These roads are like grooves in my unconscious mind. They’re direct routes into who I really am, but they exist just a few degrees beyond the coordinates of my everyday reality. My daughters and I are driving through my hometown, but I’m not sure they know where they are. They’re focused on seeing friends and the promised ice cream cones and eventually getting to “Neana’s bench.”
I don’t live here anymore. That’s nothing new, of course. I left Cape Cod when I was eighteen just like every other kid with the means and the desire knows to do. But my family doesn’t live in this town anymore either. Strangers dwell in the house where I grew up. All that’s left of our name in this town is etched into my mom’s memorial bench in the church garden.
When we cross into Barnstable, I stop worrying about the most direct path between point A and point B. I trust that I still know seven ways to get everywhere (essential knowledge when you grow up in a tourist town). Soon, I realize I am not choosing streets, I am navigating time.
The lane to my elementary school. Lindsay DiPesa’s old house. The soccer fields that used to be a farm. The rec center where I was a camp counselor. My ex-boyfriend’s parents’ historic home. (Curiously, I ended up passing that place twice, but then, I always ended up back in that relationship even when I tried to leave!)
Every residential area, every sand strewn road has a memory rolled into the pavement. There are hundreds of stories I could tell my girls. Instead, we listen to the radio station that served as the soundtrack to my childhood, and I say nothing.
I’m hoarding my stories. I don’t trust my voice and I don’t trust the tears that threaten every time I remember what the parents of thirty years ago looked like when they stood with their kids at the bus stop on fall mornings. I don’t have the energy to weave these reflections into something that matters to my kids.
If I point out the library, I would feel obligated to say how sad I am that the tree where my mom and I played Piglet and Pooh was cut down to make more parking. If I describe how we used to rent videos from that village store they’ll want to watch something on the iPad.
The good news: you get to choose what stories you tell. Choose the stories that nourish you and your audience.
My girls are still young. For now, I generally get to craft the container of their reality and control what influences their understanding of the world. The goal is to protect them, of course, but I also get to protect myself - especially when I’m lost in tender pockets of grief that are much too much for them to bear.
Telling them more about where mama played and worked and biked and learned might have added to their carseat experience, but it would have cost me too much.
Well-balanced stories heal, protect, and serve.
I talk a lot about the Story Triangle and how you need to balance the needs and interests of your audience with your own needs and interests all while keeping an eye on what makes a story meaningful and compelling.
The Story Triangle is your guide as you tell a story. It enables you to appeal to your audience and honor your authentic voice and make the narrative work. It can also help you decide whether you can tell the story at all.
In an attempt to be a “good” mom who gives the gift of my own history to my children, I could have seized the moment and played tour guide. After all, every kid loves to know what things were like for mom and dad so they can squeal at our primitive ways and also feel connected over all the things that feel just the same. The commentary about seaside suburban life in the 80s and 90s would have filled the whole drive.
But that would have pushed me further off balance than any mama should have to bear, however.
The Story Triangle would have been pushed off kilter and, because these things have real life consequences, when you’re a family in tight quarters, someone would have ended up in tears.
The same is true when you’re a writer telling a story meant to build online community and attract ideal clients. Telling a story that’s too intimate and exposes raw wounds doesn’t serve you or your ideal clients. You get a massive TMI hangover and your readers aren’t so sure you’re the person to help them heal.
The good news: my family still gets to go to the Cape frequently to visit my Dad and my stepmom, though it’s to a different town I’ll probably never really get to know.
I trust that next chapter of my story will be a cheerful one, and one that I’m able to tell with a strong voice. There will be many more chances to take that trip down all the lanes of memory when the girls are older and when my wounds are more fully healed.
There's something to be said for seizing the moment and telling a story when it's timely and fresh. But remember: the story, the audience, and you, the storyteller, are best served when you wait for the right healing moment.