Recently I’ve become obsessed with the idea of truth. I’ve put a lot of thought into it and come to the conclusion that there are two types of truth: story truth and literal truth. A balance between them is needed if we’re to honestly represent our experiences to the world.
My best friend Emma has a different point of view.
I smile down at her. Em’s always been very literal. To her, an exact retelling of events is The Truth. For me story-telling is about emotional resonance; life’s essential truth lies in our ability to empathise with one another. Emma would always get upset when I told her I had “a million errands to run” or was “starving to death”. Her mouth would involuntarily tighten. Her lips are a little thin, if I’m honest. Not enough to make her look cruel, but when they tightened her face took on a peevish air that always reminded me of an elderly librarian, made aware of someone furtively enjoying of a contraband bag of chips.
I’m switching tense, aren’t I? I can hear it.
Emma looks cold and relaxed. They don’t go together, cold and relaxed but Em never has made much sense to me. It surprised everyone that we maintained a friendship for as long as we did – 22 years to be precise. We had things in common; we’re both Scorpios, both opinionated. But she relied on facts and I’m creative. I studied poetry at University while she pursued law. Emma does her taxes in July, with enthusiasm. Then, with much huffing and eye rolling, she does mine. Did mine… I’ll have to learn to do my own taxes. And stick with a tense, past, present? I can hear myself thinking in both. Had, did, was, could. I’m going to make an effort…
She had the most beautiful eyes.
I could feel her laugh in my bones.
I loved her.
No, I shake my head until it hurts and everything blurs. Not that. I love her still. Some things are so precious they elude the past tense.
Everything hurts. I’d swear my hair aches. What do you think of that Emmie? Everything hurts; story truth or real truth? I clear my throat a little. “Hrmph,” the noise echoes.
“So,” I say aloud. “The difference between story truth and real truth is the difference between what actually literally happened and how it felt, what it means.” I feel silly talking to myself. “Like, for example, if I say I’ve been waiting 32 minutes for a plumber, that’s true. But it doesn’t get to the heart of what I want to express. If I say I’ve been waiting hours for the plumber to arrive, then the person I’m talking to will think of a time they’ve waited hours for something, and how frustrating that was, and then they’ll understand exactly how I feel.” When I say it out loud it seems like I’m just talking about lying; that’s not it.
“It’s about emotional connection.” I persevere, like Em is arguing back. “Anyway lying by obfuscation is still lying, so you can hardly judge me!”
I’m angry now. I get very angry very fast these days. My hands clench at my sides and a horrible, animal keening fills the room. I know it’s coming from me; I don’t know how to stop it. Firm hands grip my arms, leading me away and I travel back to last summer: we’re at the beach and I notice a bruise on Emma’s arm. “Fell!” she says cheerfully.
That statement was true; literally true but not completely true. Not even a little bit story true. There was a whole world of story truth behind that bruise. Maybe that was it. Emma wanted to write her own story, not be a part of some larger cultural narrative.
It’s because she was always so honest that I had trouble disbelieving anything she said. I’d believe the sun orbited the Earth if she looked at me with those earnest brown eyes and told me so. My life circled an orbit around hers, a small cold planet made warm with reflected sunlight. When she fixed me with those same brown eyes, the left one a constellation of sickly green colours, and promised me everything was fine I believed her. Is that strictly true? I’m not sure any more. My therapist says I have to stop obsessing over what I knew, but truth was important to Emma and it’s important to me. Also, he’s only known me for a few weeks, I knew Emma for 22 years; I owe her the truth.
I’m getting the hang of this already.
I’m outside in the corridor now and someone’s handing me a cup of coffee. “Thanks,” I smile up at the nurse. The scalding coffee burns my fingers through its cheap, environmentally scornful Styrofoam cup. I swear I’ll never drink coffee from a machine again once all of this is over. My stomach drops at the obscene realisation that it will never be over and grief hits me so hard I can’t breathe. I remember reading that human beings can stand anything if they know when it will end. What does that mean for me?
I remember the time I had to get a tetanus shot; Emma and I were clearing the backyard of the house she moved into with Matt. I turned to the sound of her laugh and stepped on a rusted nail. It pierced all the way through my heel and I was aware of the sensation of it intruding into my foot for a good few seconds before the pain hit. Matt was kind and solicitous. He drove me to the doctor’s surgery and waited while the elderly physician pushed the thick serum into my arm. I could feel the dense liquid forcing its way into my blood. Now I imagine Matt as the doctor, sliding a syringe beneath my skin and forcing heavy, black, liquid grief into my bloodstream.
Does Matt know the difference between story truth and literal truth? I wonder. As I see it, literal truth is his only potential saviour. He’ll need that heavy granite bench top to take the blame. After all, its sharp corner was responsible for piercing Emma’s skin and cracking her skull.
That’s the literal truth though, not the real truth. And it’s not even a little bit story true.
Family violence is endemic in our society and aside from the practicalities like a lack of community support and resources, emotional considerations often make leaving harder. Shame and guilt about being the victim of violence can lead women to conceal the abuse, even from those closest to them. This is a fictional story about an issue close to my heart. I hope to make people challenge their preconceived ideas about the type of women touched by family violence.