I’m always interested in the stories people tell about their loved ones, and how they choose to tell them. When I ask someone to tell me about a significant other, a departed loved one, a best friend, I’m hoping they offer more than a simple physical description, or a list of generalizations or superlatives. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a story: a first meeting, a shared experience, a point of conflict, something wise or funny the person said. I try to pay attention to the storyteller’s tone, timeline, structure, and syntax. I think about what makes their stories sing, and whether they generate more questions. The stories we remember and offer up to others are how we summon our people, try to make them come alive, for those who do not know them. And yet, the same story might give way to many different interpretations for those who hear it.
One story I often tell people about my mother is this: When I was little, perhaps 5 or 6, we got into an argument. I wanted to wound her, so I shouted that I was going to run away and find my real mom—by which I meant my birth mother. My mother didn’t flinch. She didn’t yell. She planted one hand on her hip, and raised the other to point across the room. There’s the door. Why did I share this story? I used to think of it as a quintessential Mom anecdote—easy shorthand for the kind of parent she was: funnier than I gave her credit for when I was a kid, always had my number, liked to call my most ridiculous bluffs.