In this exercise, I chose to write a brief memoir (not exceeding two pages,) about a non-family member from my childhood. Explore my perspective both as a child and as an adult.
This one stumped me. I thought I had an idea of what I wanted to write about, but nothing really felt right. I didn’t have a whole lot of experiences to draw from because I was very sheltered. I didn’t have many friends. I still don’t. Actually, I should say that I have more now, but most aren’t in real life. The ones I do have, though, are one hundred percent genuine and I love you all wholeheartedly.
Then discussing the project with my wife, she suggested I write about a teacher or someone from that time who had a big impact on me in some way. That was perfect. That suddenly felt right, and I knew exactly who I wanted to write about. I wanted to start asap. Thank you, Tanya!
Tap-tap-tap, echoed the unique sound of Mrs. Raymond’s oft-worn high heels. In turn, the hodgepodge of students ranging from thirteen to fifteen years old took notice, watching intently as she strode gracefully from her nearby desk to the clean whiteboard. Clean, but not clear. Proceeding to rectify that, she erased the large, green sentences, stemming from vocabulary practice minutes before. The ease with which she utilized to erase her perpetually ramrod straight penmanship was mesmerizing. Surrounding me on all sides, the rest of the class gradually sat up straighter, more alert. All was silent as she proceeded to speak.
Her words, however, made no sense at first. They refused to register. I heard them, but they were akin to hearing something important from a distance. Were they muffled, like something heard beneath water? Why couldn’t I just focus?
Finally, towards the end, the assignment finally made sense.
“What I’m asking, class, shouldn’t be too hard,” Mrs. Raymond said, concluding her speech. As usual, her tone was stern but fair. Almost casual. “Simply take out your literature textbooks, read the story, and then I’d like you to write down how you think the story should end.”
Nobody said anything. They barely moved.
“Are there any questions?”
Apparently not, because the students around me promptly got to work. Caught up in that moment, though, I vaguely recall looking around the classroom and feeling small. Insignificant. Strange. More than anything, I felt self-conscious. They were all looking at me, gauging each movement, recording to memory their judgments to use against me later.
I need to get started, I thought with a sigh. Reluctantly, I began to read. Not because I was prone to disobedience, or because I wasn’t curious about stories, but because I wasn’t any good at it. I was slower than most kids (slow even by seventh grade standards,) and my words seemed to blur in and out of focus, squirming around the page, as though I was dyslexic. I wasn’t, though. But I didn’t want to disappoint her, either, so I finished reading the short story. Then, as I was preparing to move on, a debilitating game of tug-of-war ensued. In layman’s terms, I was second-guessing myself.
Did Mrs. Raymond really expect us to write an ending to the story? What if what I wrote was wrong? Would she give it an F? What if it was stupid? An abomination of everything she’d asked for? Tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap. I glanced up, knowing full well she was pacing back and forth, left and right, occasionally strolling in between the rows of desks, checking on our progress. She must have been satisfied with the consistent movements of the other kids as they kept writing and writing. Some had even finished. She’ll be disappointed with me, though, I thought. Pretty soon, I’d be left alone, trying to finish. I just want to be done, damn it, so I can get out of there.
I completed the task. That’s what mattered. Did I even say anything when I turned it in? Did I meet Mrs. Raymond’s gaze? I might have simply left it on my desk, face-down, and left as fast as I could, without looking back.
Jeez, what if it was completely wrong? What if she hated it? Yep, she probably hated it.
Afterwards, I did exactly what I needed to do: I went about my day, knowing there was nothing else I could do, and basically forgot about the dreadful assignment. When Mrs. Raymond spoke to me privately some days later, I was nervous. Sweating slightly. My eyes looking down at my shoes, then towards the lockers lining both sides of the hall. Finally, I found her brown eyes, her immaculately stylized hair and modest makeup. Her clothes always looked expensive.
Out of all the students, you were the only one to follow directions. Everyone else, even the ninth graders, basically copied how the story ended. Yours was fun and creative. I could tell you used your imagination.
What she said initially surprised me. Then I was astounded. There’s no way she said those words… right? I must have misheard her, desperate to hear kindness instead of criticism. But she did say those words. Mrs. Raymond was proud of me. I never expected that. For the rest of the day, her praises kept playing in my head, like a track stuck on repeat. I’d doubted myself when there was no need.
Now, in 2021, I can’t help but look back on that day with pride. With a sense of wide-eyed wonder. Mostly with fierce appreciation. Yes, it was part of the curriculum and nothing specifically geared toward me. She had no way of knowing the impact it would have on my life. She was only doing her job. I get that. But Mrs. Raymond was a great teacher, and I’d hate to speculate what turns things might have taken if I wasn’t placed under her care. In the years to come, she taught me a lot about myself and about the world. She imparted on me the ability to be a better person; the awareness that I wanted to be a better person. She helped me realize that I didn’t need to worry about peer pressure. Instead, I should embrace self-respect and human decency. She taught me the importance of hard work.
Outside, the world rages on, darker than ever. But deep inside, I hold on to those long-ago days with a fondness for education and the magical components of writing. I can escape in the stories. The darkness cannot touch me, nor can it hinder my journey.
With all my heart, I thank you, Mrs. Raymond.