EVERETT — If lousy luck and resiliency were MCAS topics, Everett High would beat Boston Latin.
Listen to the stories of kids in this struggling school and you realize how very little numbers like test scores and turnaround statistics capture. These students carry around stuff so heavy it’s a wonder they make it to school at all, let alone talk about it.
“I never thought this would happen to me, to my friends, but death? Death does not discriminate,” said Peace Ntagengwa, standing on a stage Friday morning as several hundred of her fellow juniors sat in red-upholstered seats in the school’s auditorium. Someone she loved was fatally stabbed last summer, along with a friend who survived.
“I know this is bad, but I wanted the other boy to die.”
Her performance was part of an initiative called StoriesLive, run by storytelling outfit massmouth in 11 schools. Winners of story slams in each school will compete in a regional contest for scholarship money at the end of April.
After weeks honing their stories, the best or most extroverted storytellers were chosen to perform for the entire grade. Some of the 19 kids who walked onto the stage Friday morning stood rigid behind fixed microphones, some crouched down to reenact comic scenes, some dissolved as tearful friends watched. They were brave, funny, eloquent.
Here was Timmy Dufresne, pulled out of school early one afternoon when he was 6, surrounded by people at his home: “I remembered wondering aloud, ‘What is this party for?’ and somebody told me, ‘Don’t you know? Your father died today.’ ”
And Sylverain Phaudly, who told of being caught in an earthquake in Haiti, emerging from his house to see his neighbors dusty and bloodied, “walking like zombies.” And Don Wells, who managed to get laughs telling the story of how, when he was 5, the car in which he was left alone was stolen while he hid on the floor. And Antonella Carello, who almost died because a surgeon botched her tonsillectomy.
Amidst the eloquent cavalcade of hurt and hardship, there were funny stories told by budding comics. Cody Goodman’s father took too many muscle relaxants by mistake and began hallucinating. “Make sure to clean up the bodies, I stored them in the couch,” he said as he was being taken to the hospital. He thought the pillows were people, Goodman said.
Stephen Carlin’s mother convinced her 11-year-old, Potter-loving son that he had been accepted into Hogwarts. “I was the coolest kid ever,” he said. “I get four suitcases packed. My mom says, ‘Ready for the big day?’ ” When the truth came out, he thought he’d never forgive her.
A couple of the stories were especially hard to hear. One girl recounted, in excruciating detail, the time her 25-year-old cousin almost raped her when she was 9. “Oh, my God, I felt his mouth on my mouth,” she said, her voice rising. “Get off me! The door opened. Thank you, Jesus, it was my mother. . . . That’s when I realized even family you can’t trust.”
That’s a lesson Jackie Rogers learned some time back. She and her brothers had been taken from their addicted father and mentally ill mother eight times, she said. Eventually, she refused to go back. “My sister has been my mom for the last year,” she said through tears. “When you think things are tough at home . . . just remember, things could be much worse.”
Things are tough for a lot of these kids. Sitting there, looking up at them as they heave their barely begun, too-hard lives into words, you had to marvel at their ability to just show up, day after day. And wonder about what horrors and hard-won victories the kids who wouldn’t dream of standing on stage were quietly keeping inside.
When it was over, the juniors drained from the auditorium, headed back to their classrooms, carrying their stories with them.