TP: Children love their mothers. Especially with a boy child and his mother, there's a bond that's unbreakable. I love my mother to this day. One of the most painful things I ever had to do was bury her, realizing that even though I was her hero, I couldn't help her with this last thing. I couldn't help her get better. All I wanted was to give her everything she wanted. Everything my father didn't give her, everything she never had.
O: You were never angry with her?
TP: Not as a child. I would never say this if she were alive, but there was a time when I was older when I was angry with her, yeah, sure. But my love would override that.
O: All right. But now, in the midst of all the physical abuse, you were also sexually abused. Was this by a neighbor, a friend of the family, somebody you knew?
TP: Neighbor, friend of the family, all of that. The first time, I was 6 or 7; it was a guy across the street. We built a birdhouse together and suddenly he's got a hand in my pants.
O: Did you tell anybody?
TP: Didn't tell a soul. But felt completely guilty about it. Felt betrayed.
O: Mm-hmm. Did it happen more than once?
O: Did it happen regularly?
Oprah: But you were molested by other people, too?
TP: Yes. One was a woman who lived in the apartment complex two doors down, when I was about 10 or 11. And there was a guy in church.
O: That must have been a lot for you to carry. A lot of hurt and anger and betrayal and confusion and shame. So how did all of this—all your experiences growing up—prepare you for the life you're now living? First of all, the aunt who came with the gun—the moment you said that, I thought, "Here comes Madea!"
TP: Yeah. The Bible says that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose. I believe that. Because I've seen it all work. I know for a fact if I had not been born to this mother, this father, this family, if I had not been born into this situation, then I wouldn't be here using my voice and my gifts to speak to millions of people.
O: When you left home, did you have this dream to become who you are right now?
TP: I had watched your show. This is another thing that could just make me cry, you sitting here now. I watched your show and you were speaking to me. There was nobody around me that told me I could fly. Nobody at school, no teacher, nobody who said, "You're special." But I saw you on television and your skin was like mine. And you said, "If you write things down, it's cathartic." So I started writing. And it changed my life.
O: You weren't writing before then?
TP: Never wrote.
O: Wasn't I talking about journaling?
TP: Yes. But I started writing my own things—using different characters' names because I didn't want anybody to know that I had been through this. A friend of mine found it and said, "Tyler, this is a really good play." And I thought, "Well, maybe it is." So that's where it started.
O: How old were you then?
TP: Nineteen or 20.
O: You were still living at home?
TP: Still living at home.
O: You didn't go to college.
TP: No. Got kicked out of high school before graduation. But I went back for my GED.
O: And what had you gotten kicked out for?
TP: I was arguing with a counselor. I said some pretty nasty things. You know, after all the abuse, I was a pretty angry person.
O: I was going to say, wouldn't that make you either angry or so introverted that you couldn't function?
TP: It made me both. An angry introvert, which is dangerous.
Next: His darkest moment and the phone call that changed his outlook on life