in 2005, the right side of my body began to go numb. I got tested for all kinds of diseases and conditions, underwent two MRIs, and saw chiropractors and massage therapists, but no one could figure out what was wrong. As a single parent, I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on health care, so I decided to just limp around and learn to live with whatever was wrong with me.
A few months after the problem began, I started dating a woman who’d recently been through a difficult divorce. Why she decided to go out with a man whose foot flopped about and whose arm dropped off the chair, I’ll never know.
Despite my growing affection for her, I hesitated to tell her how I felt. She had two kids who were struggling with their new living arrangements and a small business that kept her at work sixty-plus hours a week. She didn’t need to deal with my problems too.
One night we were lying in bed together, and I was in worse shape than usual. I had to tuck my hand underneath me just to keep my arm from falling over the side. Sensing my pain, she took my head in her hands and said, “You know I love you, right?”
My body suddenly went stiff, my right leg seized up, and the back of my skull radiated with pain. I felt like I had just grabbed both ends of live jumper cables. A second later, when I started breathing again, without thinking, I whispered, “I love you too.” And just as quickly all the pain disappeared. The symptoms never came back. It was one of the most profound moments of my life.
Five years later that woman was gone. I remember standing on her porch on New Year’s Day, watching her close the door as she whispered, “I can’t see you anymore.” I’ll never forget the quiet, solid click of that door.
Those two moments are more than just memories to me. They’re part of my emotional DNA. If I had another kid tomorrow she would grow up with those memories inside her without me ever saying a word. Until recently, I would have traded those memories for anything. I would have sold them for a nickel. I would have traded them for a sandwich. They were two of a thousand moments I wish I hadn’t lived through.
But it occurred to me today that it’s not the memories that hurt it’s what they represent. They represent a life I had for a while but couldn’t keep. My heart is full of moments like these and they all remind me of something I loved and then lost. What if I found a way to keep those moments but let go of all the painful things they represent?
I was struggling all day today trying to figure out how I could do that when I suddenly realized that I had just done it last Thursday. I told a story about a time I spent gasping for air in the ER thinking I was going to die. It turned out to be the most transformative story I’ve ever told. When I said the last line, 35 years of anger washed through me. I’ve never felt so clean after telling a story.
Maybe storytelling is a way to say goodbye to something without getting rid of it. Maybe stories are like little washing machines you can put all those terrible memories in and a few weeks later they come out as shiny little moments that don’t hurt anymore. I used to think of storytelling as a way to pull painful things out of my heart and give them away as stories. Now I’m starting to think that maybe I don’t have to empty out my heart to move on. Maybe I can keep all the moments that made me who I am and just say goodbye to the loss they represent.
Luckily, saying goodbye is what our next show is all about. Bring a story about a time you had to say goodbye to something. It could be a person, a place, a job, a belief, just about anything. Make sure it has a beginning, middle, and an end and that you can tell it in under 8 minutes. Remember to keep it clean, practice out loud as much as possible, and run it by friends if you can. Those are the best ways I know to tighten up a story and figure out where to make changes. And you can always call or write me if you need any help.
The show is August 23, at 7pm, at Roy Street Coffee and Tea.
Here are the rules and guidelines for telling a story if you haven’t seen them in a while. https://freshgroundstories.com/2013/01/22/storytelling-rules-and-guidelines/
See you on the 23rd!