Constructing the narrative

3 January, 2007


About a year ago I was betrayed in love. My boyfriend had been lying to me–even about his name–because he knew I’d never have looked at him twice if I’d known he was married. I found out relatively early, but it was already too late emotionally, and the situation was messy for some time.

One silver lining of betrayal is the social feedback you receive. It was almost a compulsion for me to tell the story. I told it often. The shock of others made it real, more real than confronting him had, and the different perspectives of friends and strangers triangulated the event in my social space and my personal history. It gave me both support and distance. Slowly but surely, the telling decreased the need to tell.

I’m reminded of that narrative’s construction the last few days, amidst a much more grave experience. It’s also emotionally complex, but like with the lying married ex-boyfriend, the pain is easy to convey: you need only describe what happened, people can fill in the blanks. So? let’s describe it. Last week, a sister and daughter, my aunt, a wife who was also a mother, killed herself and her child. His picture is the previous post to this one and of course they are both in the family portrait above, made a week ago on the day after Christmas.

I am at my parents’ house. Her brother is a son and uncle, and my stepfather. My parents are key figures in their community and what is helping them is the flow of visitors to the house. There have been dozens. They must tell the story often. I can see it making it real for them. I’m welcome here, but it’s not my community. Here the story is theirs to tell. So I turn to my community, always in virtual proximity. My friends from the 1990s, scattered across the nation. My friends who would be local, if I were at home. My listserv friends, most of whom I haven’t met yet, who express their sympathies to me from around the world.

That’s why I’m posting this even though it feels really freakish and wrong to use the internets for this. Aren’t I supposed to keep the tubes clear for porn?

I’ve been thinking about mental illness for half my life or more. It’s been my professional interest for a decade (almost to the day, in fact). This has been a surprising boon to the current situation. I have a lot of useful things to say to myself, family and visitors about what has happened. (I’ll save them for another post.) I spoke to a friend yesterday on IM; one of his brothers shot himself last fall. An excerpt:

me: I feel lucky compared to some. I have a framework I can fit suicide into.
friend: yeah, I have managed to stop myself from trying to think about the “why” (it’s _not_ logical)
me: in talking to ppl like you and others I see how many answers that gives me, the mental illness angle. All the why, etc. I’ve already resolved, in a sense.
me: “why? I’m on it. Already dedicated my life to why. Case closed.”

This is about narratives right now. (Will it always be?) They are floating, arguing, gelling around me. When the family gets together tomorrow, we will compare the narratives we’ve come up with. In this house we’ve been affecting each other’s for days, and outsiders have been influencing us too, as we retell and hit on key thoughts and turns of phrase. (My mom hit on a good one early and has been using it for 3 days, on almost everyone: “All [widower] wanted was a divorce.” Today my stepfather said it first. I was amused.) But this is only preliminaries to tomorrow’s reunion. I am fighting strenuously against one of the narratives that’s emerging there… But that’s for another post. I’ve been writing this one long enough. I need to pace myself.


9 Responses to “Constructing the narrative”

  1. joelogon Says:

    Techne — deepest condolences to you and your family for your tragic loss. And it’s your Internet as much as anyone else’s, to use exactly as you wish. — Joe

  2. Erin Says:

    I understand the need to tell. There’s something about sharing pain that alleviates it. I’m so so sorry for your family.

  3. Dr. Birdcage Says:

    Dr. T– I’m so, so sorry. Give me a call when you can.

  4. liz Says:

    we are always here for you.

  5. Bsivad Says:

    Amber, so very sorry to read that. My thoughts are with you.

  6. furcafe Says:

    My condolences to you & your family.

  7. Brewmistress Says:

    So, so sad. May you and your family find comfort.

  8. jamy Says:

    I’m also very sorry. I understand the need to tell. A fellow in my grad program committed suicide and I still have to tell the story sometimes. It helps.

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