My lack of posts lately is because I've also been working on a story to share with The Moth.
I was asked to submit a 100 word pitch for their Anchorage show at the Performing Arts Center, where Moth coaches and directors would select one or two Alaskans to open for their national story tellers.
I chose the story of our first meal with company in our new community of Seward, the night Elias lost his shit over his sister's paper stars.My pitch was not selected by the Moth for the event; however, they also held what is called a Story Slam the next evening.
A Story Slam is similar to a poetry slam, with judges drawn from the audience who rate each story on a scale from 1 to 10. Yet unlike a poetry slam, where you can sign up to compete at the door, in a Moth Story Slam you put your name in a hat and may or may not get drawn to share.
And the other catch was that the story I worked on for the main stage could be nine to twelve minutes, and so I had added a lot to my original post, but for the slam, only five, which meant editing with an extra sharp blade.
The slam happened to fall on Thursday February 9th, when the kids were out of school for two days for parent teacher conferences, and Nick was working in Anchorage with a hotel room. So I drove the kids to their grandparents in Palmer and Nick and I went to the Williwaw for the Story Slam.
Putting my name in the hat involved signing a release for The Moth to record my story, and I asked the woman I handed it to: "Do you pick the names all at once, in the beginning, so we know if we're going or not?"
"No, we pick them one at a time."
"That was my fear." I smiled sideways.
Too nervous to eat, I switched to water after one drink, as names that weren't mine were pulled one after another during the first half of the show.
The theme for the night, love hurts, evoked more humorous stories than painful ones, and I began to just enjoy the show regardless of whether I was called to the stage.
Failed love can sure be funny. And every powerful teller brought a different twist to the night
In the second half, a woman in her eighties made the whole room fall in love with her, when she recalled a ferry ride to Alaska, in her early twenties, where she fell for a Coast Guard man whom she later found out was married. I leaned towards Nick and whispered: "I don't want to go after her."
Sure enough, when the charming woman finished, and pulled the next name, the M.C. called: "And let's hear it for Christy Everett"
Shit. I walked up to the stage, adjusted the microphone, smiled at the audience, and began...
“It wasn't me it was a monster,” my son once told me, and I didn't then, but now I agree, because if I’ve learned anything over the last twelve years as Elias’s mom its that a beast also lives inside of me.
The dictionary defines monster as a mythical being, part animal, part human, any imaginary creature that is large, ugly, and frightening.
Frightening like the effects of traumatic brain injury on my boy, indirectly on my family, on me.
This time, it begins with paper stars.
Cut by small hands, names written on each one, for our first meal with company in our new community of Seward. My daughter Olive, age six, and her new friend Indigo, want to make the table fancy for dinner.
Indigo’s parents’ Kim and Jay, also new to us, have brought bread and wine.
I light candles, as the girls spread their stars around, deciding who will sit where.
Elias sits in the seat he always sits in, a boy soothed by predictable patterns, the hands of a clock, days in a week, he looks at the stars scattered across the table and sees an uninvited galaxy. With eyes suddenly wild, he stands up, crushes the two stars labeled Mom. “These don't go here!”
"No!" Olive cries.
But Elias is already beyond language, his nervous system a fire alarm, he is the hurricane, and there are new hopeful friends gathered around.
My husband Nick wraps his arms around Elias and carries him to the bathroom, the only place in our small cabin with a door. A door that doesn't fully close.
"I'm sorry," I say to Kim and Jay, "This is part of our life too.”
”Its Ok.” she says.
I join my boys in the bathroom, the worst place for a flailing boy with impaired balance and vision.
"I can't be in here with him," Nick says, aware of his own brewing rage, and I'm thankful to be alone with Elias, knowing that when Nick sees our growing boy hit me, the defender in him can overtake the parent, just as when Elias hurts Olive, he is suddenly a predator, and I am Mama bear, and I have to remind myself he is also my son.
The line between civil and savage is thin.
Elias swings at me and grabs wherever he can, claws out. I deflect and defend and don't yell when he screams: “I want to hurt you!” I’ve learned yelling only makes the monster worse. Instead, I quietly say, "I see you are mad and wanting to hurt me, and I can’t let you.”
His nail slices the corner of my lip, my neck, he grabs me by the hair, my face, just as Nick leaves the warmth of the living room to check on us, and we all end up in a tangle on the floor and I think: Here we are, stars in our own comically gruesome Quentin Tarantino movie with two different scenes on either side of the door.
We are all large, ugly and frightening, part animal, part human, damaged. Why are we trying to hide it behind a door that doesn't fully close?
I free myself from my son’s grip and walk out and say, "I'm sorry, but I just need you all to go outside.”
Without question, the whole crew stands and exits the building. We release Elias from confinement who comes out still swinging.
And then, we are saved by his shoes. The act of sitting down, to put them on, something Elias does every day, gets him back in his right mind. A monster no more.
I invite everyone back inside and Elias stands before us, tears in his eyes, and says, "I didn't just do all that.”
"I know,” I say, “I know the boy we love didn't want to do all that.”
Soup simmers on the stove, reminding us we still have a meal to share.
In the kitchen, my own tears fall, and Kim gives me a hug, as I apologize and she tells me not to.
“Its ok,” she says, “Really, its alright. I’ll take it. The whole package.”
I love her, instantly.
Our two families merge at the table, where we share bread and stories, laugh and pass the butter, as Old Crow Medicine Show plays in the background.
I glance at my son, who looks down at his hands, hands that have grown larger than mine, my child who can’t see clearly but tells me all the time, “Mom, you look beautiful ”— who now smiles widely when he hears the first notes of his favorite song, and softly, somewhere between singing and speech, Elias says:
Rock me momma like the wind and the rain,
Rock me momma like a south bound train,
Hey, momma rock me.
There was a pause, before the applause, and when the M.C. returned to the mic, she didn't have an easy joke to share.
You could say my story fell on the heavier side of the spectrum-- and yet it earned all scores in the nine range from the various judge teams.
The highest score for the night. Which means I get to claim the title of "winner of the first Moth Story Slam held in Alaska".
I can order a video recording and will share it here when I receive it.
And none of this would have happened, if I didn't have a husband who supports my need to share, despite exposing the monsters within our family.
Or if I didn't have this community of readers, who encourages me, even when what I write about isn't easy, even when love hurts, especially then.