Essays & Stories


Love Triangle

naked stories storytelling the moth Apr 03, 2024

"What's the news, what's the story" is a question that comes from journalism, and it's something I used to share with my college students when it comes to finding the meaning in their writing. 

Finding the heart of the story is something I've discovered is very important in live storytelling. Not just the 'point' but the emotion of the story—the personal significance. And the best stories make us feel and connect. They resonate, even if we've never had an experience quite like the storyteller's. 

It's harder than it sounds. It's something I grapple with each time I craft a story for the stage, which I should add, is a very new hobby. 

I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I do, but I think one reason is very human and a tad selfish. As a writer, I work away in solitude and some day someone reads it. How they feel about it, for better or worse, is generally a mystery—unless you're lucky (or unlucky) enough to have it reviewed.

But live storytelling gives writers immediate gratification. People smile and listen. Your joke lands or it doesn't. They feel it or they don't. 

The performance part is the newest for me. I don't like the nerves. Or the time limit. But it's something I am learning to accept as part of the process. I know there's a lesson in it for me. And if anything, I am a diligent student.

Thankfully there are not just lessons but also rewards. I am discovering how wonderful it feels to share not just the stories but the experience of workshopping and performing the stories with some of my closest friends and family. Their support and encouragement has made the work and nerves totally worth it.

And of all things—I have found a way to make my children proud of me. I didn't realize this was something I wanted until it happened, when I saw the big smiles and genuine interest on the night I won my first story slam. 

I am grateful to the people at The Moth for making this wonderful thing for all of us. If you've never been to a show, do it! It's a wonderful way to connect with your fellow humans and to also feel your own humanity. If you don't have a Moth stage near you, The Moth Radio Hour on NPR and the Moth podcast are a great way to enjoy true stories from real people.



This story is one I told on the Moth stage in Portland, Oregon in February 2024 at The Old Church. The theme was "Love Hurts," and I thought, why not share a story from the time my sister and I were caught in a love triangle and my dad called a family meeting at the Atlanta Federal penitentiary? It was a night full of remarkable true stories and a generous, encouraging crowd. I felt very honored to win that night's Story Slam, and especially grateful for my husband and friend there cheering me on. The OPB team did a fabulous job recording it -- I hope you enjoy it! You can also read the transcript below. 


So my first love was my dad. When I was a little girl, my favorite thing to do was pretend to fall asleep in the backseat just so he would scoop me up and carry me inside and put me to bed. And we all felt this way about him. He was very loving, very protective, a smidge controlling, but it was a forgivable flaw because he was also the kind of dad that would leave you a handwritten note in the mailbox on Valentine's Day.

But he traveled a lot. And maybe today it wouldn't be that big of a deal but in the '70s and '80s, being an international marijuana smuggler was kind of a problem. And Dad had to be very sneaky. He would go away for months at a time. We wouldn't hear from him, wouldn't know if he was safe, until he had made it all the way back home.

 So my dad wasn't just my first crush, he was my first experience with loving someone that I couldn't have. And this seemed to follow me around. There was kindergarten Jeff, Jared from junior high, Chad the neighbor. My problem with boys was as soon as they found out I had a sister that was one year older, or as soon as my sister Bell found out I liked a boy, they just liked each other instead of me. And she was older, prettier, more popular, or so I told myself. And all she had to do was flash those green eyes and it was like game over.

In high school a new boy moved to our small town and all the girls wanted Jay. He had these crystal blue eyes. He smelled like Drakkar Noir, the cologne of the '90s and he wore these impressive MC Hammer pants. You remember those? Of course he becomes Belle's new boyfriend. They go out for a while and then he dumps her and word on the street is that Jay likes me. And I'm like, "Oh my God, Jay. he's so hot." And also revenge. "I can finally pay Bell back for all the times she'd stolen my almost boyfriends. I could show her that love hurts.

So at the time we were living with my aunt. The year before, my dad had gotten busted off the coast of Jamaica and he was serving 18 years with no parole in the Atlanta Federal Pen. To make matters worse, my mom, who did love us but had her own drug and alcohol problem, had done gone and run off as they say in Georgia and left us. And we were reliant on the good graces of our family who'd taken us in.

Now, when my aunt found out about this whole love triangle situation, she told my dad. And even though my dad was locked up, he was still running the family from behind bars. And when he found out, he was like, "Family meeting, Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, Saturday."

So we all pile into my grandmother's Oldsmobile. We drive an hour to downtown Atlanta. We get through security, go down the escalator, empty out into this cafeteria-style visiting room. And I missed my dad so much, but I hated visiting him in prison. It was loud, chaotic, not a family place. All around you guys are making out with their wives and girlfriends. But still, this is where my family is like, "Let's do a high school love intervention."

So I'm sitting around this big plastic table with my family, my dad, Bell's there with her arms crossed. And he just lays it out.

"Jay cannot be your boyfriend. He was your sister's boyfriend."

I'm like, "What? That's stupid. I don't care."

And he was like, "Jay is forbidden."

I'm like, "I can do what I want. No one can stop me."

And we just go round and round. And finally he just spells it out. He said, "Look, this guy dumped your sister and now he wants to go out with her sister. Is that the kind of guy you want to be with? Is that what you want?"

And I'm like, "No, Dad, that's not what I want!"

I mean, I kind of couldn't tell him that's sort of what I wanted, but now I realized it was wrong. And there was all these other things I couldn't say like, "I don't want to have a family meeting in a prison. And I want our old lives back. And I want you to get out." And instead, I just sobbed. And I'm 15 years old, end up sitting in my dad's lap with my head on his shoulders, crying all the way through the visiting hours, all the way up that escalator, and all the way back home.

But when I get there, I get it. The family had spoken. Jay was bad news and they were all counting on me to uphold the family honor. (That would take years of therapy to undo but at the time it worked.) I emotionally detached. I exited the Jay train unscathed.

And it was also the last time that Bell and I competed over boys. She got into super bad boys and I was more like, "Can you seem kind of bad on the outside but on the inside, be a really good guy?" Much harder to find.

And I appreciate the lesson my dad was trying to teach me. He wanted me to elevate my self-worth and who I was attracted to. And it took years beyond Jay for me to get that lesson but I finally did get it. Thank you, Dad.

24 years ago on Valentine's Day, the phone rings and I pick up and it's my Dad and he says, "I'm out." My dad was calling me from a payphone on the side of the road because without any advanced warning and after 13 years and a dozen appeals, the Feds finally released him and he was finally out.

I have had a lot of amazing Valentine's Days in my life, but you better believe that that? That was the very best one.


About Victoria Payne

Victoria is a writer, speaker, co-founder of Mission Flow, and the creator of the Naked Librarian. Her work explores health and happiness, personal and professional development, and the power of knowing and telling your own story.