It was summer, and Dad and I had been invited to a posh barbecue out in the country. Those kinds of perks came with his job. It had been a day with horses and dogs and there were trees, and the two little boys had pitched a tent near the water. They were younger than me, aged nine and seven to my fourteen. But it was clear I wasn't meant to be with the adults—usually my preferred company—and these boys were used to having their ways, so when they called me into the tent, I went.
They'd been pleased enough with my ability to ride, and they'd liked that I got along with the dogs, and now they asked, "Do you know any stories?" And I thought of the trees around us and began to make something up.
Unfortunately, my tale of dark elves made the younger one cry; the older one was white but trying to keep a brave face about the whole thing. Glancing nervously at the entrance to the tent, and well aware I could get in more than a little trouble for upsetting these boys, I quickly changed gears.
"But it was all okay!" I announced, too forcefully, desperate and determined they would believe it.
The younger one peeked up at me from behind his hands, eyes rimmed red. But at least he'd stopped howling.
The older one eyed me speculatively.
And my story became one of tree elves that rode squirrels and bravely fought the dark elves, and as it began to grow dark outside we were called for dinner. The boys wanted to sleep out in the tent and tell more stories, but I sent my dad a silent plea. Not that he needed it. We were enough alike that he could guess at my agony, that all I wanted was to go to my room and curl up with a book. All the interaction, combined with the pressure of the situation, had broken me for the day. I don't know what Dad told them, but I was at last liberated from the social whirl and able to escape.
It was only the one night; we left the next morning. But to this day I wish I could better remember the story I wove that afternoon. What I do remember is that sense of power that comes with moving an audience, with terrifying them then placating them. You'd think it was wonderful, but it wasn't. It was a kind of dread, akin to what Scheherazade must have felt: a burden.
That was when I knew what it really meant to be a storyteller.