Who is the Hero in Your Story? Part Three in Our Storytelling Series

While each of us has a story, as a young mom of a child who experiences cerebral palsy, I knew my story was different than those of my neighbors. As fall approached, they shopped eagerly for school supplies while teachers greeted new students, their children, with smiles and a pat on the back and freshly decorated classrooms.

My neighbor’s experience was not Mikelle’s and my experience, which made us unique. In some ways, perhaps like you, our experience was similar to Hero’s Journey as described by author Joseph Campbell, and so beautifully written by Paul Coelho in the international bestseller The Alchemist. Alabaman and Floridian author, Andy Andrews, also captures this kind of journey so succinctly in each of his books. 

As my journey with Mikelle grew from elementary school to middle to high school, I yearned to learn more about sharing our journey to influence educators, shape policies and affect the building of a community.

I began writing with a small group of men and women at a kitchen table. Literally. My writing teacher, Anne Randolph of Kitchen Table Writing, had and still has weekly writing sessions in her home. Interestingly, like Andy Andrews, she is from Alabama. Her mother taught her to cherish language, telling Anne and her brother, “Let the words roll off your tongue like jewels.”

When I joined this tenacious and varied group of storytellers, my words were clumsy. My sentences were erratic, and I struggled to find the point of my story. My writing was more like a diary entry rather than a story. I wrote for me, but not for any audience or reader.

However, I wasn’t the only one. I joined in around the little dining room table complete with attached card table decorated with a plastic table cloth by others just like me. With me, there was a gentleman, a French man who’d grown up during WWII during the French Resistance and two remarkable ladies who shared their eighty plus years. Shirley approached life as nun idealizing the spiritual sanctuary only to find the rules of the convent more political rather than getting closer to God. She left the convent, her bags in each hand looking for her place in the world. She later married and had eight children including three children she adopted changing their lives and her community.

Imagine a short, sassy and elegantly dressed woman at 80. Alice grew up in New York and Chicago during WWII while her mother was a well-dressed “diva” she’d ended up running a newspaper and was one of the first female pilots in her city. Finally, another young woman shared the panic and drama of the Columbine High School shooting as she crouched in among the many other students in long corridors to the sound of gun fire and the impact of that life-shattering moment.

Every Wednesday morning we met at that kitchen table, wrote our stories prompted by poetry, a suggested starter sentence, fruit, mini-cinnamon rolls and a hot pot of coffee.   After thirty minutes or so of quiet each read from our lined pages and spiral notebooks, each of us “writing from the heart.” And, over the weeks, months and years, we have become storytellers. Alice has published her own book, Caught Between the Bettys, which describes being caught between being a good wife and a free spirit.

You may wonder what impact these stories might have as they are written by everyday people, like you, who live extraordinary lives. Well, we have a small book now. Stories Gathered at the Kitchen Table has sold over 5,000 copies worldwide. At the end of this blog. I will share my story with you.

In the meantime, I have put together a storytelling template for you. It is simple.  Just fill in the blanks to start and see where it takes you. I introduced the idea in my last blog.

Storytelling Template

Once upon a time….

{Introduce yourself, your family member, your project or organization.}


{This is your inciting incident, your challenge.}

And, then.

{The protagonist is tested, often finding themselves at the end of their rope? How did the protagonist respond? What critical decisions did they make?  What have they learned? What is different?}

Happily ever after:

{Results/Action.  What was the growth? The improvement, the call to action.  If fundraising, what is the call to action or the “ask”?}

Here is one of my Stories Gathered at the Kitchen Table.   Happy writing!

A Slow Leaving

By Katherine Carol

            Slow and deliberately, Frank picked his way through the narrow hallway with the last of his meager belongings dumped into the shopping cart he had brought up from the basement earlier this morning. The cart stuttered and stalled; its wheels catching on to the gray carpet as he rounded the corner to the front door.  A trail of sweat dropped, twisted and turned falling on the back of his dull white Indy 500 T-shirt. He had gained weight in the past few months.  His belly stretched the boundaries of the knit fabric just has he had stretched the boundaries of our marriage.

Frank was soon to be a memory and with every step he took, he faded into my past.  The truth was, Frank had been fading for awhile now. His once jet black beard is now, mostly gray.  His full head of hair receded like his love, the long strands of peppered white hair straggled into his left over, can’t cut my Hollywood pony tail.  The full bloom of lust faded, the petals of love fell one by one until nothing remained.  Everything was almost gone between us, except for the disgust I felt for him as he crawled out of my life.

Frank was a man I loved and feared.  Seductively, he exploited and manipulated me. I had been hungry for love and he had satisfied my appetite. The romance had been like no other. Big, bold and exciting we loved large and explosively.  It was a romance to remember and a marriage to forget.

Please leave now.  I wanted to shout, “My God, how long does it take to move a few speakers and a TV and get the hell out of here?” But, I didn’t.

I wanted feel free of him, I wanted the relief of him gone to wash over me clean my soiled heart, but stubbornly refused to come. How could it? As with everything Frank did, he did with a flair for the dramatic.  In our separation scene, he was the producer, I was his audience.  After working for years in Hollywood, his imagination had become his home. There he could produce his own cinematic scenes of life.

The first act was romance and seduction. The second act he wrote and directed with care, casting himself as the hero, the rescuer of the damsel in distress. The perfect man enters the imperfect world an imperfect family and saves them. The act would end in this “Hallmark” movie with a miracle.  In his script, Mikelle walks walk down the aisle of the old adobe chapel built on the bluff overlooking the valley facing west towards Pikes Peak. Mikelle would walk down the aisle of our wedding chapel with his assistance; heads would turn for he was the one, in his ivory colored Great Gatsby dinner jacket and black silk tie, who rescued the single mom, the young boy and the little girl who couldn’t walk.  All eyes would be on Mikelle and Frank. He was the hero of the storybook romance.

The chapel was part of the campus where he attended private school.  Frank did not come from money but had been there on a scholarship.  He was a smart Hispanic kid who happened to catch a break and received a privileged education.  Between the stucco walls, in classrooms and dormitories, he learned the ways of the rich, the prominent, and the influential.  While attending school, he studied how to dress his deceit in charm and good manners.  It was here he was trained in the art of persuasion and how to bend the ear of mayors, governors and Hollywood elite. Like a predator, his words seduced his victims placing them into a trance. Before they knew it, before I knew it—money would flow from our pockets to his.

As the movie played on, the grateful bride would cry as she witnessed what she could not do—make Mikelle walk.  The adoring stepson would finally have the father he deserved.  A new beginning and happily thereafter would be the finale.

Frank seemed to ignore the fact that Mikelle had just had major surgery. For three months, a lime green body cast held her hostage. Still mending, after her bones were severed by a surgeon’s hand, then reattached with pins and screws fusing hope into her legs attempting to prevent her young body from twisting, turning and deforming.  Perhaps, she could walk one day, but probably not.

Silence, comforts me on occasion, often slowing down my chaotic life giving me the quiet time I need to gather my thoughts, focus my attention and figure out what needs to be done next. But today, silence is a dull sword unable to cut the tension filling the corners of our home.  Sparks fly from his fading dark eyes, as the last little bit of manhood Frank still processes disappears like vapor as his shopping cart bangs the front door open.  Abandonment, so full of throw away dreams, quietly teeters with a tear dances delicately on my eyelashes like a fragile ballerina. My defiance refuses to show a hint of sadness. I dare it not to fall.

Where romance once swept me up in a whirlwind of passion; marriage to Frank brought a tornado of grief roaring through our already ravaged life.  Life had been hard since my divorce to the children’s father.  A single mother’s journey is rarely an easy one.

Marriage, I thought would make life easier. I was wrong.  Frank lost his job a week before our wedding.  I panicked. He reassured me, a job would come soon. It didn’t.  Soon after our disastrous honeymoon; my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer and died six months later.  My youngest sister Carol, followed him in death just eight months later. Grief hung like a necklace around my neck unraveling day by day.  I could hardly breathe for fear I would break into a thousand pieces, never to be whole again.

Awkward in his early adolescence, Kasey hesitated before he came to my side. His forehead wrinkled with concern. A long arm wraps around my shoulder, he seeks security and gives it at the same time. I marvel at the man emerging from the chaos that has become my life. “What kind of man will he be? I wonder.  The hollow images of manhood he has been surrounded by ring empty echoing with the sound of broken promises offered up as songs of hope.

Click, whir, Mikelle’s wheelchair wheels grip the carpet fibers as she maneuvers her wheelchair next to her brother and me. Fire and anger spit sparks from the darkness of her tender eyes, they dart back and forth as she seeks her own security from us. Jutting out, her lower lip begins to quiver in her familiar and endearing way. A volcano of tension rises up her spine. It spills over and she cannot hold it back for another second. Her mouth opens but nothing comes out. I can see down her throat all the way to her broken heart. First her birth parents, then her adoptive father and now Frank—they all deserted her. She blames herself—not them.  Now, the tears come. Her plaintiff cry of abandonment echoes down the hall as Frank leaves.

“Mom, you okay?”  I could feel Kasey lean into me, his warm adolescent body now equaling mine.

His arm wrapped around my shoulders and I thought to myself, “This is the only real man in my life.”