For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to write. In the first grade my teacher recognized my keen ability to read and spell and placed me in a class better suited to my talents. Every day I would walk through a door that connected my classroom to another. Every day, for many days in a row, I cried as I left the comforts of my classmates even though I knew I would return within the hour.
As the door opened I remember unfamiliar faces staring back at me. A bunch of students who knew each other well and viewed me as an outsider among them. When my reading and writing lessons were over the teacher opened the door and led me back to my desk on the other side.
While I was away I had trouble focusing on the teacher and the lessons I was sent there to learn. I felt like I was missing something back in my own classroom. One day I returned and discovered that my classmates had been writing books in my absence. While I read books and spelled words just one room away they were drawing pictures and telling stories with fifth graders. The student who sat next to me leaned over and showed me the colorful pages of her staple bound book. Inside was a story about her cat or dog or some pet that I can’t quite remember. I stared at that book and could not look away. I felt jealous of all that I had missed and envious of all of the stories that had been told.
At six years old I felt spotlighted by my intelligence. My abilities were highlighted, but the limelight set me up for a fear of failure. What if I wasn’t as smart as everyone thought I was. After all if I was so smart that I couldn’t remain among my peers, then by golly I didn’t want to mess up a word in the teacher’s weekly spelling bee. I was the “smart” girl: a label that thirty-five years later still sticks to me.
My oldest child received the same stamp this year in kindergarten. His classmates wrote valentine’s cards proclaiming him “so smart” and the “smartest kid in the class” and at six year’s old he already senses the desire to prove everyone right and ensure he never gets anything wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully recognize that being “smart” is not the worst label a child can be assigned, but nonetheless at that time in my life I didn’t want the light to shine on me. My shyness begged me to stay seated in the back of the classroom, but the teachers recognized my abilities and encouraged me to move out of my comfort zone even if that meant watching tears fall from my eyes day after day as I walked between that door to a seat on the other side of the wall.
My six year old asks many questions from the back seat of the car. The other day he asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told him I wanted to write a book and I told him that I learned to read and spell at a very young age. Ultimately I told him the story of that first grade classroom. That room in which everyone wrote a book; well everyone other than me.
It was the first time in forty years that I understood where my desire came from. Perhaps it is as much about writing a story as it is feeling that my story was never told.