The Formula

Ready for some mind-boggling math?

There are two sides to every story.

If the above statement is true, logic dictates there’s my version of events and yours. If we were the only two “there.” For sake of illustration, let’s say “there” means at the library when the book stacks caught fire.

And let’s say you sat the stacks on fire. (Sorry, someone’s gotta be the “bad” guy, and I don’t think I’d have the guts to burn books in the library during business hours). You though, I wouldn’t put it past you…

So now, there’s my eye-witness account (which is clouded by my high emotional state and my perception of you, not to mention smoke inhalation), there’s your story (clouded by your emotional state, your perception of the events, and smoke inhalation), there’s Mr. Librarian’s side along with two other patrons’ versions, equally clouded by their elevated emotional states, their perceptions of you and me and the library, and, no doubt, smoke inhalation.

Now how many sides are there?

Five people in a setting that’s on fire.

Five sides to the story?

Or are there ten? The version that each actually experienced with their senses—no filters or emotions attached (you came in, you burned the stacks) and the OMG! I just about died version (the one where they swear you were ranting and raving and giving dirty looks, and, and, and…)

Even if one were trying to be objective, there’s the trouble with the five senses. Not all five are firing at optimum capacity for each witness at any given moment, so maybe those sides of the story aren’t worth much. Someone forgot their glasses or turned down their hearing aid. One patron came to the library to sleep off an all-night bender so his wife wouldn’t yell, so none of his senses are reliable.

Let’s just take me. My version is skewed because I’m ticked at you for burning the stacks. I’m also scared out of my mind because you nearly set us both aflame, and I can’t think straight because I’m having trouble breathing. But maybe you’re my best friend so I’ll fabricate an additional storyline to tell the fire department because I don’t want you to get in trouble. Even though I thought it was over the top that you would use arson to make a point to Mr. Librarian who dumped you, my best friend, on Valentine’s Day even, to go out with the technician from the CDC (who’s in town to investigate a biological hazard in the school across the street from the library). I get why you’re ticked. I mean, those two just met…

In only my head, there’s what I think I saw (which may differ from what you actually did), what I’ll tell everyone else I saw (a version of the story, but perhaps not a totally accurate one,) and last but not least, the version I’ll tell myself so I can sleep better at night (perhaps the oversized water bottle in my backpack would have doused the situation before it got out of control. I just won’t mention that I had the means to stop it lest I’m implicated too…).

That’s three stories in one head. How many do you have? Three? Two? One? What about the librarian? His version of what happened must be skewed because now he’s afraid you’ll show up (or send me since you’re likely going to jail) to burn his house to the ground while he sleeps…

Maybe he’s so afraid of you, that he’ll tell the fire chief that I’m the one that set the stacks on fire. And since I was standing so close to you when you did it, I’m covered in evidence, so the story would fit.

Or maybe the angle was off from the point of view of one of the patron’s. And they saw Mr. Librarian in the stacks last. And that patron overheard Mr. Librarian talking with his boss about how upset he was that he didn’t get off work early on Valentine’s Day take Little Miss CDC to a nicer place to eat.

How many sides are there to every story? As many as the human mind, emotional state, and motive can muster. This makes for great fiction. Thrillers and mysteries and dramas would run cold if there were only one side.

For real life (and I’ve had fantastically more than my share of real life lately), I wish there were a formula. Plug each eye witness’s tainted memories, emotional baggage, and skewed motives into one side of the equation, and out pops absolute truth on the other. Then everyone knows “the rest of the story.” But alas, we’re left to wonder and ponder and lose sleep over drama and dilemmas with no answers.

Meanwhile, what no one knows is that you did it because Little Miss CDC was a terrorist who’d unleashed a biohazard virus into those stacks and you sat the library on fire to kill the deadly bug and save thousands of lives at the expense of a few books. But your fire destroyed the evidence of that bug, and you’re now sitting in jail because everyone else’s versions fit better.

And Little Miss CDC gets away.

But you’re very happy that I didn’t douse your flame with my water bottle before the fire overtook the stacks. Because thousands would’ve died a horrible death.

And because I didn’t use that water bottle, I’m now the hero of my own twisted tale.

At least that’s how I’ll tell it if anyone should ask.

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