A few days before my big Listen To Your Mother (LTYM) show, Tim got a call that one of his students in his high school had committed suicide. He was devastated for the girl, her family and the school. Listening to him on the phone with coworkers and worried parents and police made me so sad. Watching him wince as he listened to those parents or the way he held onto Wade's hug a little longer before bed the next night made my heart ache.
No one knows why this young girl killed herself. No one knows the whole story. And she doesn't get to finish hers.
I remember thinking that the world might be better off without me. I had been told that I was a slut, that I was demanding and selfish and unkind. I was told that I was difficult and hard to manage. I was told that all I did was hurt people. I was told that I wasn't very smart. I was told these things by my mother. A mother who was suffering and sick with mental illness and the kind of desperation that makes people lash out. But no one knew that, not even her, so I believed her. I remember sitting in my mother's bathtub with a razor thinking maybe, just maybe the world would be better off without me. I was 13.
I'm not sure what changed my mind that day or if I was even really serious, but I never forgot that feeling of maybe I wasn't worthy of a full life.
Somehow I survived my teens and my mother. I think it was because I was told other things too. I was told by a couple of my friends' moms that I was nice and a good person. Ms. Maxwell, a history teacher, told me I was smart and a good storyteller. Mr. Hodgin, a teacher in middle school and high school, told me I was going to be on stage someday, which I have no idea why because I wasn't involved in anything or on stage in school. I was told I had a voice. I was told I mattered.
Another reason I survived my teens and my mother was because of all my boyfriends. I wasn't a slut like my mother told me I was. But I did have a lot of friends that were boys. I was friends with boys in my remedial math class, my typing class, boys on the football team and boys in the theater. I had girlfriends too, but I struggled to manage those friendships sometimes. I didn't handle it well when girls got upset with each other or me. I didn't know how then and I admit to being pretty bad at it even now. Some of the girls didn't want to hang out with me because maybe they thought I was slut like my mother did. And some of the girls' mothers told them they couldn't hang out with me because of my troubled home life (I had been caught drinking several times before and teaching girls to smoke beside the middle school, and it was becoming more and more well known that my mother was a mess).
Those boys helped me survive. They protected me from mean girls. They took me out to lunch off campus in high school when none of the girls wanted to hang out with me. They picked me up and drove me around when my mom was raging and I needed somewhere to go. Some of them were nice boys that had good families that taught them to be nice to everyone. Some of them were misfit boys with troubled home lives who totally got me. They listened when I talked about my mom and they didn't tell anyone. They drank beer with me and smoked cigarettes with me. They made sure I got home safely from the parties in high school. They showed me I mattered.
I was thinking about all of this when we were doing sound checks before the show on Sunday.
I was thinking about the power of what we tell people and what we show people. I watched the cast members get up on stage to practice with the mic and where they would stand to tell their truths, to reveal their stories. What had they been told when they were afraid and uncertain? How did they know they mattered?
Whatever it had been, there they were on stage not just mattering but about to share their heart with a theater full of people. One person was going to tell a story of watching his mother take her last breath. Another person was getting ready to tell the story of learning to live with losing her vision after giving birth. And there was a woman so nervous to tell the story of her mother's attempted suicide. These stories were woven together with humorous stories about motherhood and learning to let go of being perfect and to appreciate the lives we have and the bodies we have.
I was serving as MC of the show this year (as well as reading a story that involved Beyonce).
After all the practicing and all the preparation, it was time to go on stage for real. Time to introduce the storytellers/readers. Time to be heard. I took a deep breath and looked out at the crowd. In the back of the room I saw the group of guys working the sound and light for the theater. They gave me a thumbs up. I worked with them last year for LTYM and instantly loved them. They reminded me of some of my high school buddies that had been so supportive over 20 years earlier. They were goofballs that got me. Guys I'd go have a smoke with in the alley by the theater if I still smoked. Looking at those guys cheering me on, remembering what my teachers said, remembering that I had a voice, I smiled and started talking.
As I listened to our cast bravely tell their stories and the audience respond, I wanted to take the mic and yell "all of this matters, we all matter, YOU matter!" I wanted to shout at everyone to "tell people good things, be kind even to kids that may seem like the bad kids, reach out, tell the stories, share the vulnerability, empower each other, find support in places you may not expect like goofy guys in remedial math class, teach our girls and boys to be protectors of each other, make sure we all get home safely!"
I mean right?!
I think they got most of that without me yelling it. Because it's kind of the whole point of the show. And I am kind of blown away that I get to be a part of LTYM. A show, and a movement really, that helps grow compassion and empathy and understanding and relatability and bravery and love. Something that reminds us that are not alone and that we matter.