A Journey To Trust: What Life In The Midwest Is Teaching Me About Others.
“Trust no one.”
“Eyes behind the head.”
“Listen to me: Get your head out of the clouds.”
“Everyone is full of shit.”
These are only four of the messages about people, trust, and my prescribed approach to the world that my parents worked very busily to instill from the word Go.
I can say now, after a lifetime of missing out on (or flat out avoiding) potentially meaningful relationships and some opportunities, when you are raised to distrust others, you are inherently raised to distrust yourself; you cannot divorce the two. When you are raised to distrust others, you are raised to distrust in your own capacity to trust others.
When you are raised to distrust others, it becomes much less a matter of I don’t trust others, and much more a matter of I can’t trust others.
Just ask my therapist; she’ll tell you.
Go ahead and make it to thirty years old without trusting others and let me know how that turns out for you. As someone who made it to thirty in exactly this way, I can tell you that I’ve never been more grateful for self-help books, psychologists, and the occasional glass of dry white.
I firmly believe that (most) parents strive to do the best they can with the tools they have.
As it happened for this working-class kid, the utter lack of distrust in the world which surrounded my family was a coping mechanism — a way to get by no more unscathed than was absolutely necessary for new teenaged parents who wanted to protect their children from the same cruel world they traipsed as kids.
If trust no one was what they had to instill and embody to ensure that my sister and I were given a decent, fair shot at life, then dammit, that’s the way it was going to be.
My parents, two people who could not trust their own parents and larger family systems to function with any degree of reliable consistency, did the best they could with the tools they had. In an objective sense, I understand their motivation; if you cannot trust your own family, who can you trust?
In an ironic sort of way, the dysfunction to which my parents were exposed became the consistency they were taught to believe in.
That world, and rightfully so, was not good enough for my parents. Hence, our unspoken family motto, trust no one.
As such, it took physically leaving my family behind on the East Coast to start a life in the Midwest in order to learn a) how to trust, and b) that trusting others is not only possible, but often necessary.
I always had an inkling that, perhaps, it was sometimes necessary to trust people. When I moved to the Midwest for graduate school, I did so site-virtually-unseen.
With the exception of one 48-hour-long visit to a school which was to become my new home for the foreseeable future, I had to trust that those who were soon to enter my life as some of the most important teachers, mentors, and friends I will ever come to know were not, simply, full of shit.
On a much smaller scale, I had to trust that it was okay to not know where the nearest grocery store was for a short while.
I had to trust that it was okay to explore a world virtually unknown to my family (i.e., the Midwest).
I had to trust that, sometimes, it is so very necessary to trust others to guide you into and around a world (i.e., The World of the Unknown) toward which your personal history dictates you should be fearful and skeptical.
These new lessons in trust were often cemented in the oddest, most unanticipated of ways, and particularly one morning when I woke up to a note on my car which read: “Hi, I’m sorry but I hit your car as I pulled into the spot next to you. I think I left some scratches. Here is my number if you want to exchange information.”
That was how one week late last fall began for me, and for that, I am grateful.
I’ll explain my attitude of gratitude: I am from Brooklyn, New York. If someone hits your car in the middle of the night, there ain’t no way they’re leaving an apology on your windshield, along with their contact information and a detailed narrative of how the impact occurred. In Brooklyn, the damage is yours to deal with.
And in Brooklyn, if you happen to catch someone in the act of hitting your car? They’ll probably find a way to blame it on you:
“Ya shouldnta been pahked theh anyway, ya jerk.” (Translation: Perhaps you should not have been parked there anyway, kind sir/madam.)
And those especially inclined might give their middle finger some exercise in the process.
I’m probably exaggerating on some level, but feel free to allow me my imagination. Besides, I lived in Brooklyn long enough, and visit often enough, to know that my beloved city may as well be renamed HitN’Run. My mom and stepdad are still there. They’ll vouch.
Years ago, our family car was utterly destroyed in a hit-and-run (we were not in the car, thankfully). These things happen, and I do believe they happen more so in large cities (due to more people, authorities with bigger fish to fry, etc.).
I am now deeper in, and further up, that American expanse known as the Upper-Midwest (even further up than where my journey toward trust began almost seven years ago). And this means that someone was actually kind enough to own up and leave a note after they hit my car.
So surprised by this, I mentioned it a few hours later to my students. They sat there and stared at me, a bit blankly and rather unmoved. The silence became a bit uncomfortable until one student smiled and said, “That’s [the upper Midwest] for you!”
My students were not made incredulous by my story; they did not appear even remotely surprised. Perhaps they were bored by it. No one suggested that the letter-writer was full of shit; no one suggested or even hinted at some possibility that she’d likely change her mind and then her number, and disappear into the sunset so as to avoid accountability.
No one said “yea, good luck with that one,” or “I wouldn’t bet on it,” or anything else of the skeptical sort.
I was afforded very few stories of a childhood where I, the protagonist, do not encounter at least one full-of-shit antagonist.
However, I need to mention that actually being granted the contact information of someone willing to fix their mistake (I’ll call her Laura) comes with its own set of problems. I was caught between letting the situation go, and actually calling Laura. I seriously considered not calling.
I almost let it go, but not because I hate confrontation — I actually do not mind confrontation at all (at the end of the day, I am from Brooklyn). However, I know that any additional expense in this day and time, for most people, is one expense too many.
And car repairs, no less? For many people, that amounts to a paycheck (or even two or more). This knowledge literally made me sick to my stomach as I considered whether to call Laura.
Basically, I was caught between understanding the potential gravity of the situation for Laura and my right to pursue repairs. More to the point of this article, I was caught between letting the incident fade into obscurity, unaddressed, or trusting in my capacity to navigate a situation in which a stranger cordially invited me to seek rightful reparations.
It was too dark, that morning, to see all of the damage Laura detailed in her note. I could see some damage to the hubcap (no big deal), but I knew that I would have to wait until daylight to assess the true scope. I tend to arrive to work at 5 am most mornings, and do not leave until after 3 pm.
I knew I would not get to assess the damage until later that afternoon, and I also knew intuitively that I’d want to take the car to my mechanic to check for things that I, a lay person, might not notice.
Daylight afforded me the knowledge that she indeed dented my car, which meant that the impact also chipped away a newly-painted portion that I had repaired only one month prior.
In that instant I realized that a call to Laura became the only option and, with knots in my stomach, I explained to her what I noticed and that I will have to take the car to my mechanic for an estimate.
While not thrilled, she remained apologetic. I remained apologetic. In what would have probably sounded like a ridiculous phone call to someone eavesdropping, we spent about 10 minutes apologizing back and forth to each other: Her for hitting my car (obviously), and I for pursuing the damages.
After explaining the situation to my mechanic, showing him Laura’s note, and rejecting a couple of unnecessary repairs (e.g., repainting a portion of the slightly scratched plastic bumper? No, thanks. Someone else will scratch it up next week anyway. Or I’ll probably manage a way to scratch it myself), I was able to get the total cost down to under $1000.
This effort, I realize, may not offer much consolation. But, these were the facts; I held the official, itemized estimate in my hands, and this was more news that I begrudgingly delivered to Laura. These things are costly, and my hands were tied.
To make a long story short, Laura’s honesty and willingness to fix the situation was not lost on my mechanic, either. When she arrived to pay for repairs, he somehow knocked another $100 off the original total. I know it is not much, but I am grateful to him for this additional act of kindness. I am sure Laura is as well.
I have not met Laura face to face, and I only spoke with her on the phone twice. Moreover, she (amazingly) does not have an internet presence (and if she does, it is on lock-down). I bought her a card and gift to send to her, but, given my inability to locate an address, am not able to (I felt queasy about asking her for an address, so I opted out of that).
I will just have to let the Universe do its work, and move forward knowing that good Karma is speedily making its way toward her, if it had not done so already.
Laura’s kindness represents only one example of how I am slowly but surely learning to trust in the goodness of others, an evolution that required physically and perhaps even emotionally distancing myself from all that I had known.
Perhaps most importantly of all, Laura did much more than take responsibility for the damage caused in this accident; little does she know that she took this working-class kid aside, bent down to her level, looked her in the eyes and said: You can let all of that go.
Christina Berchini is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. An East Coast native, Dr. Berchini flew the coop and earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum, Instruction, and Teacher Education, with an emphasis in English Education from Michigan State University. She is also the creator of Hey, College Kid!, where she gives advice and tough love to college students.