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Making Sense of the Stories that Come Before Us

“Why are you so paranoid?”

We stood there in the kitchen, rinsing the last bit of Thanksgiving dinner from the delicate china plates. Voices echoed from the family room — football and UNO masking the mundane hum of small talk.  

I’ve always hated this post-meal clean up session. I’m trapped in conversation, stuck in the spotlight of formality and Midwestern nicety where we talk about the weather as a substitute for genuine connection. 

I know I can come across as over-confident at times, all put together, too strong and independent (especially in my husband’s family where 1950’s role-play is still chased as the norm).  So over the last two decades, I’ve fallen into a terrible habit of self-deprecating, hoping that if I diminish myself enough within those walls, I won’t ever show up as too big. 

It has backfired. 

And now, I feel invisible. 

No one, I’ve learned, ever stops talking about themselves long enough.

Everyone competes for space at the family dinner table and a few voices consistently emerge to boast of their annual accolades.  

I don’t like this game, so I opt out. 

But in the kitchen, the rules change. I can’t stay quiet because the number of voices has diminished. Saying nothing would appear like an act of defiance. 

Slowly, the real me seeps out. 

Self-deprecating turns into a confessional. 

I am a person filled with unjustifiable fear and paranoia, I say. 

I worry. . . 

about traveling alone, about taking Uber rides with strangers, about long, solo runs outside of the boundaries of my neighborhood. . . 

That’s the short list. 

I stop there. 

Too many words have escaped, too much Lindsay unwrapped. 

I almost feel naked. 

Self-deprecation, gone too far. 

“PARANOID,” she says. 

My sister-in-law is asking WHY. 

“Did you live through a traumatic event?” 

As though fear can’t exist unless trauma has forged it. 

I laugh it off, knowing deep down that there isn’t space in the room big enough for my answer.

She doesn’t know the trauma I’ve inherited (at least, in theory). 

  • My mother who cowered in fear, night after night, as she listened to the damaging echoes of her drunken father
  • My father who listened to the muffled cries of his own mother and made sense of it all as he saw her bruises the next morning
  • My grandmother who found her father hanging dead from a barn beam, more relieved than grieved because his mental illness had ravaged her family for as long as she could remember 
  • A grandfather who grew up in the Dust Bowl and endured realities that I cannot even speak aloud 

Agony and fear are carved into the souls of those who came before me, and while each one of them triumphed over their darkness, the fingerprint of their pain remains. 

And that same fingerprint presses deeply into my soul, like it’s whispering to me. 

Scientists call this EPIGENETICS. 

Trauma, they say, doesn’t mutate our genes. But, it can chemically change our gene’s behavior, and somehow, that behavior can theoretically be passed down to future generations. 

To put it in language I understand: The stories my parents and grandparents lived are quite possibly living inside of me, too. 

I think about all of this when she asks me why I’m so paranoid. 

But I’m not convinced she’s actually looking for an answer. Maybe she’s just pushing back against my fear — diminishing that which she cannot comprehend. 

And I’m glad she does, because it forces me to step back and examine, to rethink and reframe. 

I am not paranoid. 

I am not living in fear. 

I am connected to those who came before me. 

I know that happiness is fragile and that while it might sometimes show up on accident, it only ever stays on purpose. 

I am not Lindsay, in isolation. 

I am Lindsay, defined by the stories of her mother, her father, her grandparents and everyone else before her. I am their strength, their weakness, and the embodiment of everything they overcame. 

I think all that. And then, I commit to less overthinking. 

Stories, I decide, can always be rewritten.

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