ONE 8 • ‘Dreams, Lessons, Friendship, Hope’: Winner of The Moth Teen Story Competition

Dreams, Lessons, Friendship, Hope.

Each year The Moth invites one brave teenager to share a personal story on our main stage in New York City. They share the stage with celebrated writers and performers, which would be intimidating for someone twice their age. Last year, that teen was Tavar McKenzie. From our first telephone call she blew me away with her intelligence and warmth. A lot of teens we meet want to talk about forgetting their first homework or missing the bus, but Tavar insisted on a much more challenging subject. Last April, in front of a crowd of 300 people, she took The Moth stage by storm with a fierceness that first broke our hearts, then made them cheer. Tavar is a true rock star and we feel so honoured to have met her at the beginning of her journey. We can’t wait to see how high she’s going to fly.

– Catherine Burns, Artistic Director, The Moth NYC

As I stood on the stage, I heard my heart beat through the microphone. Maybe I knew what this story would entail. After I told my story, Amanda Serda would have touched not only my life, but also the lives of many others. As my mouth began to move and the words spilled out, the audience disappeared before my eyes. I was no longer fifteen years old in the Players Club on Gramercy Park in New York. Instead I was in my living room where my nightmare began.

I was sitting in my living room watching television when I overheard my mother talking to my best friend’s mother in the kitchen. All I can say now is that they kept repeating the word cancer over and over again, as well as my best friend’s name. I had no idea what this word they kept repeating meant. Since I was a computer freak I decided to Google cancer. I ended up spelling the word wrong, but soon the correct spelling came up with images: images of body bags, body parts being eaten away by god knows what. Before I knew it, tears began to fall.

The audience veered back into sight. I lost my train of thought, but then I looked down at a small table near the stage, where a group of magnificent human beings from The Moth and from my life sat. They all gave me a warm smile, which indicated everything was going to be all right. I started to think about how Amanda and I first met. As a child I was told that life was a joyful place. As years passed I came to my own conclusions: life is surrounded by death, and death is full of fear, which lives inside almost everyone. As children we dream about life and how we would like to live in this world. But what happens when you see life taken away from your best friend at a young age? Do dreams still live within or do they also die? My experiences led to great things, but still I’ve had a lot taken away from me.

As a child I was not always fortunate in finding friends. I was the outcast, the fat girl, and I wished things could change. One day my wish came true. In my second grade classroom where my classmates were making their usual jokes at my expense, for the first time someone stood up for me in a way that amazes me to this day. I would have never thought that a person outside my home and in my age group would stick up for me. Amanda Serda pulled herself up and said, ‘You have to like her, ‘cause my mother said that’s the only reason why boys pick on girls.’ This act of kindness surprised me for several reasons. First was the fact that Amanda Serda was one of the pretty girls in school, one of the ones who received all of the Valentine’s Day cards from the boys in the class, and I was the girl who never got one unless the teacher felt bad for me. In that moment I knew she was different, and I felt a strong desire to become close to her.

Years passed and as we grew our friendship grew and my knowledge grew also. Amanda did not have the manner of an average ten-year old. She once said to me, ‘Knowledge is power and power is something you need to survive in life.’ Her understanding of life was ‘hurting people hurt people’ and she was convinced that you must never stoop to their level. Let no one harm you, but if they do, you should overwhelm them with love until they feel stupid, and decide to leave you alone. I looked up to Amanda because of her compassion and deep understanding of life. Amanda chose to live in a way that transcended the troubles life threw at her. She lived and never cried, unlike me. With no faith in myself, I cried. Fear spread like wildfire. I was afraid of living and being hurt more than I was already, but Amanda brought something out of me, which I’d never glimpsed before. I began loving myself for what I am and stopped caring what the world thought of me. I realized I had to love myself before anyone else could love me. But after I learned Amanda had cancer I was lost. And after I saw the online cancer images, I knew things wouldn’t turn out right. When I begged my parents to let me visit her in the hospital, their answers remained the same: no. I thought I was losing her. All I could think about was how I was a horrible person for not being there for her in her time of need when she was always there for me. It was almost as if I belonged to her and she belonged to me: two parts that would equal a whole when together. No-one had the right to pull us apart.

Then I came up with a solution that came from something I’d seen on TV. I saw a show about drug addicts, women who craved drugs so bad that they wouldn’t eat until they had them. In a way Amanda was my drug. She was the one who woke me out of my dream world to show me how to live. I decided not to eat until I could go see Amanda. In the end I got what I wanted. My parents finally gave in and I was able to visit her. During the car ride to the hospital, my mind was telling me how mad Amanda would be. When I reached the entrance of the hospital an odder thought hit me, which I will never forget. I remembered why I had come. As soon as my parents found out the room number, I went sailing off, and only began to slow down once I was near her room. I paused before the door and took a deep breath…

It was amazing; during Amanda’s most devastating time in her life she had hope. I was the one with the pain and the tears and a part of me hated her for it. Walking into the room was the hardest part. The Amanda I once knew was lost; her long hair that looked as if it were made of silk was gone. Her face: her eyes swallowed by dark holes. But what I will never forget is her bright smile when I asked, ‘What is there to be happy about?’ She said, ‘Hope.’

Amanda had been my first real friend. And she was taken from me. It took about three years for me to recover. I thought I was last without her, but all the time she was still showing me the way. The truth was I had a little bit of Amanda inside of me from the beginning; I’d just needed her help to embrace it in myself. Amanda Serda’s hope now lives in me.

Tavar McKenzie is in the tenth grade at Martin Luther King High School of Law, Advocacy & Community Justice in New York. She was born in Jamaica & moved to New York at the age of three. She lives in the Bronx with her parents & two sisters. She is a graduate of The Moth Shop Mainstage show & in November 2008 was awarded The Moth Shop Scholarship of $5,000 for her college education. When she grows up she wants to be a writer. Her work can be seen at