My teacher in the 4th grade was Mrs. Wheeler. A small petite woman with white hair and a raspy voice. She wore skirts that came to her knees and I always remember her fondness for plaid. One afternoon she came up and whispered in my ear that she wanted to talk with me privately. She had assembled a list of students whom she had created a special program for, it was a creative writing program. I was so honored. I couldn’t believe it. Every day at lunch while all the other children ate their Bologne sandwiches, we went to the library and wrote stories. I still loved reading and writing then, it still brought me joy.
When I entered middle school my love of learning started to fade. I replaced it with boys, cigarettes and pot. Once I found a new love my books and poems just got old and collected dust. My grades began to fall, and school was just a meeting place, it wasn’t a place of adventure anymore. I felt tinges of sadness when my poor english class grades came in, I felt ashamed because I loved to read and write, but it was quickly replaced with my latest crush, or the next party.
I dropped out of high school in the middle of my junior year. This is a very touchy subject in my family. I don’t have any regrets but there is always a wonder. I was to enroll in community college and get my GED, nothing ever works out as planned. Instead I went to work got a job managing a big health food store, I got life lessons. I always convinced myself they were more valuable than any book could give me. Truth be told, I wanted those books, I wanted the words swirling around in my head, I wanted to have a vernacular that would make people’s heads spin.
So my story got stuck there in the middle of my junior year. My “I AM NOT SMART ENOUGH. I AM NOT SMART ENOUGH TO BE A WRITER.” I got stuck there. I was like Robin Wright Penn in “The Princess Bride,” I was in the quicksand, but I didn’t have a prince to pull me out. So there my story stayed, for years it pulled me down.
I finally got my GED went to college, of course left a year shy of getting my BA. New story takes in. I CAN NEVER FINISH ANYTHING, AND I AM NOT SMART ENOUGH. They are perfect for each other, they go well together. Like a good wine pairing.
Over the years I dabbled in finding my love of books again, finding my love of words and writing. Nothing ever truly stuck with me. 35 years old now and I have that flutter in my soul again. I am giddy with excitement again over a good book. I am stealing away moments to fill myself with words on pages that I run my fingers through, scenes where I pretend I am there, lines I wish I had written. My sister reminded me lately, “If you want to write you have to read, and read all the time.” I listened intently to those words, I took them to heart, I sewed them inside my chest where I think my heart would be. So I read, and I read. I read essay’s, books, magazines, just anything I can.
I am time traveling. I am traveling back to the early 80’s in California. I am just 5 or 6 years old. I am a great reader, I am one of the best in my 1st grade class. I love reading and I see a bright future for myself. I think privately, “I am smart. I AM SMART.”
After reading my sister’s latest essay about the turns we take in life, the left turns and right turns, I thought about my life. Who would I be if I had taken a different turn? Would I have been a scholar? A history teacher (my major in college), An author? The owner of a multi million dollar company? Maybe, Maybe not. Maybe all the turns I took are exactly the right turns. Maybe instead of right turns I took left turns, that sounds like me, I never listen to what people tell me anyway. Maybe those left turns are the ones that will make my new-found love of writing more interesting. I most definitely lived some wild and crazy moments, maybe those are the left turns I needed to have. It never really is possible to know what, if any, of the choices we make are right or wrong, they just are.
I see the bookcase in my room in 1985 California. It is pine, completely filled to the rim with every category of book, mostly books on marine biology, another early love of mine. I sit and remember what those books smelled like and how they made my insides swirl with excitement. Here I stand now that same girl, filled with the same desire and joy to fill my soul with words and knowledge.
Here I am ready to change the story, to make a right turn.
“I AM SMART. I DO FINISH THINGS. I AM A LOVER OF ALL THINGS BEAUTIFUL.”