by Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Words, they come back to haunt you. They haunt me. I don’t know how it is for you, and truth is I probably don’t want to. Don’t want to enter into your story, your hurt. There are times, of course that I think I want to be like you — or the you that you project. But in my core, I don’t want anything of the sort. I’ve got enough problems.
There are these flashes of fancy and fantasy. This sense that whatever you project, whatever you’re telling me is The Truth and not some manipulation of the events at hand that make you look the way you do. I heard someone, once before, say that the story is in the telling. But what right do any of us have to renarrate the truth?
There are other times when I’m certain that my own reality is enough. When allowed into friends’ stories of hurt and pain, I’m convinced that whatever I’ve got to deal with is more than enough for now.
Several months ago, while spending time with some of my friends at Jacob’s Well in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a new friend declared to me: “I surely hope you don’t have a girl. First children should be boys.”
In the moment, in that self-righteous moment, I found myself saying aloud – that a girl would be just fine, and that we needed to move on from those archaic ideas. How truly noble of me. How truly self-righteous. Down with the patriarchy, etc.
Same person, different conversation, only a week ago. Game of cards, she’s flattening me like a pancake in nearly every hand of Crazy 8’s. I rally a game or two, and then the smackdown – another crushing defeat. And yet it’s in that moment, talking about my five-week old son, that it comes out. The story. The whole story. Or at least, enough of the story to bring me shame.
The story of childhood, and abuse, and of an absentee father. Embedded cultural racism, intellectual challenges, and constantly hearing from a very early age “you’re not good enough, you stupid bastard bitch.”
This is where I choke on my words. This is where the lump forms in my throat. This is where I begin to understand the story behind the statement.
This is where I begin to understand that this story – her story – makes sense of that statement. The story is in the telling, but sometimes we’re not ready to listen. Sometimes there’s a moral victory to be won, and it’s easier to jump in with our own interpretation of someone else’s history. There’s always a question behind a question, and a story behind a story. It takes time. Relationship. Trust.
And sometimes, it makes every bit of sense to say “I hope you don’t have a girl first,” after all you’ve been through.