My freshman year of high school was a rough year. It was peppered with fights and attitude, sleepless nights and more sleepless nights. It was the year I found out I was bipolar. It was the year I learned how not to be treated by a girl. It was a year filled with destructive patterns and heart break. I was only a few months into this year when my English teacher gave us a writing assignment.
This assignment was the one I waited all year for. It was my turn to tell a story again, and I was ready. It was supposed to be a Halloween story, had to have one spooky element to it to celebrate the season. I sat down, not knowing what to write, and out came the jack o’ lantern. The story was gruesome at the start, until you realized the narrative was given by a gutted, carved jack o’ lantern. After that, it picked up. I read it in class the next day. There is something cruel about making freshmen stand up before the class and read something they have written. The sadist that year was Mrs. Hegg.
I was not ready to be up there. Trembling and near to crying, with my voice cracking and my hands vibrating, I stood before the class and fought to spit out the first few sentences. After that, it was all easier. I got wrapped up in my story and I almost forgot I was standing there. I looked up when I was done, and wanted to run to my seat. But Mrs. Hegg leapt to her feet. I was instantly terrified. After a moment, she began clapping, her face filled with love.
Okay, maybe she wasn’t being cruel.
I had been in her class for almost two months by this time, but that was the day I met Mrs. Hegg and she became the person she is to me.
I thought I would just sneak past her after class, but she was far too cunning for that. Before I could make good an escape, she called me to stay back and talk to her. I looked at the door and gauged my distance. I thought maybe I could make it, but eventually I had to come back to this room. So, defeated, I went to her. She asked me one question. “How long have you been writing?” Try as I might to deny it, she knew. She saw it in me. It was as plain to her trained eye as a diagnosis to a well-trained doctor.
She got from me I was a writer, and asked me if she could read some of it. I told her it was all gone. She nearly screamed when she found out that, after I wrote a story, I would read it three times, then burn it. Horror. Her face registered true horror, and she made me promise to bring her everything I wrote from that day on. I vowed to do it, and walked out, a little more important. She had called me a writer in the course of our conversation, and I added that to a much-needed identity I was fighting to create.
She made sure I wrote a little every day by changing her curriculum to include five to ten minutes of daily writing. She encouraged me in ways no one had. For years, I brought her stories. Every time I wrote one, I came to her. She read them and gave me her thoughts. They were a mess, every one of them. But she found gold in the sand and showed it to me.
When I was a junior, she begged me to take Journalism 1. She said the teacher, Mrs. Learmann, was brilliant and told me I had to do it. After she hounded me for a while, I agreed. Journalism was not for me. In that first class, we wrote newspaper articles and I was not interested. I had to have a B or higher if I was going to go to Journalism 2, which was writing for the school paper. I got a low C and felt as if I had dodged a bullet.
Mrs. Hegg worked so hard to talk me into taking English Lit, with the same brilliant teacher, and I agreed. The first day in class, I was walking around the room, when Mrs. Learmann walked up to me. “Hello, Jesse,” she said to me. “I was told by a mutual friend that I need you on my paper.”
I immediately saw Mrs. Hegg’s loving fingerprints all over this. “What did she tell you?” I asked.
“She said you were a great writer and that my paper would suffer without you.”
“Well, I’m so sorry, but see, it is out of our hands. I got a C- in Journalism 1. So it is impossible.”
“What you will find out about me is very little is impossible,” she said. “I can waive that grade and take you in if I want you. It’s up to you. Do you want to write all year? Think about it.”
I decided that writing was much better than listening to world history class, as taught by the wrestling coach, so I joined her. I will have to tell that story another time. It is definitely worth telling. Mrs. Learmann is a brilliant woman, and I learned so much from her.
Mrs. Hegg was the first person who saw any beauty in what I did. She told me I was a writer, and I believed her. Later, she would start a writer’s club that kept me writing when I might have dried up. She is the reason I am who I am today, and she is reading this right now.
I have thanked you so many times from the bottom of my heart for what you have given me. But I wanted to say it so they could hear me. Thank you. I love you.