I can pluck it from one event in my life. Certain memories of mine stand solidly in my mind while in other cases, I can’t remember much from a span of years. In one of those gaps, third grade, one of the hardest years of my academic and personal life, my grades slipped. Not drastically, I still had A’s and B’s, but for one solid year I got consistent, heavy C’s in English.
I can’t remember if English was my favorite subject or not at that point, it was probably art, but I do remember one specific project. We were tasked with recounting a time in our life and retelling it as a short story. We used odd yellow paper that was larger than the usual size and had an uncomfortable texture to it without being flat. The lead hardly showed up on it unless the tip was ready to carve through the page.
I wrote about the most recent Thanksgiving and considering it was the first after my parents divorced, it was just my mom and me. She was making the turkey and getting the table ready when our dogs, allured by the scent of savory meat, were crowding her feet. I can’t remember if our one dog, Buddy, an old Yorkshire Terrier, had passed away at the time, as I remember he passed away in third grade as well. Either way, she fed the dogs as I likely stood uselessly waiting for food. Maybe I was good and set the table, something that was a simple task for me to do just for two.
After dinner when she was cleaning up, she happened to come across a miscellaneous dripping of sauce on the counter. She wiped it up with her finger and popped it in her mouth. What she thought had been turkey juice or gravy was actually juice from the dog food. Her face twisted in bitter disgust and I remember us both laughing at the grievous error. Check that off the “never have I ever” list.
The moment, although brief and enough to gain a small laugh and carry on, meant everything to me in a time where it was hard to smile. Besides the divorce, my best friend had moved away that year as well, and I my little world had shaken so hard it knocked me down for a bit. Although most people at first glance likely wouldn’t suspect that sort of depth from a third grader who still can’t use proper grammar and spell common words correctly. (I still suck with grammar; I wish I could remember the years we actively studied it.)
My teacher didn’t find the story entertaining either, and wrote something to the effect of “this isn’t funny” or “this isn’t interesting.” To her defense, it was likely neither to an adult, especially a teacher reading about thirty of those papers. However, as a child, I took great offense. I believed it to be funny, and if she couldn’t see that— well, I’d just have to write more and get better to prove I could write a good story.
In third grade, I was still playing pretend at recess with the friends I had left, and when that friend group disintegrated around fifth grade, I started writing my ideas of worlds and villains instead of acting them out. Although I moved them onto a backup drive to save space, I wrote a little more than a hundred stories. I hardly finished any of them, but I had so many ideas I wanted to write I just had to get them down somewhere. It wasn’t until sixth grade when I finally wrote a “book” (about 30 pages in size 18 font) that had a narrative arc to it. The rewritten version of this book was the first I ever finished at about 260 pages. I planned four books for the series but only ever had three of the books on a “first draft” basis (all less than 30 pages, if I’m honest).
I’ll never forget what it felt like to finish writing that book. I realized that I actually could. The first hurdle I needed to jump through to become a writer I had vaulted over: I could complete a manuscript. Of course, it took years and shows the clear progression of improvement as it goes on and thus needs many more drafts, but I had done it.
I still have that paper. The decaying pages from almost a decade ago. It sits in a bin at my mom’s house, I think inside of a plastic bag for some form of preservation. (When I return to my Mom’s house I’ll take a picture of it and attach it to this post.) It taught me how to take feedback. While I wasn’t pleased with it, I took it into consideration, and I went to work. It was one of the hardest lessons to learn, but an absolutely necessary one, and I’m glad I learned it early on. I am forever thankful to this teacher in particular, among many others that I couldn’t have grown without the aide of. She was the one that ignited the flame to my passion that’s glowing brighter with time.