Stories I've Been ToldNovember 6, 2007 | Leave a reply | Add to favorites
When my husband and I began dating, we had tremendous hunger to know who the other was. Daytime was an irritating obstacle to be gotten through until we could hold each other at night, when we would make love, certainly, but mainly we looked at each other. Listened. Smelled. Tasted. Touched. He was a stranger, but I knew him. And I didn’t.
After we’d been dating for a few months, he told me a story about a defining childhood event. In his story, he was about ten years old. His father had taken him on a summer walk through a farm belonging to a family friend. In concession to the heat, his dad was in shirtsleeves, tie loosened, porkpie hat pushed back on his head revealing an about-to-recede hairline. His gait was slow and steady while my husband’s revved up to rush forward and explore things of interest before running back to tell his Dad what was just ahead. They strolled through an orchard and past a henhouse before reaching a small barn. The floor was covered with a thick layer of hay and there was a ladder leading up to a platform that ringed the upper limits of the structure to create about four feet of storage space. His father encouraged him to climb up and have a look around, but to mind his footing because there was no rail around the platform, just a free fall to the ground below. The thick wooden floorboards were swept bare and felt sturdy under his feet. It was exhilarating to be up so high in a place where only a kid could fit. He looked down and saw the top of his father’s felt hat and the little gleam of sweat on his brow. His father reached his arms up and said, jump, I’ll catch you. My husband was scared. It seemed so far to go. Jump, his dad said, just do it. I’m here. So he did and at the last moment his father drew his arms back and let my husband fall to the ground. “Never trust anyone, son,” he said and walked away.
Tears came to my eyes and I felt for his elbows, shins, palms, the parts I imagined broke his fall, and covered them with kisses. “It’s okay,” he said. “I’m grateful to him. It was his way of teaching me something he thought every man should know.” How awful to be a man, I thought. From then on, when I told him I was going to do something, I made extra sure to do it as stated and on time. No hidden lessons from me. My heart ached for him and my love deepened. Over time, the particulars of the story faded, our relationship proved trustworthy and our understanding of each other grew in scope and nuance.
Some years later, we were discussing the vaccinations his 6-year old son would receive at his next doctor’s appointment. Should we tell him now to prepare him (and preserve his trust) or spring it on him in the doctor’s office so he won’t get all worked up in advance (but threaten his trust)? I reminded him of his experience with his dad in the barn. “What would you have wanted?” I asked. He looked at me sort of blankly. “Oh, that,” he said. “I made that up.”
In that moment, I realized I didn’t know him and probably never would. And in that moment, the whole story came true.
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