On Monday, January 16, 2023, my “My Unsung Hero” story was featured on All Things Considered and it’s been nothing but wonderful ever since!
So many friends and family have reached out. Some books have been sold. Some interviews have been scheduled.
A sincere, heartfelt thanks to everyone for your amazing support. Maybe, through the magic of social media, I’ll finally reconnect with “Moses” and be able to thank him properly for saving my life 35 years ago. That would make me very happy.
Vacation Week! I was off this week and had one goal…write 5,000 words on my work-in-progress, young adult novel. But here I sit on Saturday afternoon with zero words written and I’m not even a little bit disappointed.
Because I did something way more fun!
I’ve been listening to The Moth on NPR for years. Ever since I heard my first episode, I’ve dreamed of one day being on stage, sharing true stories from my life. Connecting with people in a medium that resonates to my core and speaks to my heart. Storytelling. This week, that dream came true.
A few days earlier I had received an email about a Moth Story Slam in Houston, and for the first time, I was going to be off work and could actually go. Immediately, I began crafting a story in my mind, spent the next few days fine-tuning it, then drove to Houston, put my name on the list, and was one of ten people chosen at random to tell a five-minute story!
The theme of the night was Chemistry and the ten storytellers each had a slightly different take on that theme. There were designated judges pulled from the audience (I’m guessing there were around 200 people there) and each storyteller received a score of 1-10 from each set of judges.
I was the second storyteller of the night and didn’t know I was going to get on stage until the host called my name. After she did, I made my way to the side of the stage, as previously instructed, and waited as she made the audience laugh by reading funny anecdotes about dangerous combinations. It was a short wait but I somehow had the presence of mind to snap this photo, and text my husband that I was on stage!
My husband did not have the week off, so I was in Houston all by myself. I’d driven down, gotten a hotel room, then called an Uber to take me to the venue (Warehouse Live) and I’d been sitting in the audience alone. Now I was alone back stage getting ready to stand behind that very microphone and tell the story I’d prepared.
And that’s what I did. My story (Chapter 16 from my memoir, More Than Everything) was about my one and only psychedelic drug experience in the 1980’s. The audience was fun and receptive. They laughed at all the right places and gasped when appropriate, then applauded loudly when I finished. I stayed on topic, kept it within the five minute time frame, and got great scores (9.0, 8.5, and 7.7) but I didn’t win. And that’s okay.
I DID IT!
There were so many great stories and everyone did so well. I felt like I shared the stage with a bunch of professionals. And as soon as my turn was over, I wanted to do it again.
Later, many people approached me to say they enjoyed my story. One guy thought I should have won. One girl asked about my process, and another told me she loved my story and my outfit. A radio producer asked me if I had other stories and handed me his business card. People were so nice and friendly and supportive. It was surreal. It was fun. It was exhilarating. The whole experience felt almost serendipitous. Like clicking on that email set me on a path that led me straight to that stage to share that story with that audience.
It is an experience I’ll remember forever. And I want to do it again. And again. And again. Maybe some day one of my stories will make it on the radio.
After the show, I Ubered back to my hotel, sat in the bar, and drank a margarita to celebrate.
So while I didn’t get any new words written on my WIP, I got something so much better…a rich, beautiful, forever experience ripe with stories I’ll tell for a long time to come.
A year goes by. A year of life in the fast lane with lots of money, and we finally move out of the rent house in town. Shane’s paranoia has maxed out. He is now convinced we are being watched and is sure the cops are listening to our calls, so he finds and leases some property out in the country. Ten secluded acres in Wise County. There is an old run-down trailer house, a big barn, a chicken coop, and a huge garden plot. There is no phone line and Shane likes it that way. Shane decides that it is secluded enough that we can live there and he can cook his speed there too every few months when we need to make more money. He and his buddies buy a big, prefabricated barn and put it out there next to the trailer. We store all of our furniture and boxed belongings in the barn for the time being and live in the old, furnished trailer with the ratty gold shag carpet, a gold crushed-velvet sofa and a heavy, Mexican-style wood coffee table in the living room. In the kitchen there is a yellow Formica table and two matching chairs that is the spitting image of the one my parents had when I was growing up. The one that mama would sit at, smoking cigarettes and talking on the phone while she swatted me away like a fly. One bare light bulb hangs over the center of the table. One bedroom is empty and in the other one, we throw a double-size mattress on the floor and use a cardboard box for a nightstand. We stack other cardboard boxes on their sides, so the openings face outward, forming a series of cubby holes, and use them as a dresser for our clothes.
It is great being out in the country, far away from the junkies. Our dog, a black lab named Dino loves running wild. A friend brings his dog out there too, also a black lab, and Dino is in heaven. Those dogs play, run, swim, hunt and have the time of their lives. For several months it is bliss; just me, Shane and the dogs living quietly, taking long walks in the woods and going fishing. Shane and I have never spent so much quality time together. It is nice. We are relaxed out here away from the city. Shane actually talks to me and hardly ever yells. He tells me things I’ve never known about him and I fall in love all over again. We sit in lawn chairs under the stars and listen to the crickets and the hoot of an owl. We sleep soundly and make love loudly and shower together every day. Shane finds an old tiller in the barn and after a day of tinkering on it, has it running like a top. He tills up the huge half acre garden plot for days and the earth is rich and fragrant; I sit in the big middle of the loose dirt grabbing handfuls and letting it sift through my fingers like all-purpose flour. We plant every kind of vegetable you can think of and revel at each tiny, green shoot that sprouts from the ground. We buy rolls of chicken wire and patch up the pens and fill them with chickens, turkeys and geese. We spend the spring mending fence, planting flowers, and sprucing up the place.
One day I am the only one home and I’m mowing the front lawn barefooted. I decide to go inside and put on some shoes before I try to mow the backyard where the grass is six inches high. I turn off the mower, run inside, grab a pair of socks out of the sock cubbyhole, and my tennis shoes from the closet and sit on the edge of the bed to put them on. As I’m tying the last lace, a large plastic thermos suddenly tumbles down from a shelf in the closet and lands at my feet. I jump up and look into the closet to see why the thermos would have fallen and I’m eye to eye with a huge chicken snake, as big around as a can of Coke, coiled and stacked on the shelf like a garden hose. Continue reading →
In this part of the story, Shane and I are on the run from the FBI and we have made our way to Alaska. Shane has just picked up a hitchhiker…against my better judgment. It is the summer of 1985.
The drifter and Shane exchange fake names and after looking through him for a second or two I turn my attention back to the countryside outside my window. With a southern accent the guy says he’s from Tennessee. I don’t like his long, greasy dishwater blond hair, his cold dark eyes, his large biceps, or his quiet, guilty manner. My mind races through one bad scenario after another wondering what brought him to the side of the road between Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska. I think to myself that he has surely committed far greater crimes than those that have landed me and Shane here. He doesn’t talk much and I’m convinced that what little he does say must all be lies. I catch him staring at me once or twice and it makes me nervous.
Shane is calling himself Roy. It is hard for me to call him that but I have no choice. In my mind he does not look like a Roy. He should have let me pick the name I was going to have to call him. Chase would have worked because he is on the run, or Mark or Steve or anything but Roy. But he didn’t ask me. He just makes me call him Roy, which ironically, means king — another reason for me to hate calling him that. When you’ve been with a man named Shane for seven years it is not easy to suddenly start calling him Roy, but I do it, and I’m proud of myself for not slipping up so far. I don’t get to pick an alias for myself. I think I would like to have been called Grace for a while, but Shane knows he would slip up, so he doesn’t even try. I am still Vanessa, but only a wrung-out, tired version of myself.
There isn’t much talking as we drive north through the middle of the night, the Alaskan summer night that doesn’t grow dark. It just grabs onto the smudgy end of the daylight and holds onto it like a blanket until morning when the sun burns it away and the world is bright again.
The three of us eat cheeseburgers at a picnic table in the 80° Fairbanks sunshine sometime the next day. When you don’t have a clock or wear a watch and it doesn’t get dark, it’s impossible to know what time it is. There is no routine to help keep you grounded. No time clock to punch. No dinner to cook. No alarm clock to ring. There is just a nagging feeling of impending doom as the hours come and go unnoticed. Continue reading →
Note: This is an excerpt from my book, More Than Everything – the true story of my life on the run from the FBI. This scene takes place in Chapter 2. My husband (at the time) and I have just moved into an apartment in Fort Worth after living in Cleburne, Texas for a couple of years.
Shane’s cousin, Robert, helps us move from Cleburne and then Shane has to take him back home around midnight when we’re finally finished. Shane and Robert set up the king-size waterbed when we first get to the apartment and it has been filling up for a couple of hours. Before they leave Shane says he’s turned off the water, but instead of turning it off he has mistakenly turned it on full blast. Continue reading →