I don’t think I’ve earned my donut yet for memoir this week . . . so here’s a tidbit from my ancient past, when I was only this tall. It’s about one of my writing firsts: reading for an audience.
The story goes something like this:
Nine years old and I was seriously crushing on my third grade home room teacher. I wish I could remember her name. What can I say, hopeless romantics start practicing early. The fact that skirts were so short then, and I was shorter might have been a contributing factor.
But I was far from her best pupil. I never paid attention in class, always scribbling away in my tiny memo pad with the spiral binding at the top. I was particularly inspired by a story we read in class and I had mourned its ending, so I decided to keep it going in my imagination. Unfortunately I could never remember where I left off so I started writing it down—a habit I would be stuck with for the rest of my life. It was my own sequel to James and the Giant Peach, full of high seas adventures and aircraft carriers left abandoned and adrift.
I was just getting into that part when my favorite teacher finally had enough of telling me to pay attention and decided to take away my distraction. For the rest of the day I felt lost without something to write on—a feeling I tried to avoid from that point on (my purse always has a notebook inside nowadays). I was hopeful to get my pad back at the end of the day, but it was not to happen. On the long walk home I began to wonder if she would read my childish ramblings and laugh, like my siblings did when they snatched away my one happy distraction.
The next day I found out that my punishment had only begun. During the story portion of our class, my teacher produced my little pad and announced my crimes to the class. She then “suggested” that I come up front and share some of it with them. Feeling the heat of shame, I slowly came forward, with all eyes upon me. She waited patiently, smiling in her satisfaction of compounding my punishment for inattention. I wished I could pass out or perhaps die before reaching the front. Either would have been a relief.
She returned my pad to me as I reached the front. A sea of faces stared at me blankly. I looked at my once-favorite teacher. “Go on,” she said, still smiling, as if gloating at my discomfort. There was no escape. Crying was no longer an option. I’d recently realized the embarrassment was only compounded when you cried, though I think a tear still formed. Or perhaps it was young sweat.
With nothing else to do and the moment stretching to breaking, I opened the pad and in a timid voice began to read my little scribbles. I tried to stare only at the words, trying not to lose my place. It had to be better than watching the laughter slowly taking over the mob before me. My only saving grace was that we had all heard the original story together. Perhaps they would see where I was coming from.
I have no idea how many pages I read that morning in sheer agony, wishing the punishment would be over. Finally, still smiling, my teacher told me I could stop.
It was only then that I noticed how my first audience had been looking at me. Not a giggle had been uttered. Their eyes almost seemed sad when I stopped. I looked at my teacher and she hugged me, her eyes beaming, “That was really good! I’m so proud of you!” And I realized I wasn’t being punished at all.
I will always cherish the memory of my third grade teacher for solidifying my love of writing. By the way, I finally did figure out why I liked the short skirts.
Instead of a donut, can I have a cupcake with those rainbow sprinkles instead? nom nom nom