Truth Teller

Updated: Oct 22, 2019

I get my story telling from my Appalachian Dad. He prides himself in being born in the heart of the Virginias on the southern border of the West.

He says that Appalachians are storytellers. He says that the Appalachians ‘tell it like it is’ and if someone gets mad about it ‘they’ll get glad again’. I grew up with true stories of all the interesting kin I had back in the hills. I grew up with what seemed like tall tales of life in the holler. I never tire of hearing about the twins from college named Forrest Horace and Horace Forrest. The one that was fat was nicknamed ‘Slim’ and the skinny one was nicknamed ‘Fat’. True story.

He taught fifth grade in the inner city of Baltimore in the early sixties. Last year, as we downsized my parents’ home, I discovered stories from that 5th grade class penciled in their own penmanship preserved perfectly. Here were fifty-five year old stories tucked in a file folder that he carried along with him through 27 moves, countless attics and storage crates. Those children never knew how dedicated their teacher was nor how much he valued the stories of each of his students.

I grew up hearing his stories about special needs students for whom he advocated. He championed the elderly that he visited and counseled in nursing homes. He told stories of people in hard places and the importance of telling them the truth. He believes with all sincerity that people deserve the truth.

Which brings me to my story. As much as Dad liked a good story, he hated mine. Back when colleges could call parents when their 19 year old child needed them, my Dad got a call in winter that there were witnesses to my abuse. I was in a toxic relationship. Everyone knew it. He was 13 hours away and the angst a Dad must feel in that circumstance hurts my heart.

He knew these kinds of stories don’t end well.

So he got to telling me the truth. Whereas North Star (my mother) listened and didn’t voice her wisdom ‘for fear of losing me’, Truth Teller couldn’t keep silent for the very same reasons.

I still remember standing at the pay phone in the lobby of the gym before basketball practice. Somehow, my mother had convinced me to ‘call your Dad’- he wants to talk to you. And I did. I dialed the collect call to reverse charges and he answered.

As I stood there weeping, my Dad told me the truth. I argued. I denied. I didn’t accept his truth. I told him it wasn’t so bad. I made excuses. I did all but lie. I rushed him through his calculated pleading and raced back into shooting free throws and running suicides. But he did his part and I remember the call like it was yesterday.

Then he sent me a letter. I have it stashed away in some wad of memorabilia that my daughters will likely go through one day when they downsize their elderly parents. I don’t read it often because it makes me weep every time. And he told me the truth again.

My Dad’s voice scares me so the phone call, though tender, conveyed his frustration and demanded my response in my Dad’s more aggressive ways. But the letter was poetic. His truer and tempered voice written in ink. He was telling me a story with pen over paper. He was telling me the truth.

I wept. I stuffed it into my backpack and tucked it away for another time. But my Dad was faithful to communicate his love, the price I would pay for staying in a violent relationship and the steps it would take to extricate myself from the love triangle of me, the (Un)incredible Hulk and violence. He did his part. He trusted me with the truth.

My Dad took risks to our relationship that he deemed worth taking. And I am so grateful. He believed the old adage that my mad would ‘get glad again’.

It’s important to tell the people in your life caught in abusive situations the truth. Both the victim and the victimizer. Know the fine lines. Be wise. Granted, some things aren’t your business. Don’t let your own avid opinions complicate ‘the truth’ —but at the end of the day, don’t confuse s