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[00:00:00]

The Moth's artistic director, Catherine Burns, is the guest on this week's Burning Man Live, a new podcast put out by our friends at the Burning Man festival. She and hosts Andy Grace and Stuart Mangrum talk about storytelling, art and transformation. It also includes a live recording of Catherine telling a story about a life changing experience she had one night in the Black Rock Desert. So go check it out. It's Burning Man live. From Prick's, this is The Moth Radio Hour.

[00:00:40]

I'm Jennifer Higson. Everyone has stories, but when you put on the spot, it can be hard to think of one you'd like to tell. It's part of my job to help people find their stories. And a couple of years ago, I met a puppeteer at a cocktail party. He told me that he taught storytelling to children so they could write scripts for their handmade puppets. I asked him how he did this with seven year olds. His formula was so simple.

[00:01:02]

What you need is a person, a place and a problem.

[00:01:05]

So whenever I'm struggling to find the story with someone, whether they're seven, 17 or 70, I go back to the simple equation.

[00:01:13]

So in this hour, people, places and problems. Our first story is by Rey Christian. I met him when I was putting together a show in Durham, North Carolina. Finding one story out of Ray's hundreds of stories was overwhelming, but in a good way. As they say, he's lived a storied life. This one is about a long standing dream of his peers, Ray. I remember standing in line at the Social Security office with my mom when I was 10 years old, and the line moved ahead slowly, but I could hear the lady at the front of the line saying, naks go to the desk, naks fill out the form.

[00:01:53]

My mother and I got to the front of the desert and my mother looked at the form and she started to ask the lady a question. She said, excuse me, can I? And the lady cut her off and said, Ma'am, take the form, take it to the desk, fill it out and come back next. My mother looked at the form again and she looked at the lady and she started to ask the question again, she said, Excuse me, ma'am, can I the lady cut her off and say, Ma'am, we don't have time for this.

[00:02:20]

Take the phone to the desk, fill it out and bring it back next. My mother and I walk to the desk and my mother looked at the form and I could tell that water was starting to well up in her eyes and I said, Mama, what's wrong? And she said, David. Mamak read. And I looked at her. And I said, Mom. At first line, it says name, she said, can you write that?

[00:02:50]

I said, Yeah. So my name is Andy Christian and I wrote out her name. And the next line set address, I said, Mama, that's where we live. She told me I wrote it and we went all the way down the form this way until we got to the last line. And it had a word that I was not quite familiar with. It sounded like Sigge Nature. And she said, what's that? I said, Mama, I think that's when you write your name real squiggly like.

[00:03:18]

And she said, I can do that. And she did. And she looked at me and she started to cry and she hugged me real tight. And she said, You will never know what it's like to be ignorant. Now, I didn't know what she was talking about. I'm 10 years old. All I know is I was doing something to help my mom. And because my momma and my daddy both were illiterate and they wanted to encourage my reading, they decided to go out and buy me all these books.

[00:03:45]

They had pretty pictures on them. So as a 10 year old, I started to gather up a real big collection of books. I had general principles of engineering.

[00:03:58]

Ron L. Hubbard's Dianetics. General psychopathology sex after 60 and green eggs and ham, so I was ready for the world with that. But my folks loved me enough that if I had decided to drop out of school and got a job working at the factory and stayed out of trouble with the police, they would have been happy for me. But I wanted more than that out of life. I wanted those things I was reading in those books. And because I was a marginal student and a marginal athlete, there was little to no chance of me going to college or getting any kind of scholarship at all.

[00:04:42]

But there was one organization that was offering me a job, and that was the United States Army. Now thinking at the heart of the job is the more money you get paid. I said to the recruiter, give me the hardest job you got. And they did. I became a paratrooper and I had never been on an airplane before in my life. Well, at some point, the army went from being my stepping stone in life to my island and I decided to realist's, but no amount of toughness or hardness can help you get promoted in the military or without education.

[00:05:19]

And I remember how I would hear Army lawyers talk and other officers and just the turn of a phrase or you change a few words and somebody could get promoted or not promoted, you could be found guilty or not guilty. So I started thinking to myself, you know what? When I get out of the army, I'm going to become a lawyer. So I started telling everybody that. But most of the time when an officer heard me say something like that, they would just roll their eyes.

[00:05:45]

But I would keep on saying it. In fact, one officer actually said to me, listen, you don't even have a college degree. You need to focus your attention on being a paratrooper. That's your job. Well, from that point forward, I started taking college classes at night. I remember showing up to class dirty. Bleadon hurtin', sticky, funky, but seven years from this period and two years after I actually retired from the Army, I did earn my bachelor's degree.

[00:06:27]

Well, the first thing I did after that is I start applying to law schools, but it didn't take long before those little envelopes started to arrive. Rejection or sorry, rejection, rejection, rejection. But one day, a big envelope came in the mail. I was accepted to law school, I am going to law school, I told everybody, guess what, I am going to be a lawyer, I'm going to be a lawyer. I'm going to help the little guy.

[00:06:55]

I'm going to help everybody. In fact, one of my friends in the army said to me, Hey, real, you think you could help me sue the army? Hell, yeah, I'm helping everybody. I will be a lawyer for everybody on Earth. Well, when I got to law school, I was not the typical law student, not at 38 years old, not being a combat vet, not having PTSD and four children. I was different.

[00:07:23]

I mean, law school was hard. It's hard to help your kids with their algebra homework, but reading 200 pages a night was difficult. And I didn't make friends easily. But there were three older guys in the law school that became friends of mine. They started palling around with me. But almost right away, after the midterm exams were completed, I had failed everyone. And the only chance that I had now to finish law school was I had to ace all the final exams.

[00:07:55]

It wasn't long after this period that I got this message that the assistant dean of the law school wanted to speak to me in his office. I went to his office and I remember he had his back turned to me when he said you should withdraw. So I don't want to withdraw, I'm not going to quit. I spent my whole life thinking about this mostly. I'm not going to quit. He said, again, you should withdraw and if you should graduate, I'll eat my hat.

[00:08:25]

When I walked out of his office. I started thinking about what my mama had said, you'll never know what it's like to be ignorant. But I did in that moment. Later, I saw the sign on the wall, it was announcing the Mary Wright closing argument competition. This is the highlight of the last school year. All the top law students and the law professors, they pick out these students they want to mentor and they work on this competition.

[00:08:55]

It is a big deal. The whole law school turns out to see it. And this is what I came to law school for. This was like being a lawyer on TV. This is what I wanted to do. But I also knew that I wasn't doing well in law school. In fact, when a law professor heard that I was thinking about it, he said to me, look, you need to focus your attention on academics and not extracurricular activity.

[00:09:22]

So at that point, I forgot about it, but my three older friends, they came to me and they say, Hey, man, you want to do it anyway, this is what we do. This is what you talk about. Come on. What do you got to lose? Try try it. OK, I'm here. But I couldn't get any law professors to work with me. And a few weeks prior to the competition, I really hadn't done anything at all.

[00:09:45]

I wrote a few notes on a tissue paper and that's all the preparation I had and the way the competition work. You're standing outside the whole law school is inside. You knock on the door, you go in. People would make their presentation to your applause. Next person would go in, make their presentation, you'd hear applause. Then my turn came. And when I went in, I knew that. I couldn't talk about any fine points of the law, I couldn't talk about elements of torts, I couldn't talk to them about subject matter, jurisdiction.

[00:10:18]

But I could tell him a story. I could tell him about right and wrong, I could tell him about justice and injustice. And I close with this line. And just like the boogey man that lives on my girl's bed, made up from dust bunnies, buttons and last Christmas toys exposed to the light, the prosecution's case just isn't there. And I walked out. But I walked out to complete silence, but soon as the door closed behind me, I heard what sounded like thunder and that was the sound of the entire law school applauding all at once.

[00:11:07]

I never went back inside, but I couldn't help but cry. Well, the final exams would come and they would go, and two weeks later I would find out I won the competition within.

[00:11:28]

But four weeks later, I would find out I was being academically dismissed from law school. I was broken. I never felt so bad in my life, I thought about how embarrassed I was, I thought about all the people I was never going to help, all the things I was never going to do. And it took me a while. To think to myself, maybe, just maybe I did get a feather in my head, maybe I did get a gold star.

[00:12:04]

I mean, I beat out some of the smartest people in a law school at their own game. And if I hadn't had this stupid idea of becoming a lawyer, I would have never went to college. I have never earned graduate degrees in history and education. I never would have became a college professor. I wouldn't be halfway completed with my dissertation right now. So the journey didn't take me to a place where I could knock out injustice in the courtroom, but the journey did take me to a place where I could combat ignorance in the classroom.

[00:12:57]

That was great. Christian Ray is inching ever closer to his doctorate and hopes to finish very soon.

[00:13:03]

I hope so, too, because I can't wait to refer to him as Dr. Ray.

[00:13:07]

Ray lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina with his beautiful wife and talented family. He teaches at Appalachian State University. Everybody loves the professors with stories. His students are lucky. And we're grateful that Ray drives two hours each way to be a regular at our Asheville story slam each month. He's always a crowd favorite. No surprise. This next story is by Alissa Wlad. She told it at a story plant in Texas where we partner with Houston Public Radio.

[00:13:42]

Here's Alyssa.

[00:13:45]

So I'm a millennial. So after I graduated college, naturally, I moved back in with mom and dad.

[00:13:54]

And I had just been fired from my job as a special ed teacher, so things weren't going so great for me. And about that time I started working at Michaels, the craft store in the neighborhood where I had grown up, which was Sugarland.

[00:14:11]

Thanks. It was only about like two months, but it was from before Thanksgiving until after New Year's, arguably the worst two months to work at a craft store where they sell Christmas decorations. So I scored really well on my aptitude test. Michaels makes you take a math and reading aptitude test, which I don't understand.

[00:14:33]

So the manager was like, I have a special position for you in the custom framing department. The main perk was that it paid 25 cents more per hour than the other jobs. But the secondary perk was that I didn't have to restock beads and yarn.

[00:14:49]

So I was very much on board with this as a job itself. I really didn't mind it. I kind of liked it. The only downside was that it was in the neighborhood where I grew up.

[00:14:59]

I liked helping people design their frame and and hearing their stories about their art.

[00:15:04]

My favorite was this woman.

[00:15:06]

She called week before Christmas and she's all in a tizzy and she's like, I have guests coming over and there is this big spot over my fireplace and my frames aren't ready and you have to help me. And and I said, OK, fine, I'll do it.

[00:15:18]

So I go to the shelf and I pull out her art, open it up to giant pictures of her naked covered in rose petals.

[00:15:30]

It's going to go over her fireplace for the Christmas guest. So the job was pretty entertaining, but I still I mean, it wasn't I felt like a loser. I felt like a loser.

[00:15:44]

I mean, I live at home with my parents. I worked for 25 cents above minimum wage with a college degree.

[00:15:49]

And like those two things are bad enough. But then, I mean, Sugarland is pretty big, but you wouldn't know it from Michaels. Everyone I knew came in there every single day. Someone I knew came in and saw me in my little apron, my little white gloves. And of course, they couldn't help but come up and say hi and tell me what their kids were doing. And it was always something more successful and better than what I was doing.

[00:16:11]

So so one day my former softball coach comes in, his daughter and I played softball together, year 12, and he recognized me, which was, first of all, the shocking, shocking thing. And I thought maybe we're going to reminisce about the team and how fun it was, or he's going to ask how my parents were.

[00:16:29]

But instead he goes, didn't you go to that fancy expensive college? Look where that got you. So I've been wondering if that was what everyone was thinking and he confirmed that it was.

[00:16:52]

That's pretty much the inner monologue I had with myself 10 times a day, but I never expected to hear someone else say it and say it didn't feel great.

[00:17:01]

But he didn't stop there.

[00:17:03]

He kept talking and he goes, you know, my daughter is really making it big.

[00:17:09]

As an actress in L.A., She was just in a Lifetime movie. Maybe you saw it. I saw it, first of all, it was a supporting role. But, you know, unlike him, I have some talk, so I didn't say that I now had to open up his picture, which was the Lifetime movie poster, and get his signature of approval. Very ironic. So he left and he's probably never thought about that moment ever again.

[00:17:41]

But I thought about it a lot. I never want to make someone feel the way that I felt that day.

[00:17:49]

So later that same day, the mom of another girl I played softball with comes into my goals and we've been on the same team for one year.

[00:17:56]

And then a year after that, her daughter transferred to my middle school where she didn't know anyone but me.

[00:18:02]

And she so she's brand new. She was very shy, very quiet. She'd been made fun of at other schools because she was pretty overweight.

[00:18:10]

I used to write her encouraging notes and leave them in her locker. I didn't even remember that when I saw her mom at Michaels that day, but her mom remembered.

[00:18:20]

So I'm carrying something on to her car for her and she turns to me and she's all choked up and she says, you'll never know like what that meant to me and to my daughter that you were so nice to her.

[00:18:30]

So she's choked up and she's saying all these nice things and I've had an emotional day, so I start crying and I tell her what happened, and then pretty soon we're both bawling and hugging in the Michael's parking lot.

[00:18:45]

And she's just hugging me and she's telling me what a good person I am, not because of what job I did or didn't have, but because I'd been kind to her daughter when she needed a friend. And that day I really needed a friend.

[00:19:01]

And it was good to see a familiar face. And for the first time, I was glad to be working in the town.

[00:19:08]

Right Grown-Up. That was olive salad, you can still occasionally find a at Michael's, but strictly as a customer, she's still into arts and crafts. She caught Michael's after a few months, took some other jobs and finally decided to go to law school. She spent the last couple of years working as an attorney. She says no matter what job she's had, the muscles she built up, being kind and patient, doing customer service have served her well.

[00:19:47]

When we return, what do you do when you receive a meticulously handcrafted gift and ouch, you really don't like it? Also, life as an Uber driver coming up after this.

[00:20:19]

The Moth Radio Hour is produced by Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and presented by Rex.

[00:20:29]

This is the Moth Radio Hour from Pyrex. I'm Jennifer. In this next story is from our Story Slam series in Louisville, Kentucky, where we partner with public radio station WCPN. Steven Carr is an avid reader and a wisecracker with a very cool job finding innovative ways to improve the lives of people with disabilities.

[00:20:48]

Here's Steven Carr.

[00:20:51]

So I have never done this before you all. So go easy on me, OK?

[00:20:57]

Show of hands. How many people have ever been gifted? Something that someone has made for you that they worked really, really hard on. And it was God awful. Anybody? Yes. OK, this story is for you guys.

[00:21:13]

So I got a gift like that a few years ago from my mother, and it was a gift for my boyfriend at the time, David and I, and it was a collage of pictures of David and I. And she had put it in this big frame and she had, like, mad at it and wrote all these quotes on it. And she had gone all out.

[00:21:36]

She had cut all of these pictures up into different shapes. And it was really cute. Right. But there was only one problem.

[00:21:43]

And that problem was that the quotes that she wrote around these pictures were not quotes about love or romance or relationships. They were quotes about friendship.

[00:21:58]

Yes. So this was my mother's way of telling me. Now, granted, David and I had been in a relationship for four years at this time, OK?

[00:22:06]

So we'd been around for quite a while. But this was her way of telling me that she was not able to solidify our relationship. And you might be thinking to yourself, jeez, Steven, like, lighten up. It was a good gesture. She was just trying to be nice. And it's the thought that counts.

[00:22:22]

But the reality is, is that people like David and I have to fight really hard to have our relationships recognised. And so, you know, from the places that we work in the places where we go to church and the friends that we thought we had and from our family. And so this was kind of a really big deal for me. You see, I had come out to my mom as gay whenever I was 20 years old.

[00:22:45]

She's a really good, staunch Southern Baptist woman. So David always jokes that whenever I came out to her, she started drinking. And she's been drinking ever since.

[00:23:00]

As you can imagine, as a very staunch Southern Baptist woman, our relationship is kind of strained a little after that.

[00:23:07]

I would get calls all the time from her calls about hellfire and damnation and brimstone. And this is just a phase that you're going through and you're going to grow up out of it. And when I didn't grow up out of it, she was saying things like she might disown me and and all kinds of crazy things like that. She would cry about how I was never going to get married and I was never going to have children. And this went on and on and on until see, I'm from Shepperd's ville.

[00:23:32]

You all know about Sheppards. All right.

[00:23:33]

All of this came out of Shepperd's bill and one day she was in Kroger and someone that I used to go to church with cornered her in the frozen vegetable section and they pointed their finger at her and they said You are a horrible mother for allowing your son to backslide into the fiery pits of hell.

[00:23:52]

And God is punishing you because your faith was not strong enough and this really hurt her. You know, they left her crying into a bag of frozen peas and she realized that, you know, those kinds of words, they hurt. They hurt coming from strangers that you don't even know in the Kroger. And so how much more would they hurt coming from your parents, the people who are supposed to love you unconditionally?

[00:24:15]

And so back to this collage of pictures with the friendship quotes all around them. We didn't know what the hell to do with this thing. I mean, we weren't going to put it up on our wall.

[00:24:25]

And so we put it in the closet and eventually we just put it out in the garage, never to return.

[00:24:36]

And so my mom would show up to the house and she'd be like, oh, where's that collage that I got you? I worked really hard on that, you know? And I had just gotten my mom back. You know, over time, she had kind of come around and gotten to know David and liked him quite a bit. And and I had just gotten her back and I didn't want to upset her anymore. And so we lied and we said things like, oh, we're looking for the perfect place to put it.

[00:24:58]

And then, you know, a few weeks later, she would call me and she would say, hey, did you ever figure out where you were going to put that collage?

[00:25:03]

I worked really hard on that, you know, and I said, no, we want to find the perfect spot because it looks so nice.

[00:25:12]

And so about a year passes, and one day my mom and I are sitting in my kitchen and we're having a few Miller lights and she's thinking to herself and she says, hey, what ever happened to that collage?

[00:25:23]

You know, I worked really hard on that. How come I don't ever see it up anywhere? I don't know if it was the fact that I had finally gotten comfortable with her and she had gotten comfortable with me. I don't know if it was the fact that I was on my fourth Miller Lite, but I was thinking to myself, to hell with it.

[00:25:36]

I'm just going to I'm going to lay it out for I'm going to tell her.

[00:25:38]

And I so I said, Mom, I love you, but I can't put this thing up on my wall because David and I aren't friends, you know, at this point, we'd been together for five years and, you know, and I said we are going to end up getting married and we're going to have kids. And and I just I can't put this thing up on my wall.

[00:25:55]

And she thought about it for a second, you know, and she'd come a long way since then.

[00:25:58]

And she said, you know what, you're right. That makes sense. And that was that. That was it.

[00:26:04]

I had toiled over this whole thing for like a year and it didn't really mean that much. All I had to do is explain to her while I couldn't put it on my wall. So May.

[00:26:14]

Twenty third of this year, David and I actually got married at Highland Baptist Church.

[00:26:19]

Thank you. And my mom came to the wedding and we actually got married on her birthday was kind of weird. It just kind of worked out that way. Anyway, her favorite movie is Steel Magnolias.

[00:26:33]

And so instead of having a groom's cake because, you know, you have a groom's cake at a gay wedding, but instead of having a groom's cake, we actually we brought her out into the middle of the floor and we sing Happy Birthday to her.

[00:26:44]

And the baker brought out a cake that was in the shape of an armadillo.

[00:26:48]

And it was a red velvet cake, complete with great icing and a tail. And she clapped and she laughed. And she said that later on that it was the most special that she had ever felt.

[00:26:58]

And so the real gift of all of this for me was actually a month later after the wedding, our family reunion, a lot of people came in from different parts of the country, some people I had never even met before. And my mom insisted on walking around and introducing David to every single member of my family as my new husband.

[00:27:19]

Thank you. And that was Steven Carr live in Louisville, where he was born and raised. I asked Stephen if I could please, please see a picture of the infamous friend college.

[00:27:32]

But he and his husband did such a good job tucking it away somewhere. It has not materialized and may possibly have been.

[00:27:38]

OK, I'm not going to say that. I'm sure it's somewhere anyway. Hopefully his mom is working on a new college that celebrates the wedding and the groom and groom to see a picture of Steven and his husband David at their wedding, the mother son dance and a shot of the armadillo cake. Visit the morgue. Steven wants to add that he loves his mother very much. And his husband, of course. This next story is by my friend Nestor Gomez, even though I've only met him once, I call him a friend because Nestor has told dozens and dozens of stories at the Chicago Moth Story Slam.

[00:28:18]

And I've heard recordings of them all. And at the base level, friendships happen because you like a person's stories, you hear the bits of their life that make up their character and you decide this person's cool. So through all of the stories I've heard, I think Nestor is pretty cool and I'm calling him a friend.

[00:28:33]

Nestor was born and raised in Guatemala but has lived in Chicago since the mid 80s.

[00:28:37]

Here's Nestor Gomez, my friend, live at the Chicago Story Slam, where we partner with public radio station WDM. Nestor's telling a story about his stint as an Uber driver. I drive for over two weekends and the afternoons on the weekdays. So I was driving around and I got these requests to pick up somebody and I drove to the to the address when I got there, a young man was already waiting for me on the sidewalk. So I parked my car, but he wasn't coming to the car.

[00:29:09]

He knocked on the window and he tells me that he requested a ride for his mother because he needed me to take his mother to the metro station on Randolph and Michigan. And he told me that his mother needs to be there by 6:00 p.m. and he's already 540.

[00:29:30]

So I could easily get from Bucktown or like I like to like I like to call it histo Heffter Town all the way to Randolph and Michigan in 15 minutes, maybe 10 is easy, but not on a Wednesday afternoon in the middle of rush hour.

[00:29:50]

So I think I'm going I thought, OK, I'm going to cancel this because there's no way that I could get her there by six o'clock. And it gives me this look, and I know what I look at is the look that you have in your face when your mother is driving you crazy.

[00:30:11]

So I so I told him, you know what? OK, I'll tell her, but I'll let you know. I can't I can get there on time. I can say, you know what? I don't care.

[00:30:22]

Just take her, please. Take it away. But one thing, don't tell her that you're not going to get there on time because this is going to be so fine.

[00:30:34]

So if he goes back into the house and comes back with this grumpy looking old lady and the lady's trying to walk and she's complaining about all these stairs are too steep, you're pushing me, you're making it difficult for me.

[00:30:47]

And the guy who finally gets to the car, open the door and put him on the inside the car.

[00:30:51]

He has a big smile on his face. And I'm thinking, why is he smiling, this lady so mean to him?

[00:31:00]

And the lady asked me, do you know where you're going? And before I can answer that, you say just put the address on the GPS because I don't want you to get lost. So I put the address on the GPS and a GPS lady saved. You will be arriving to your destination and 620 and a lady gets mad as he sees you, people are always making me be late.

[00:31:28]

Now, I don't I'm like, well, I'm not mad at the GPS lady and I'm mad at this lady for saying you people, but I don't know if she meant you people as Latino people, people of color or she made you people are Uber drivers, live drivers.

[00:31:48]

But I'm not.

[00:31:49]

And I decide that I'm going to do my best to take this lady to her destination by six o'clock and show her that my people can do our job.

[00:32:03]

Even if I don't know who the hell my people is, so I start driving and as soon as I start driving the GPS lady and your lady told me to take the expressway I ignored.

[00:32:19]

I keep driving past expressway. As I passed Expressway, the GPS lady and your lady told me, do a U-turn, go back in expressway.

[00:32:32]

So I told him, listen, both of you.

[00:32:37]

If I get on the expressway, there's no way that I will get you there at six o'clock. I know a better route. So I take a street that is next to the expressway and I keep driving on the street all the way into the street ends and I take a side trip and another side street and an alley and a side street. And I know this high street and the lady like Micallef looking right revoting, Micallef Magariaf and the your lady like you get lost you life.

[00:33:08]

You don't know where you're going. And I just keep driving until I'm close to my destination. But I realize that I need to go. Is on Rundell.

[00:33:20]

It's a one way street that goes west. So my only choice is to take Lake Street.

[00:33:26]

The lake is a mess and I'm looking at it like I'm like I need to do it, make a left, I'm going to Lake Street and there's no cars on the street.

[00:33:36]

And I just I made it all the way to Michigan Avenue and I just had to turn right and one more block and I'll be there. I got five minutes to spare.

[00:33:50]

That's what I thought, because it's Michigan Avenue. It is crazy with traffic and people.

[00:34:00]

I always get stuck on traffic on one minute, but it's two minutes, the light changes and I can barely move and we get stuck at the like like a like a one minute passes and another minute passes and then the light changes.

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And I make it to the intersection and I say, park six o'clock and I say, we made it.

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And your lady said, I got to go downstairs. You want to make me believe.

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And a GPS lady didn't say anything. I guess she was as surprised as I was. Thank you. That was Nestor Gomez live in Chicago. Nestor is no longer driving for Uber on weekends. It started to give him back trouble, but he's grateful for all the passengers who shared their stories with him along the way. If you ask Nestor, he'll tell you that his biggest accomplishments are his kids, making his mother proud and winning the heart of his soon to be wife, Mel.

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He always refers to her as sweet mouth. When we return, a mother of three shows extraordinary courage and humor. The Moth Radio Hour is produced by Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and presented by the Public Radio Exchange PUREX Doug.

[00:35:46]

You're listening to the Moth Radio Hour from Prick's, I'm Jennifer Higson. In this hour, we're listening to people and their problems are final story is from the slam in New Orleans, where we partner with public radio station WWL. Note the theme of the night was hair, and this storyteller had a completely unexpected take. Here's Melanie Castronova live in New Orleans.

[00:36:08]

So my pediatrician tells me when I go to see her at my daughter's one month well, check appointment, Melanie, you got to go to the hospital. I need you to get x rays of I.V. skull because something's wrong. And I'm going to tell you what's going on in a minute. And I'm like, well, I have a babysitter for like 20 more minutes, so can I do it next week?

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She goes, Melanie, I'm serious. You need to go right now.

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I'm like, OK, call the babysitter. And I got to get these x rays done. And I'm like, my date is a month old. What do you need? X rays for sure. Her head looks kind of funny, but that's a little endearing to me. I think it's adorable. So my doctor calls me later that day and she goes, Melanie, are you with your loved ones? Are you sitting down? I'm like, I'm with my three children all the time.

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One of them's eating right now. The other one's sleeping right now. So, yes, what's going on? She goes, Mommy. Ivey has a really rare condition called craniosynostosis. And basically what this is, is her head was asymmetrically formed in utero.

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And what happens is the I'm going to get real technical, but it's basically like the plate tectonics theory in reverse order. You want their head to be kind of open with these cranial sutures and so their brain can grow for the first two years of the life and then it kind of comes together and forms the former pinga.

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So that's how it made sense to me when they're telling me this over the phone. So I'm like, OK, so like, that's kind of cute. Like, I don't know, is this a problem? And she goes, Yes, Vilnai, it is. What it has is a right coronal suture. So basically Ivy's eyes were completely asymmetrical and I didn't know. I just thought it was like, oh, look at her little eyes, like this one small one.

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That one's really big and oh, she's so cute, you know? And I mean, just like it's like ten pounds of baby that I'm analyzing her skull and she goes, what happened with Ivy is the right side of her head is completely flat because that bone or that skull plate fused back in her head.

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I was like, OK, so what I'd like to shift were windows, helmets, because I could put, like, stickers on it and like, she'd be so cute.

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This little Hillman's with the little flowers put her name like Ivy and she'd be like all the rage at parades, like think of the throws, you know, and and she goes, she goes Melany.

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She goes, Mommy, Ivy has to have surgery or her brain won't grow. And when your daughter gets to have skull surgery, you get all the top doctors.

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I mean, you are celebrity status when you walk into the hospital.

[00:38:39]

I've got her own neurosurgeon. She got her own. And yes, at one month old, my daughter had her own plastic surgeon.

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And this plastic surgeon is a wonder with his hands. He was a little weird to talk to, but he was phenomenal when he helped to my daughter. And I go to the first appointments with the tag team, neurosurgeon and plastic surgeon holding my this point two months baby with my husband. He goes, no, I'm going to tell you about the surgery. And I said, OK, great. He goes, listen, this is what we do.

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We're going to cut her head open.

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We're going to cut our head up from ear to ear and it's going to look like headphones and I was like, I mean, like those little pods that go down like no, like headphones. I was like, oh, OK. He was French Canadian. And I'm not saying anything about French Canadians, but there was like a disconnect. Sometimes I didn't understand the same. So it's like we're going to cut her head and I can't and I can do accents.

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I can't do this guy.

[00:39:31]

And sorry if he wouldn't be here, but and so I cut her head. So so they're going to cut her head open and he's like, and I will remove the forehead and I will break it and reshape it and I will put it back on using these really tiny screws that will dissolve over time. We're going to stitch her up and she's going to look like a prizefighter for about a month. But then she'll she'll be fine and she'll grow. And I'm like.

[00:39:56]

They were like. Is it like microsurgery, like really in now like that just seemed quite invasive to me and in my mind I'm like, you're not touching her, she's fine. She's going to live with this wonky head and we are going to love her. We're going to love her. Good. Because she's Ivy and she's our baby and you're not going to cut her head open. But my only question that I was able to say was, so are you going to shave her hair off?

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And he goes, Ma'am, I just told you I'm going to cut her head open. I'm going to have to shave her head.

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And I go, sure, OK, whatever. And I go home and I'm like, good Lord. Like, I thought I was going to a well check and they go and drop this bomb on me that I've had to have surgery.

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So the thing with this surgery is you have to wait. You have to wait until your daughter's a certain size or your son, whatever. They can't be too tiny because it's really invasive. It's major surgery. It's blood loss. It's blood transfusion. It's hemorrhaging. It's brain damage. It's all the risks.

[00:40:55]

Capital are I ask and they have to tell these things to you. And I go, OK, I'm like, does she have to have the surgery? He goes, Yes. And I said, don't don't tell me the risk. Like if I have to do what, I have to do it.

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And so we had six months from finding out about have to we'll find out her condition to the day of the surgery.

[00:41:14]

And those six months were just awesome because I was like, you know what? I read the risk and I'm not going to go over them again. I'm not going to think about them. But because I know these risks, I know that every day I get to spend with her is precious because I really don't know what's going to happen come June 19th at two o'clock when they tell me it's over or it's over.

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And I just spend that time like an attachment parenting, like that girl was never sat down. She cried for nothing. She got fed whenever she wanted. She was alive and we all loved her.

[00:41:44]

And so but every night I would think I would play it through my head. I like to be prepared. And this is something I was not prepared for. And I at night, I would think, what am I going to say to the doctor when he comes out and says, You did great, she's amazing. I'll go. Yes, she is. Where is she? You know, like that's what I was going to say. But then I also ran through the possibility of, like, crap.

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I'm going to have to tell her sisters overanalyse. I'm going to have to tell you that she didn't make it.

[00:42:11]

And that's going to be really hard to do. And so they the surgery comes and we are prepared and we're ready. And eight hours later, eight hours, they're working on my baby and they come out or eight hours. And we're waiting for this. The results of this cranial reconstructive open suture details, detail, detail, surgery.

[00:42:28]

And I'm just like ready for anything, you know, and the doctor or the nurse comes to the door and says, can have parents come back here? And I watch TV and I know that that's not good because on TV they come out. If it's good news, they pull you back if it's bad news. And so I get it from the chair and I'm like, I have to have that conversation with adrenalized. I have to tell them their sister didn't make it.

[00:42:50]

And I'm like, so sad about that. I can't even pay attention to the fact that I'm walking through the store and the surgeon comes down the hall and I'm like, where's the where's the chaplain? I don't know what's going on? And he goes, I you did great. No, no, no. He's over there. She's fine. I'm literally removing a cleft palate in the other room, but she's fine. And I'm like you you're French Canadians, you know, and I.

[00:43:14]

And I proceed to see Ivy, and she's just sitting on this huge table and she looks exactly the same and I'm like, oh, that was eight hours, you know, and but little did I know she would continue to develop and, you know, the swelling would go down. But I was like, God, she's so beautiful, man. She got prettier. What? You know, do you know?

[00:43:31]

And they removed this towel. And I see her scar for the first time and they weren't joking. It was like literally from one ear swirly line to the other ear. And it was thick and it was bloody and it was scary. But it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.

[00:43:44]

And that night I got to stay with her in the picture at Children's Hospital, and it was easily, easily the best day of my life. So the next morning, the neurosurgeon comes in and says, hey, how's it going? And I'm like, something profound. Say something profound. She saved your daughter's life. And hey, that's all I said. And I said, what's going on? And she goes, I have you. Looks great.

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I said, You have a question. Why didn't you shave her hair like she still has her hair?

[00:44:11]

And she goes, Oh, doctors say hello to the plastic surgeon. He is such a sucker for little baby girls. He will do anything he can to not shave their hair. And, you know, he has like five daughters, so he gets it.

[00:44:21]

I'm like, I don't know what he gets, but I was like, really like he thought of that. Like he was opening up my daughter's skull, touching her brain, completely changing the way she looked. And he thought about not shaving her hair. And so I think about Ivy's hair now and how it's growing and how it covers her scar that you can barely see anymore. And I'm like, man, if that hair could talk, it would tell literally the greatest story of the bravest girl in the world.

[00:44:46]

Thank you. That was Melanie Castronova, her daughter Ivy is thriving, as is her love for the surgeons who saved her life.

[00:44:58]

I gave Melanie a call to talk a bit more about the story. I wanted to know more about Ivy's doctors at Children's Hospital in New Orleans. Do you mind?

[00:45:06]

What's his name? What are their names?

[00:45:09]

Hugo say. So Dr. St. Hilaire is the plastic surgeon, and then Dr. Laura McBride was the pediatric neurosurgeon.

[00:45:19]

And so I've seen Dr. McBride like at the grocery store and I about fall apart.

[00:45:23]

I'm like, I can't see you in the setting. You know, you you, like, touched her brain.

[00:45:29]

Like, this is weird. I'm buying melons like I can't.

[00:45:34]

But when we see them at our yearly appointment, I just I get so excited, I, I want to like, catch up with them and like get a drink or something.

[00:45:43]

But always very grateful because their work was flawless and intense and they just were really fantastic. And you know, Ivy's three now three and a few months and you would never know. You can't even see the scar anymore. So adorable. Yeah. Beautiful little girl.

[00:46:03]

I know the most recent was she and she's got this short it's really curly blond hair, but it just kind of sits there. And if I look for her scar, which I can find it, I have to like sift through all these tangled curls and I can barely see it now and when I want to, when it started to fade, I almost missed it because it was such a mark of this amazing thing that she did just she didn't know what she was doing and kind of like a badge of bravery, if you will.

[00:46:33]

So, yeah, it was a very, very special thing. And then someone asked once, like, if you could. Now, if you could have to be born again and not have it, you know, what would you do? And I was like, well, that's insane. But I'm so thankful for for the entire journey. It was. Like never to cry. Um, you know, just very grateful for how it strengthened our family and.

[00:47:03]

Districted just my faith and in God that he was going to take care of her, so. I try not to cry in my story, I did a couple of times, but yeah, it just was. Just be really like kind of fragile and vulnerable when dealing with something and having to make the decisions for somebody who could, it was was an intense responsibility, but oddly an honor and a privilege to be her mom through it. So. That's all you could be.

[00:47:34]

Now, you had to help make the right decisions and then just be there and be present and in the moment and when she has her tantrums now, I'm kind of like, oh, you have no idea.

[00:47:44]

You have no idea that that's not hard because you got strawberry yogurt and that peach. That's not hard. Let me tell you about hard. You already did it, you know, so.

[00:47:55]

To hear more of my interview with Melanie Ostrava, including the wonderful Instagram kismet that Melanie met a mother in Australia who had gone through the exact same surgery with her young daughter just three months before I went and visit the morgue. Does this story or any of the stories you've heard this hour make you think of your own story? Remember the formula, place and problem? You got this once you think your pitch. Call us. You can pitch us your person place problem story by recording it right on our site.

[00:48:28]

Or call 877 799 MOTHE. That's 877 seven nine nine six six eight for the best. Pitches are developed for math shows all around the world.

[00:48:41]

Hi, my name is Theresa Wood. I'm a registered nurse, case manager at about 12 years ago, I had a young man who's trying to come to me at the assisted living where I worked. So his dad had early onset Alzheimer's and was very declined, needed to be placed. But he wanted to preserve his dignity and he didn't know how to do it. His dad was a physician, well-loved, well traveled, and still thought he was a physician.

[00:49:07]

So he was going to take care every day. So I brought him into the assisted living and I faked an interview with him. I told him that we had an opening for an onsite physician and told him around the facility, introduced him to all the staff. I showed him an empty room and told him that would be his office, took him back to the main office, got out of employment for him, and then proposed to him that we couldn't pay him, but we could offer him room and board in exchange for his services.

[00:49:37]

He was Kikukawa, a stroke. His son was in tears and thanked me and he signed and moved in two days later. Remember, you can pitch us at eight seven seven seven nine nine mothe or online at the morgue. That's it for this episode of The Moth Radio Hour, we hope you'll join us next time.

[00:50:12]

Your host this hour was Jennifer Hicks and the rest of the most directorial staff includes Kathryn Burns, Sarah Habermann, Sarah Austin Ginés and Meg Boles, production support from Timothy Luly, most stories are true is remembered and affirmed by the storytellers.

[00:50:29]

Our theme music is by the drift of the music. In this hour from Duke Levine, John Scofield, the Chandler, Travis Philharmonic and Gustavo Santaolalla. You can find links to all the music we use at our Web site. The Moth Radio Hour is produced by me, Jay Allison with Viki Merrick at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. This hour was produced with funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and the John D.

[00:50:59]

and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation committed to building a more just verdant and peaceful world.

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The Moth Radio Hour, as presented by PUREX to find out more about our podcast. To get information on how to pick your own story and everything else, go to our Web site, The Moth Dog.