As a reader, I go on historic-biographic benders, becoming fascinated by a specific person or period of time, and then reading everything I can find to round out the picture. The perspectives can be in utter opposition, depending on each different author’s point of view and proximity to the subject. I especially enjoy when a new discovery or the passage of time leads to a revised outlook and therefore, another series of books that will enlarge my own understanding of someone or some event.
Storytelling, of course, occurs every time we put pen to paper, sit at a computer, pick up our phone, open our mouth or engage in thought. We tell ourselves and others stories about ourselves, our families, our countries, our gods, and the infinite and infinitesimal events that have shaped us. They tell us theirs. Often, we are the heroines of our tales; we are the wronged, the misunderstood, the courageous, and occasionally the foolish leading characters, but I’ve encountered people who seemed largely absent from their stories as well, giving the stage over to their parents, or teachers, or voices unidentified yet dominant in their story.
Given his scientific bent and inbred humility, my husband’s stories are not nearly as fanciful as my own. In the absence of data, he seeks to discover it; I leap to fantastical explanations, to keep the story exciting and moving along. I give you this recent occurrence as an example.
I decided to wear pants long enough to make me feel taller than I am (or, as tall as I am in my stories) and needed to wear my favorite pair of Eastland leather clogs—the ones with the two-inch heels—to accomplish this. I reached for the pair and discovered only one.
I searched the closet floor, and then another closet’s floor. I looked under the bed and in the other rooms of the house, which, as a neat-freak-hyper-orderly type, began to make me feel frustrated. I always place my shoes on a given shelf, beside each other. The 4-leggeds have never shown the interest in footwear commonly ascribed to their breeds. There are only two humans living in our home…where, on earth, had my shoe gone? Back to the closets.
No partner to the lonely clog.
And then it dawned on me. I had read an article about Birkenstock shoes in The New Yorker this past week. Although ugly, they have remained popular because of the utter comfort they offer the feet lucky enough to wear them. The brand has even become fashionable, for some. I have always wanted a pair, but they are pricey, and I am “prudent.” (That’s my story. Others might say, “parsimonious.” Or “a tight-fisted, penny-pinching miser.”)
But Phillip, along with being logical and humble, is also loving and romantic, so I quickly concluded that he had also read the article and wanted to surprise me with a pair, but had required one of my shoes to check the size. This conclusion, of course, was based on no evidence, but it explained the mystery of the missing shoe and created a pleasing story.
However, even given my impressive ability to suspend disbelief, the story felt a tad implausible. I called Phillip at work to check it out, but sought to gently tease out the truth I’d already surmised. Picture him in a classroom surrounded by adolescents eager for the school day to end.
“Hello?” (High school noises in background.)
“Hi, honey…Have you by any chance seen one of my black clogs?”
I pretended to be innocent of his plan to surprise me with Birkenstocks. “Would you happen to have taken one of them? For any reason?”
(No response. Long pause. Then laughter.) “Do I have one of your clogs? Um, no.”
“I’ve looked all over the house and it’s nowhere to be found, so I was just wondering…” Here is where he should have broken down and admitted he had planned a lovely surprise for me. But no. Nada. Zip. I faltered. My story began to dissolve. There were no Birkenstocks winging their way to me from Germany, or wherever they’re made. I offered a false laugh of my own. “Well, I better get going. See you later.”
He continued laughing. “Yup. Have a good time with Heidi.”
I pulled on some boots with heels and walked down to the basement to check once more for my clog, switch the laundry to the dryer, and get on my way before I became late. Being on time is part of my story, too.
Nope. No clog with the various sneakers and boots in the basement.
I pulled the last bit of damp clothing out of the washer and there was my clog. It had, apparently, fallen from the shoe shelf into the laundry basket and been washed and spun to almost-dry. I brought it upstairs, stretching it back into a shape approximating that of my foot, impressed by the shoe’s ability to withstand a wash cycle. I set it next to its partner, imagining their joy at being reunited.
I met my friend at the pub and told her the story, and we had a great laugh and lovely evening.
When I came home, I told Phillip the rest of the story as well, even, sheepishly, the part about my expectation of Birkenstocks. He followed me into the bedroom and laughed while I changed into my comfy clothes. And pulled on the almost-dry clog to help it again reacquaint itself with my foot.
And then I saw the bouquet of a dozen pink tulips on my desk.
Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves aren’t nearly as wonderful as what’s actually happening now, right before our eyes. That’s my story, anyway, and I’m sticking to it.