Friday, May 22, 2020

The Stories We Tell

This story has nothing whatever to do with global pandemics, toilet paper shortages, the sorry state of affairs in this country generally speaking, or politics.  Except, perhaps, by implication...but that could be true of anything, really.

Many years ago my ex-husband (then my boyfriend), our roommate and I were the sort of people who frequented Rainbow Gatherings and also went on road trips more or less on a whim.  It was the 80s and gas was under a dollar a gallon and you could rent camping gear from the Georgia State University recreational department for very little money.  So we did.

We met lots of very interesting people at Rainbow Gatherings, all of whom were 80s-era hippies...some were original models who never gave up but many were our age, the sort of people who followed the Grateful Dead around, because that was still a thing then, and who believed in things being free and smelling of patchouli.  I was 100% one of them and somewhere in the archives of the National Park Service is video of my twenty-something self wearing a long skirt and a midriff shirt in the middle of the Talladega National Forest, talking about the healing uses of elder flower tincture with, I'm sure, much more of an air of authority than I actually warranted.

One of the people we met was a fellow whose "Rainbow name" was Spice.  He lived in Charlotte and we hung out at gatherings and he came through Atlanta a few times.  He eventually invited us to a weekend party at his property...a farm he had inherited from his grandfather, I the middle of nowhere North Carolina.  Close to Ruffin, maybe?  I can't was a long time ago...but I do remember that it was most of the way to Virginia.  A good six hour drive, at least.  (This becomes relevant later).

We went, naturally.  Why not?  We made friends pretty easily then.  We drove up there in the one car we had between us, a 1988 Ford Festiva.  It was a tiny two-door hatchback.  (This also becomes relevant).

It was fun, I will admit.  We glamped, in a manner of speaking, in a dilapidated cabin he was slowly trying to refurbish, and I wandered around the dirt paths looking for wildflowers and deer.  He had a bunch of his friends there, mostly guys, and it was clear they did this frequently.  Not a bad way to spend your time.

We were always talking about starting an intentional community back then, and he invited us to come help fix up that cabin to live in full time and then work on the rest of it.  I was fine with this plan if it was made minimally livable (it really wasn't yet) and we could figure out a way to make some actual money in the middle of nowhere North Carolina.  I was usually the voice of reason in these situations so while my ex was spinning glorious visions of what could be, I was asking how we were going to live in the meantime.  But we went back home making plans for the next time we could come back and put some work into the house.

Except a few days later he called us up and accused us of stealing some sheet rock that was there, intended for remodeling the cabin.

Well, first of all, who steals sheet rock?  But laying that aside...since evidently someone had...why would he think WE had done it?  We tried to explain that this was ridiculous, because...

1) We'd left before he had, he'd seen us drive away, and we didn't have a key to the gate.
2) We lived in Atlanta six hours away.
3) We didn't own a truck.  Sheet rock will not fit in a Ford Festiva.  Certainly not if you also want to put people in it.
4) We lived in a city apartment (he'd been there) that had no reasonable storage areas for sheet rock, assuming we'd somehow teleported it there.
5) And honestly, what the fuck? 

He immediately saw the logic of all this and apologized, because human beings are reasonable like that.

Well, of course he didn't.  He doubled down.  I pointed out that his pickup-truck driving buddies, some of whom had keys to the gate, were much more likely culprits.  That just made him mad.

We were baffled, and not a little upset and disappointed.  I can't say exactly what was going on in his head, but I guess it was easier to accuse us...relative strangers from Atlanta...than his closer friends.  Even if that made no kind of sense. Or maybe he realized he'd invited people to live on his property while he was high and needed an excuse to get rid of us.  I have no idea.

I wonder if he's still telling himself the story of the people from Atlanta he invited to his party who stole his sheet-rock.

I do know that nothing we said, no matter how logical or grounded in obvious facts, made the least impression on him.  I have had that experience...many, many times in my life.  Once someone has decided on a certain story about you, and it has some kind of emotional resonance for them, they will ignore everything that doesn't fit the narrative.  They are the worst about it when they are actually the ones in the wrong...because nobody likes being the bad guy, and nobody thinks of themselves that way, but if they alter the facts so that you are the villain of the story, then they don't have to do any such thing.  They can go on thinking of themselves as the hero: wise, perspicacious, and good.  Most people are much more attached to their self-image than they are to the truth.

Well, I guess that does have some relevance to current affairs.  I am not surprised that lots of people have concocted stories that ignore facts, reason, and science, allow them to go on doing exactly what they were doing before, and buffer them emotionally from thinking otherwise.  I'm not surprised that no amount of logic, statements of the obvious, or appeals to common humanity will move them.  One hopes for better, always.  But I'm not one bit surprised.

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