After that last post, I decided to post something a little more uplifting – if for no other reason than to remind myself of the good in life. I wrote this for another site last September, so there’s a chance you’ve seen it before (if only a small one).
Chances are you’re going to read this and conclude that my story isn’t unique. I’m o.k. with that. I’m not pretending to solve any great mysteries of the universe. The great western philosopher George Carlin once said (or something like it), “Even if I’m one in a million, there are a thousand people just like me.” Even if my story isn’t new, I hope it bears repeating.
You could say that without writing, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I know that’s an awfully strong statement. You might think it’s an exaggeration.
Growing up I was the shy, quiet kid who wished he could blend in with the background. I didn’t think fast on my feet, I often had the wrong thing to say on the tip of my tongue, and I didn’t make fast friends. Kids can be cruel, and I tended to be the defenseless sap who made an easy target.
Alright, it wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds. I had a few friends in the neighborhood. Growing up in “God’s Waiting-room” (Florida in the ’80s) had it’s advantages. Since there weren’t many kids around, most kids couldn’t be choosy about their friends. The handful of kids in my neighborhood were stuck with me.
If being a kid was hard, high school was worse. A couple of those neighborhood friends found a better friend in drugs. A couple more found better, more interesting friends in girls (and who could blame them?). I had a few high school crushes myself, but I didn’t have the courage to do anything about them. By my junior year I felt like a poster-boy for teen angst, and I started loosing interest in school. When it was time to sign up for classes for my senior year, I decided I was tired of advanced classes. It was time to do a little coasting. I was tempted to fill my schedule with fluff, the classes the other eighty percent were taking.
I don’t remember how it started, but somehow I got into a conversation after class with Mr. Brown, my A.P. American History teacher. I probably hadn’t said more than a few words to my teachers all year (beyond “here” at roll call), so it seemed odd he would pull me aside to talk. Registration for next year came up, I told him my plans (with half-hearted justification), and he was disappointed. I don’t remember his exact words, but he said something to the effect of, “John, that would be a real shame. I always look forward to reading your essays on my exams. You don’t always get all of your facts right, but you’re a good bullshitter. The way you write, you’d do well in college. It would be a shame if you didn’t at least try.” My first thought was, “does it take one to know one?” But Mr. Brown wasn’t the kind of teacher who gave out a lot of praise in class, so his words stuck. (Hopefully he won’t get the chance to read this and take it back.) It gave me just enough of a boost to keep going, to try… at least a little.
My senior year of high school came, and I developed a big crush on my anatomy lab partner. After performing major surgery on a dead cat for a semester and a half with this girl, I decided my last chance at happiness in life was slipping by. I didn’t think she was dating anyone at school, so I pulled together all of my self confidence and asked her out to prom. As it turned out she wasn’t dating anyone at school… she was dating someone at another school… and I was crushed.
Prom came and went, and the girl that had become one of my best friends continued to date some mystery guy. I cursed fate. I couldn’t help but wonder if my fear had caused me to put off asking her out, missing my one chance at happiness. (Wasn’t being a teenager hell?) Before we graduated and parted ways (perhaps forever), I felt like I had to tell her how I felt. Anyone can ask a girl out to prom. All it requires is a pinch of interest and a little courage. With teenage wisdom at my side, I decided that I should lay it all down on the table. Ah, but I couldn’t trust my voice to get it all out, so I sat down to write. I stayed up late one night, pouring out my heart and soul onto a half a dozen sheets of notebook paper. I attached a cover sheet to my little essay, calling it: “Life as I Know It.” I asked her to read it in class the next day. Now to be clear, I didn’t want her to read it IN class. I thought she’d just take it home and read it at her leisure… preferably sometime when I wasn’t around. It was all part of my cunning plan… give it to her right before a lecture started so she’d have to put it away, and hopefully forget about it for a while. Shows how much I knew about people, girls, and this girl in particular. She flipped the cover, dove right in, and I was horrified. I wanted to chicken out. I wanted to take it all back. I wanted to get back on the cliff after I’d already jumped. I was sure I’d made a terrible mistake by putting my thoughts down on paper; a permanent record of my feelings… laying myself bare. This was a level of trust I hadn’t shared with anyone, and I was sharing it with a girl who had pledged her affection to someone else.
She finished reading it and said it was nice. NICE? Nice is for “friends” in class, not soul-mates. Once again I was crushed. Once again I felt I had foolishly brought it upon myself. I felt like I was a victim of every after school special I’d ever seen.
We remained friends, but after graduation we did go our separate ways. I went away to school, to one of the big state universities, and she stayed home to go the local junior college (due to cost, not ability). She continued to date the other guy, but we still got together every couple months when I was home visiting family (yeah, sure I was). Sometimes we went out with other friends, other times it was just us. She talked about marriage, and I thought about jealousy. She talked about her fights with the other guy, and I played the role of the good friend, as I thought it should be played… often explaining why I thought their latest love spat was nothing to worry about. Oh the humanity! More than a year went by this way.
One weekend she came up with a friend for a college football game. We spent the day together with friends, and afterwards I drove her home. On the way she said something that rocked the foundation of my life. While I know now that I came from a loving home, being young makes it easy to ignore what you have… and I felt unloved and unwanted. She said something that night changed it all. She asked me if I still felt the way I did back in high school, when I wrote “that thing.” It was a loaded question… and it went off.
We’ve been married for thirteen years now and have two wonderful children. She’s the love of my life.
While I don’t think of myself as much of a writer, and I don’t count on it for my livelihood (nor do I aspire to), writing has been a big part of my life. It’s possible that this is really a story about overcoming fear, the difficulties of adolescence, or the influence good (and bad) teachers can have over our lives. But as I look back, writing was one of the things that didn’t let me down. It brought me a little self confidence when I was lacking. It helped me open up to someone when I was too shy to do it in person. (My wife says it saved her from marrying a jerk.) From my earliest journals to blogging, It has been like another friend. It was always there when I needed it. It always listened and it never judged. It was my conduit to the world when I was too afraid to engage it in person.
I wonder what my life would have been like if a teacher hadn’t thought to compliment me on my writing. I wonder if I would have gotten the attention of that girl in high school.
Even if all of this is slightly exaggerated, at a minimum I think writing helped me find my out of my shell. Life’s been a wild ride since (by my standards anyway ;-)