at the UPS truck or any other perceived threat to our domicile. She’s a mixed breed, to say the least, but somewhere in the lineage is a Chow Chow as she has a ferociously shedding black coat and a purple tongue. Hers is a face only a mother could love, but her heart is one of gratitude and loyalty to the man who saved her.
I could hear the vet saying, “…best option is surgery but the recovery is about eight weeks of confinement…” I couldn’t even formulate an answer. We have a Schnauzer who lives in the house and Pancho only allows him about ten minutes per day of playtime in her yard before she is ‘done’ with him. She is not housebroken, (possum-killer, remember?) but on the rare occasion she is in the house for a few minutes, the Schnauzer lifts his leg in every room she enters. Pancho won’t sleep in a doghouse or a crate. (We’ve tried!) How on earth was I going to provide best rest for this dog and deal with these two in the house together for eight weeks while ending the school year, moving a child home from college and attending two out-of-town weddings in the next month? The question of what the doggie surgery might cost was not even on the table yet and my stress level was through the roof! I sent my husband a text with the vet’s initial diagnosis.
Two wise friends, who happened to be at my house when the call came, said, “You could wait and see. It might heal up OK on its own. You don’t have to do this today.” I wanted to heed their advice but my husband, the man who always has time to pet a dog, anytime, anywhere, who took in this stray dog and nursed her to health; well, the story I told myself was “He is going to spend whatever it takes to fix her leg and expect me to be her private nurse for the next eight weeks.”
He called straightaway. I launched into my “How are we going to do this” tirade and then he interrupted me, “We are on the same page. Let’s take a few days to see how she does. I’ll go pick her up and get her some anti-inflammatory medicines and talk to the vet about other options.”
And my story was shattered. What I had told myself he would do was not what he did.
He, too, stretches and changes. His ‘love a stray dog’ heart is tempered by a realist’s mind. Twice in one week he went ‘off script’ from the story I was telling myself about him.
My colleague’s words ring in my ears. Mercy is new every day for all of us. I want to be clear-eyed, especially with those I love most.