Stories from the Stage

S4 E17 | FULL EPISODE

Silver Linings

When we miss out on the one thing we want most, the universe conspires to give us something extraordinary. Ronna pursues a Hollywood dream but discovers another possibility; Luis faces depression and struggles to find the light; and Jackie misses out on the lead for the school play but the curtain hasn’t fallen yet. Three stories, three interpretations of SILVER LININGS, hosted by Theresa Okokon.

AIRED: May 24, 2021 | 0:26:30
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

JACKIE DAVIS: I am so excited,

I'm bouncing up and down in my seat.

My arms are pumping by my sides

and I want to yell, "Pick me, pick me!"

RONNA LEVY: I am so in the wrong place,

I am the Big Apple, Broadway, bagels.

They're the streets of L.A.!

LUIS CARDENAS: Here I thought it was something

that was clinically wrong with me

and it turns out it's just a love problem.

THERESA OKOKON: Tonight's theme is "Silver Linings."

Nobody's life is all blue skies;

gloomy clouds and dreary days are inevitable.

And sometimes, when we're lucky,

even in the darkest of our moments,

we're able to see through the darkness

to some glimmer of hope.

Because eventually the sun is going to shine

and the clouds will clear away.

Tonight, storytellers are bringing their true stories

of the moments in their lives when those dark clouds

felt overwhelming,

but they were somehow able to find a silver lining.

DAVIS: My name is Jackie Davis.

I live in Massachusetts,

but I'm originally from New York-- go Yankees!

(chuckles)

And I have had my career in marketing

and also interior design.

So how did you get involved in live storytelling?

DAVIS: In 2020, I was contracting

with a major corporation and the contract was ended abruptly

due to the pandemic.

Mmm. DAVIS: I thought about

what could I do in the meantime?

You know, I wanted to stay productive and engaged

and I said, "Well, maybe I'll take some classes."

And one of the classes I decided

to take was the story skills workshop.

I took that and it changed my life.

I felt like

I finally discovered what I was really meant to do.

OKOKON: When you think about the story

that you're telling us today,

and as you were working on that story,

did it begin and end the way that you thought it would?

Or did the story kind of change and evolve

as you worked on it and figured it out?

DAVIS: It started out a story about luck.

But as I wrote it, and developed it, and told it,

it really turned into more of a story about

wanting people to see me and hear me.

It was a story about courage, a story about

what it's like to be a Black female in America.

I'm reading a book, and I come across a word

that I don't recognize.

So I take it to Mommy and show her.

She says "Jacqueline, sound it out."

Sound it out?

I don't know how to do that.

So when Mommy sees my teacher at the parent-teacher's conference,

she says, "Jacqueline should be able to read this word.

"She's in the second grade.

Don't you teach phonetics?"

My teacher says, "No-- she should memorize."

"Memorize?"

So when the letter comes

that gives me the chance to transfer to a different school,

my parents jump on it.

They want me to have the best education possible.

So in 1962 I become one of the Negro children

bused across Brooklyn to integrate a school

in a white neighborhood.

Three years later, I'm in the fifth grade

and I'm the only Black person in the classroom.

I'm the fly in the buttermilk.

I sit in the last seat in the first row

and no one can see me from the glass in the door.

Now my parents always said that children should be seen

and not heard, but I feel invisible.

My teacher, Mrs. Hornstein, tells us

that our class is going to do a play about brotherhood

and any student can try out for any role.

I look at the list and I see the part I want.

I want to play the leading lady, the Puerto Rican mother.

No, I'm not Puerto Rican, but I look around the classroom

and I look more like the Puerto Rican kids

in my neighborhood than anybody here does.

Besides, the play is about brotherhood,

shouldn't I be included, too?

I know how to act, so I try out for the part.

Today, Mrs. Hornstein is going to tell us who got what role.

First, she starts with the leading man.

She smiles and says, "Jonathan.

"Jonathan will play the leading man,

the high school principal."

Next she's going to tell us who's playing the leading lady,

and she's looking in my direction.

I am so excited, I'm bouncing up and down in my seat,

my arms are pumping by my sides

and I want to yell, "Pick me, pick me!"

You know, the way we kids do

when we have the answer to the question.

But Mrs. Hornstein turns away and she smiles and says, "Sandy.

Sandy will play the leading lady, the Puerto Rican mother."

What?

I don't believe it, I was so good during tryouts!

How did she get the part?

You know, this reminds me of a time

when I was in the third grade.

There were only three Black kids in my classroom--

me, August, and Daniel.

All the white kids in class got a chance

to be class president for a whole week, but not us.

I was class president for three days.

Daniel and August were class president

only for one day apiece and it was the last week of school.

I was disappointed then and, you know, I'm disappointed now.

But you know what?

I really shouldn't be surprised.

You see, Sandy is the fair-haired girl in class--

literally and figuratively.

You see, she has blonde hair,

and hardly anybody in school has blonde hair.

Is it true blondes have more fun?

Because it seems like everybody wants to be blonde.

I don't want to be blonde.

I just want to be in the class play.

Well, I'm not in the play,

but I decide to learn the lines anyway-- after all, I know how

to memorize, I've memorized words and songs

and the Pledge of Allegiance.

I can learn this too.

So every day when Sandy and Jonathan

are practicing their lines,

I'm saying Sandy's lines right along with her under my breath.

The day before the play comes and Mrs. Hornstein tells us

Sandy's not doing the play.

She has strep throat.

(groans) I was looking forward to seeing that play!

But then Mrs. Hornstein smiles

and looks at me and she says, "Jackie,

do you think you can play the role?"

"Me? Yes!"

Well, actually it came out more casually, like,

"Yes, Mrs. Hornstein."

But I wonder, how did she know I could play that role?

Did she see me mumbling under my breath?

Hmm...

Later that afternoon, Jonathan and I are practicing our lines

and there's one line that I just keep forgetting

and I know because I pause and I hear Jonathan say,

"Social Studies," in this tone like he's all annoyed

because he has to say a line for me.

That's okay, I've got it.

The next day I'm on stage and I am reciting my lines

in my best imitation Puerto Rican accent.

When all of a sudden I stopped abruptly

and I hear Jonathan say, "Social Studies."

Oh no-- did I forget that line again?

Well, I can't worry about it because the show must go on,

and I continue until I say the last line in the play.

"One hand washes the other and the two, they work together."

And then all the other kids come out

and join us on stage and we take our bows

and I look out into that audience

and I see all those smiling faces and people clapping.

I see the teachers and the students and the parents

who have come see their children perform,

and I am in my glory because

I just know all that applause is for me.

I have triumphed.

I can hardly wait for Mommy and Daddy

to hear all about the play.

No, my parents weren't able to be there for me.

They couldn't come.

You see, Daddy is a construction worker,

and he's on crutches now.

He was hit by a tree when they were clearing a golf course

and it's really too much for him to manage

to get up the steps from our basement apartment,

walk the three blocks to the bus stop,

take the bus to the elevated train, get up those steps,

take the train to the Prospect Park stop,

transfer there for the second train,

and then walk to my school.

And Mommy-- Mommy's a dressmaker in a factory

and there's no way she can afford

to lose the hours to come see me in a play.

I don't know why I didn't bother to ask if Grandma Lucy

or an aunt or uncle or even a neighbor

could come see me, but I didn't.

So there's no one there for me.

But that's okay, because I'm still excited.

I can hardly wait to get home.

I bust through that door.

I'm so excited, I can hardly speak.

I tell Mommy and Daddy all about the play

and they are happy for me and they're excited for me,

because even though I forgot a line,

I did such a good job,

such a good job in such a short amount of time.

And they are really, really proud of me,

because it's not every day that a little Black girl

gets the chance to be seen and heard.

LEVY: My name is Ronna Levy.

I'm actually originally from Massachusetts.

I grew up in Framingham

and I have been living in Brooklyn for decades.

I've done a lot of different things in my life.

I've been a waitress, I've done some performing,

I've been a teacher...

a lot of different jobs.

So the COVID-19 pandemic has kind of changed everything

and it's changed a lot of storytelling.

What has the impact of the pandemic been on you

as a storyteller? LEVY: It's actually been

kind of wonderful because through Zoom,

I have met so many storytellers from all over the country

and I've been able to tell stories in different shows

that are in different places in the country

that would never happen.

And I've made really good friends

that like when this is all over,

I can't wait to fly out and meet these people.

I feel very connected to these people.

I see all the time on... it's wonderful.

And what kind of stories is it that you most like to tell?

I like stories that are like a moment or just an instant,

not, like, my whole life.

Or here's what happened six years, over six years.

Just like that moment, that instant when something changed

in you and you can, you can turn that anecdote,

you can find the story in that, and that's fascinating.

I strive for that-- it's hard, but I like that.

I am driving home from a nice

and easy hair color commercial audition

and I got the windows open,

the music blasting, and I feel good.

I mean I think I got it, I-I hope I got it,

It's 1992 and I have just moved to Los Angeles to be an actress.

I got my auditions in the day, I waitress on the weekends,

and until I get that big break,

I have a part-time teaching job at a community college.

And the class they've given me

is basic sentence writing and paragraph building.

I taught high school for a year in New York City

and I can certainly write a sentence

and build a paragraph, easy.

First day of class, this young lady comes in,

she's 30 minutes late.

She's got on ripped up jeans, these giant earphones,

and dark sunglasses.

And I say, "Excuse me, class started 30 minutes ago."

And she doesn't remove her earphones or her sunglasses.

She just kind of walks past me and she's like,

"Well, L.A. Unified was closed

so I just figured the college was closed."

And she just ignores me.

And so I get all defensive and tough and I'm like,

"L.A. Unified is grade school, this is college.

don't you know where you are?"

And I can't believe I said that.

And she just turns.

"That a tan?

"It's going to fade.

You're going to turnmore white?"

Just one commercial and I am out of here.

So the students have this workbook

and they practice their sentences and their paragraphs

and they just sit in rows like, like factory workers, right?

And they do the same thing over and over again.

But this is the curriculum they gave me.

I get to sit up at the front, I can sip my Diet Coke

and suck on my tropical fruit-flavored Life Savers.

One day after class, this kid Damian,

he hands me a newspaper article, I just stuff it in my bag.

And I go back to my Diet Coke

and I just think about my commercials.

I'm home, commercial went well, I'm sitting on my futon

and I take out the article.

It's by Damian.

He was in a gang, he went to prison,

and now he's in community college, changing his life.

And I'm, I'm thinking, "Why is he giving this to me?

"What, is he trying to show how tough he is?

"Or maybe he's-- maybe this is his way

of telling me who he is,"

which, well, it's entirely possible.

I mean there's just no room

for any human connection in that class.

It's just so disconnected and soulless and boring.

I mean, even I am getting bored.

Four weeks in, I get this idea.

I don't know if I'm going to get in trouble,

but I bring in a poem:

"To An Athlete Dying Young."

It's about an athlete who dies young

before he outlives his glory.

So we read it and I say, "Okay,

what do you think the poems about?"

And this shy kid Jose, he raises his hand and he says,

"Maybe, it's good to die young

before you're not famous anymore."

And I'm thinking, "Yeah, good, he's thinking"

And I see some of the kids,

they're, like, shaking their head no.

And some are nodding their head, yes.

And then boom!

The room cracks open.

Damien describes a friend who was stabbed young

and never had a chance to become famous.

And my friend with the sunglasses,

she tells us about her brother

who was shot during the Rodney King race riots.

He was young and never had a chance to become famous.

And then Lucas just stands up and points to his leg.

Bullet fragments from a drive by.

And now his dreams of becoming a famous NFL player are gone.

But he doesn't want to die young

because he's got a baby on the way.

And I'm listening to this and my head is just spinning.

I mean, I am, I am so in the wrong place.

I am out of my element.

I mean I am the Big Apple, Broadway, bagels.

They're the streets of L.A.!

And then in the back this kid, Roberto, black watch cap,

four gold hoop earrings, and baggy pants.

And he looks around and he says, "What about my holmes

"at the AIDS Project L.A.?

"My best friend is dying of AIDS

and I don't want him to die young."

I-I must have looked like that deer.

You know, the one that's frozen in the headlights

because I am just frozen, and my mind is racing.

I'm like, oh my God,

I never should have brought this poem in.

I don't know what I was thinking.

I am not a teacher.

I'm a fraud, I'm sorry, I'm sorry for your losses

and I just want

to get out of here.

And I-I say something like

"We'll continue this conversation tomorrow.

And then I have to go off to a commercial audition

for Spic and Span floor cleaner.

I get to the audition and I'm in the room

and I see all these young ladies,

they've got the sides, and they're mouthing the lines

and they're smiling in the air and it just looks so silly.

And the first line of the commercial copy,

"Sometimes, a hundred things I do at work

don't satisfy me like one clean kitchen."

At my work, babies, bullets, and stabbings--

I was not thinking about a clean kitchen.

And I bungled the audition.

Next day we continue our conversation

and, and they're-- they want to talk, you know,

they're so open and interesting, and I bring in more poems

and then I bring in short stories and I'm just,

I'm excited to share these things with them

and they want to talk about it.

They're, they're so present and open

and they want to be there and I,

I want to be there and there's this connection starting

and I just, I look forward to it and it's slow

but I feel really comfortable

and I'm happy there.

Last day, my friend with the sunglasses

gives me a note, leaves.

She says that when she first met me,

she thought that I was snobby and white

but that she judged me by sight

and not my inner self.

And that I'm a dynamite lady.

And I'm, I'm just sitting there in that empty classroom

with that note, and I'm thinking how I did not want to be

in this room and how, how lucky I am

that I didn't get that commercial and that I,

that I stayed.

And now it's almost 30 years later

and I am still a teacher.

CARDENAS: My name is Luis Cardenas.

I was born in Mexico,

And my parents brought me to the U.S. when I was five.

I studied at MIT, I'm a mechanical engineer

and now I work in the pharmaceutical industry.

So when you discovered storytelling,

what was that experience like for you?

This is only the second time that I tell a story.

I didn't know that

it's so much of an art form, really.

It's not a TED Talk, it's not a speech.

It's something that people do

to entertain but also at the same time inform.

And I am

really enjoying it, I'm learning a lot.

I hope to keep doing it.

It sounds like

our theme for tonight really called to you.

So can you tell me about

what does this theme mean for you?

It means, to me, that you should never lose hope.

It's easy to say that now,

that, that I'm past it, that I'm outside of it.

But if-if this can help even one person

who's listening to this, then I think it's worth it.

I'm a student at MIT

and I'm passing the Green building.

That's what they call it, even though it's not green.

It's one of the tallest buildings on campus.

I stand beneath it and I look up

and it makes me feel dizzy.

I could just go up to the top and throw myself off.

That would solve all my problems.

I wouldn't be the first.

Just last year when I was a freshman,

a student went up and he broke the lock on the door

and he jumped.

Witnesses say that they could hear

that final scream coming from the student

as he fell through the air.

Not long after, another group of students,

cruel and insensitive as students can sometimes be,

painted a bullseye at the foot of the building as a joke.

The school promptly removed that.

I am scaring myself with these thoughts,

so I make an appointment with the school psychologist.

"So, what's going on?"

"I feel miserable, depressed.

"I have no motivation.

"I'm not doing well in school.

I feel like I'm letting my parents down."

"And have you ever felt like this before?"

"I've been sad in the past, especially in middle school.

"I hated that school

but not to this degree."

"And you mentioned your parents,

can you tell me more about them?"

"What do you want to know?

"They were both born in Mexico, as I was.

"They brought me to the U.S. when I was five.

"My dad had to drop out of college

"in order to support the family.

"He's an operator at a factory,

"and my mom works as a clerk at a grocery store.

"They've worked very hard to give me the life that I have.

"And what else do you do outside of school?"

"Mmm... I met a girl.

"I met her at a party.

"She has the most beautiful brown eyes.

"She's a student here, course 15.

"And we were both born in the same city in Mexico.

"Best of all, she talks to me.

"She actually talks to me.

"The only problem is that she has a boyfriend.

"He's not here, he's living in Texas.

"But she's not going to leave him.

So she's just using me and it hurts."

"Well, that's your problem.

"You're just heartbroken.

You just have to solve this problem."

Hearing that made me feel a lot better.

Because here I thought

it was something that was clinically wrong with me.

And it turns out

it's just a love problem.

By this time Maria, we'll call her,

had stopped taking my calls.

I could make out the light behind the curtain

to her dorm room, but she wouldn't open the door.

So other people by this time

might realize that this is not the person for me

and move on.

What did I do?

I became obsessed

and I started stalking her.

I know what you're thinking, "This is criminal behavior."

And this is why I never told anyone.

Not even the psychologist.

Had I told her,

she probably would have suggested

a different course of action.

I know what I did was wrong.

If I had a daughter,

I would be very frightened and concerned for her safety.

This went on for a few weeks.

I went to Lobdell, that's what they call the food court.

And from there I could see the students exiting 77 Mass Ave.

I waited for her to come out

and then I would run down the stairs

and right before reaching her

I would casually walk by and say, "Oh,

what a coincidence meeting you here."

My brilliant plan was

that she would see it was fate or destiny bringing us together.

Of course, my plan failed.

My depression worsened, my grades did not get any better.

If anything, they got worse.

One morning, around 6:00 a.m.,

I hear a voice over a radio.

And right outside my window at the McGregor dormitory,

I opened the curtains

and I see a Cambridge police officer

walking around the courtyard looking for something.

This is strange because

you would normally expect to see MIT campus police,

not the city police.

As I got closer to the edge of my window,

I could see only a few feet away,

the body laying there,

hurt leg twisted in an unnatural position,

her jeans ripped on one side,

and a pool of blood forming a perfect circle

around her head.

A suicide note later confirmed what had happened.

I didn't know this person,

but it could have been any of us.

It could have been me.

I wonder what went through her head in those final moments.

If she tried to stop herself.

Seeing this didn't solve any of my problems.

But I did realize that

this is something real.

It's not just something that you read about

in theBoston Globe.

Today, I work in Cambridge, not far from the Green building.

I can see it off in the distance.

But I see it differently now.

I no longer have those thoughts.

In fact, sometimes I take my family there

and we take pictures in front of the dome.

I know there's not a single answer to depression,

at least there wasn't for me.

But looking up at a building is not the answer.

Instead, look to other people, as I did,

to friends and family.

There are those willing to help-- reach out.

OKOKON: WatchStories from the Stage, anytime, anywhere.

Visit worldchannel.org for full episodes and digital extras.

Join us on social media and share your story

only on World Channel.

STREAM STORIES FROM THE STAGE ON

  • ios
  • apple_tv
  • android
  • roku
  • firetv

FEATURED PROGRAMS