WARREN HOLLEMAN: I was hoping to see the mama bird with her baby bird.
What I saw instead frightened me.
The sky was black-- there was thunder.
RAQUEL DE LOS ANGELES: Anger just overwhelms me and I grab her by her legs.
My mom and I are playing tug of war for my sister.
MANDY TRICHELL: I visited her three times in her last year.
These were not Hallmark moments, but it was better than anything we had shared in a very long time.
THERESA OKOKON: Tonight's theme is "Second Chance."
ANNOUNCER: This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.
On the web at arts.gov.
If you've never been to the city of Houston, here's one thing you should know: it's a great place for starting over.
But even in Houston, second chances represent more than just a do-over.
They have big lessons to teach us about love, hope, and persistence.
Tonight, Houstonians tell us their stories about getting another chance-- one that made all the difference.
♪ HOLLEMAN: I'm Warren Holleman, I'm from Houston, Texas.
I'm retired now, but until recently, I was professor of behavioral science at the University of Texas M.D.
Anderson Cancer Center.
Now, Warren, for people around the country, or maybe even around the world, who watch the show, can you describe Texas for us?
Texas is a big place.
When I drive to El Paso, I'm closer to Los Angeles than I am to my home.
That's how big it is.
But what a lot of people don't know is that Texas is increasingly urban, and the cultural diversity of those cities is phenomenal.
There are a lot of studies showing that the city I live in, Houston, is the most culturally diverse city in the United States.
And for such a diverse city like Houston, what is it about storytelling that makes it so important?
When we tell our stories to others, or when we listen to them tell their stories, it bonds us together in friendships and communities.
And there's such a deep need that we all have for friendship and community, and storytelling helps make that happen.
♪ From 2008 to 2020, for a dozen years or so, my wife and I were consumed with the care of our parents.
We considered it a privilege to do this, but it was hard, and in time, we became exhausted.
Then a strange thing happened.
A baby bird fell from the sky.
It happened on a Friday night.
We had one of these torrential Texas Gulf Coast storms.
Lots of limbs came down-- even a few trees.
Early next morning, my wife got up and headed down to Brazoria County to check on her mother.
I stayed back to clean up from the storm.
I was working in the far back part of the yard when I noticed this little white blob in the middle of a mud puddle.
I thought it was a golf ball.
I took a stick and reached in there.
It was a baby bird, and the right side of its head was swollen.
I looked up in the pine tree there, and realized it must have fallen at least 30 or 40 feet.
The bird was dead, so I turned to go back to work, and that's when I heard this sound, "Beep!
I started fumbling for my beeper, which is funny.
I hadn't carried a beeper in years.
And then I realized that little bird isn't as dead as I thought.
Now, I had stuff to do.
I didn't want to waste my day taking care of a stupid little bird, especially one that was going to die, anyway, but I didn't think he should die here in the mud.
So next thing I know, I've got a ladder, I'm climbing up the pine tree, I've got a piece of plywood, a rope, and I'm building a little perch on the side of the tree.
Climb back down, got the baby bird, put him up on the perch-- and I tried to go back to work.
But the problem was, every time I walked past that tree, I had this bad feeling.
I mean, as an engineer, I was proud-- the perch was strong and sturdy.
But from an emotional perspective, that piece of plywood was just way too hard and too flat.
I had some hay in the shed.
I found this little basket, I made a nest.
I climbed back up there and put the little bird in the nest-- that was better.
After lunch, I got curious.
I poked my head in the backyard.
I was hoping to see the mama bird, hopefully with her baby bird.
There was no sign of the mama bird.
What I saw instead frightened me.
The sky was black-- there was thunder.
I went back out there, got the little bird, brought him inside the house.
I noticed he looked cold, so I took him out of the nest.
I held him in my hands-- I was trying to warm him up.
Imagine if you had a ball of cotton in the palm of your hand, and there was a little golden beak poking out.
That's what he looked like.
And then that little beak started opening wide.
"Feed me, feed me."
So now I've got the bird here.
With this hand, I'm Googling, "What do you feed a baby bird?"
I discovered that some baby birds are strict vegetarians.
Others are strict carnivores.
If you feed either one the wrong thing, you're going to make them sick.
I tried Googling pictures of baby birds to see which kind I had, but my baby bird was just too tiny.
And then an internet miracle happened.
I discovered this YouTube video about a special brown soup that is safe-- allegedly-- for both kinds of birds.
It's a very sophisticated formula.
You mix dog food and water.
To be honest, the video was made by an eight-year-old boy.
I'm a scientist-- a healthcare scientist, at that.
We don't generally recommend that people get their medical information from eight-year-old boys on YouTube.
So now I'm at the sink giving the little bird a warm bath, when my wife surprises me by walking in the door.
She said she came home early.
She didn't want to get caught out in that storm.
I introduced her to Ralph-- by this time, I was calling him Ralph-- and explained that he didn't want to get caught out in that storm again, either.
But this time, Ralph wasn't chirping or peeping much anymore.
So we just sat on the sofa and we took turns holding him.
And when we did that, something magical happened.
My wife, Marsha, who doesn't usually talk about these things, was holding Ralph and she said, "You know, "my mom is a lot like Ralph, so frail, so vulnerable.
And yet," she said, "Mom's still happy."
Marsha handed Ralph to me.
I started talking about my mother.
I talked about how, ten years earlier, she had been so frustrated with all those trips to the emergency room, she begged my brother and me to set up a home hospice arrangement.
We found that to be so complicated and so absolutely worth it.
In the last couple of years of her life, there were these rich moments.
Maybe she'd be sitting on the sofa reading a book or maybe she'd be out digging in the garden.
Rich moments where she would just stop everything and she would sigh out loud and say, "This is paradise."
I had almost forgotten about those moments.
Then we talked about my wife's father, how he-- like my mom-- wanted to die at home, and how he did that quite literally.
He tripped, fell, and hit his head as he stepped out the front door and onto the porch.
That was a painful memory, of course.
But then we talked about all the good memories, how much he enjoyed sitting out on that porch, how much we loved being there with him.
Together, we felt the weight of all that sorrow.
But then, with Ralph's help, we realized how all that sadness had been more than balanced by all the warm hugs and tender conversations.
When it was all over, we buried Ralph in the backyard.
We actually made a casket of his little nest and buried him in that underneath that same pine tree.
And every time we go back there, even to this day, we thank him for rekindling our spirit.
For giving us strength to carry on.
♪ DE LOS ANGELES: My name is Raquel de los Angeles and I was born and raised in Houston, Texas.
I am a social worker for a pre-K school for low-income families.
So, Raquel, how did you discover live storytelling?
Even as a teenager, I always enjoyed journaling, you know, my feelings in a journal, and writing stories and things like that.
And it just kind of progressed into storytelling.
And what part of storytelling do you enjoy the most?
I think, uh...
When I tell a story and I do get, you know, a laughter or a response from the audience, I enjoy that connection that I make with them.
That I enjoy making people happy, making, making people laugh and kind of forget about anything else that they're going through or may have gone through on that day.
And with the story that you're about to tell us tonight, what would you like people to take away?
Sometimes bad things happen, but that doesn't define your future.
You should still be able to learn from whatever happened to you in your past and move forward in a positive way.
♪ I am six years old and I'm riding my tricycle in the kitchen trying to run over my three-year-old sister.
I'm a devious child, but I would never hurt my sister.
I just like to cycle close enough to her, because she screams and then she giggles, and she has the cutest giggle.
So I do that over and over again just to hear her giggle.
But I'm causing too much of a racket, so my mom grabs me, she spanks me, and she sits me on her bed.
Every day, my dad leaves to work early, and today when he leaves, my mom starts packing her things.
So she grabs her things, and my sister, and she heads for the door.
So I hop off the bed, and I follow behind them, but she turns around and says, "Tú no vas."
"You're not going."
And she grabs me, and she sits me back down on her bed, and she says, "Stay here until your dad gets home from work."
But I never listen-- I'm a hardheaded child.
So I get up.
She sits me back down.
I get up again and she sits me back down.
And on that last occasion where I see her lift my sister and carry her towards the door, anger just overwhelms me and I dash for my sister, and I grab her by her legs.
And, basically, my mom and I are playing tug of war for my sister.
And we're screaming, and I'm yelling things like, "Let her go!"
And I fight with everything I have, but I don't win that fight.
She grabs me, she sits me back down on her bed, and she tells me, "Don't move from here until your dad gets home from work."
And she grabs my sister, walks out the door, hops in a car, and she drives off with her new man.
And I sit there and whimper.
Luckily, my grandmother comes over to visit and she finds me.
My dad comes home from work, and he goes out to look for them, but he's not going to find them.
It's no secret that my parents have a rocky relationship.
My dad is an alcoholic and on drugs, and my mom, she's no saint to any of that, either, but I don't care about any of that.
I just want to grow up so that I can find my sister.
And life continues as usual, and, and it's a good life, but it gets lonely sometimes.
So my sister becomes my imaginary friend.
So every time I play Candy Land alone, I always set up an extra gingerbread man game piece so she can play.
And when I go outside to pretend I'm Wonder Woman, she's always my imaginary Catwoman, because we both can't be heroes.
And at night, my grandmother and I always pray that God keeps her safe.
I'm 23 now.
I'm married and in college, and my dad gets a cancer diagnosis.
And although he's been sober for seven years, he goes out for drinks on this night, and he runs into my mom's sister, my aunt, who tells my dad where my mom is and that my mom has changed my sister's identity.
So my dad gives me that information for me to do with as I choose.
So I immediately start writing letters back and forth to my mom, but I never let her know that I know everything that she's done.
And before I know it, I'm on a plane to Mexico, and I end up in a ranch in the middle of nowhere.
And when I get there, my mom legitimately looks happy to see me.
And I get to hug my sister for the first time in a long time.
And I have all these new wonderful half-brothers and -sisters, and it's a joyful reunion.
So I stay on this ranch for one week.
And there's no electricity, and I pee outside, and I bathe outside.
And I get attacked by a swarm of bees.
And it doesn't sound great, but it's the best week ever for me.
And at night, we sleep on a concrete floor and I tell my sister about the past, and she always just listens.
So I come back home with this renewed sense that I'm going to be able to move forward and start a new relationship with my mom, my sister, and my new family.
But a couple of months pass by, and my sister and one of my half-sisters come to visit me.
And my sister wants to know if all the stories I told her in Mexico are true.
She wants to know who she really is and she wants proof.
So I pull out her birth certificate and I show it to her.
And I show her the only photo that I have of her and me together as kids.
And I tell her, "Mom took you when you were three, and she changed your identity in Mexico."
And this is just too overwhelming and heartbreaking for her.
My sister and my half-sister leave, and I know that I'm never going to see them again.
So a year and a half later, I come home from the gym and open my door to find my sister sitting in my living room waiting for me.
We're going to go through this long, painful journey.
We are worth this long, painful journey.
See, we were cheated out of a childhood together, and that little girl with that cute giggle, she's just a memory.
And I'm asking her to love me as a sister, but she has no memories of me.
I just want her to accept my truth and move on, because I can't accept that she has her own truth to deal with.
That she's trying to sort out two identities, and I'm, I'm never going to understand the pain of that struggle.
But every time we fall apart, we always gather ourselves back up and we come back stronger, more resilient, and united as sisters.
I'm 50 now and my sister is 47.
And we've been together for 25 years, arguing, laughing, and making new memories.
So, to my sister, know that I still sometimes carry the guilt of that six-year-old that didn't fight hard enough for you on that day.
And that you are worth all the pain and tears that it took us to become real sisters, and that I will always love you.
♪ TRICHELL: My name is Mandy Trichell, and I live in Houston, Texas.
I'm a fitness professional and a writer and a mother of three.
So tell me about what type of stories you like to write about or tell.
I typically write and tell a memoir about my, my own life, because I've had this...
I've had a very interesting, unusual life.
I've had to overcome quite a bit and reinvent myself many times.
I find that sharing my stories really helps people who have gone through similar things feel less alone, and it, it inspires other people to share their stories, as well.
And what do you find still challenging?
It's remembering the details, the fine details, because it's very easy to remember in general what happened and how you felt when it happened.
But to remember, you know, the colors of the walls and the smells that were there and the specific things that were said, that remains for me the most challenging part of writing.
I was looking for things my mother had written.
I hoped for journals, but instead I found random lists and single paragraphs scattered amongst pill bottles and cigarette cartons.
I opened a notebook I found peeking out from under her bed, and read aloud from it.
"Did you know my favorite colors are "royal blue, red, and green on black?
I do not like pastels."
I looked over at my sister and apologized.
I had just talked her into choosing pink roses instead of red ones.
The list went on.
"I love history, archaeology, and cryptology.
"I love my children more than life itself.
"I struggle every day to overcome my depression.
"I have social anxiety.
"I avoid crowds like the plague.
It is very hard for me to communicate with anyone."
I couldn't help but notice that this one little list showed more self-awareness than she ever had when she was alive.
On the next page, there was only one sentence.
"I miscarried a child from Stan, and he called me a liar."
Stan had once been our stepfather, and he, like all of us, found it difficult to know when she was telling the truth.
Going through my mother's things is chaotic and unpredictable, like she was.
Underneath a pile of junk mail, I found a yellow legal pad.
Across the top of the first page, it read, "My last will and testament, January 15," and the year was either 2017 or 2019, but it was truly impossible to tell which.
I read it out loud.
"I leave all my things to my son Joseph "and to my daughter Bobbi.
"I wish that only them have authority "over everything when I die.
"I wish to be buried and put to rest in a cemetery.
Do not have me cremated."
So we had just had her cremated, like, within the hour, and this was sort of a comic relief that we all really welcomed.
And after we had a really good laugh, I finished reading the will.
"My daughter Mandy"-- that's me-- "and my son Gabriel are to have "no authority at all concerning me.
They are to receive nothing when I die."
That hurt, and I teared up.
You see, she had nothing.
So to explicitly state that I was to receive nothing was meant to be hurtful.
All I could think was, "Surely she wrote this two years ago, in 2017, and not just a couple of months ago."
My mother and I had gone in and out of years of estrangement.
She had a history of writing me letters detailing her disappointment in me.
She was known for making up stories about her life that were derived from soap opera plots.
She attempted suicide more than once.
When I was a teenager, she would leave my younger siblings with me and stay gone for days.
There was neglect, there was abuse, and endless CPS visits over the years.
About two years before she died, I started wanting peace, and I didn't want to hold on to the resentment anymore.
I had just reread the book The Four Agreements, and that second agreement, "take nothing personally," was really speaking to me.
I asked her about her cat, she asked me about my kids.
There were heavy, uncomfortable silences, but we continued to have these phone calls.
I started to feel a real heartache for my mom.
She was a girl who got pregnant at 16 in 1975.
Her father forced her to drop out of school, marry a man she didn't love.
She was severely bipolar, and would eventually be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
At 58, she was diagnosed with stage four kidney disease, complicated by diabetes and congestive heart failure.
She refused to follow doctor's orders.
Wouldn't go to dialysis, wouldn't quit smoking.
My brother and his husband went out of their way to take care of her, but she often refused that care.
I visited her three times in her last year.
These were not Hallmark moments.
There were forced smiles and awkward hugs, but it was better than anything we had shared in a very long time.
In April 2019, my brother called to let me know she was dying.
She took her last breath as I was flying over our home state of Louisiana to be with her.
Back at my cousin's house, I looked at the date on the handwritten will.
Had she written it two years ago, in 2017, before we started talking again?
Or recently, just after our visit at Christmas?
I picked up my glasses to take a closer look, and I realized it didn't matter.
Every phone call and visit in the last two years had been in the spirit of letting her know that she was loved.
Why should I expect more of her now, in her frail last moments, in her last days?
I'd always felt betrayed by my mother, as if that's all she was: my mother.
I understand now that it wasn't personal.
Her service was the next day, and commemorating her life would be a challenge.
So I chose to simply share some sweet memories.
I spoke of sneaking into her room as a little girl to read her journals, and finding these beautifully drawn landscapes, even though she had never taken an art class.
I told them about how she would play guitar and sing "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" when she was having a good day.
And of course, I had to share that my mother was a pool shark.
She taught me how to play when I was 11, and when I was not much older than that, she started taking me with her to dive bars to hustle pool together.
My most treasured moment, though, was our last exchange in a hospital, just a few weeks before she died.
As I was leaving, I said to her, "I love you, Mama."
She patted my hand and said, "I know you do, baby."
ANNOUNCER: This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.
On the web at arts.gov.
OKOKON: Watch Stories from the Stage anytime, anywhere.
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