I sat dumfounded looking at the neatly printed comments written in red from my seventh grade English teacher. Sitting at my desk, I re-read and re-read his comments. He must have mixed my paper up with another student. Perhaps he meant to return it to someone in the Advanced Placement English class?
I confirmed later, that the gleaming commentary was, indeed, correctly returned to the right student – me. He described my fictional short story as “outstanding” and “excellent.” The icing on the cake was his recommendation to submit the story for possible publication. Me, a published author at age 13?
The story entitled “California Summer” was about a teenage girl named Mandy who lived in the “suburban” south with her family. While visiting the beaches of California one summer on a trip with her mother, she transformed her mundane southern life into an exciting adventure of romance.
I assumed Mr. Murray, a dark-bearded, soft-spoken seventh-grade English teacher who wore the same 1970s corduroy suit and small round glasses on the end of his nose, was frankly, taking pity on the “blue-collar white trash girl.” After all, I knew few people (if any) at the time who believed I had the talent and intelligence to become anything more than a girl who would remain in her small town either pregnant, or scraping by on a minimum-wage job. Unfortunately, at age 13, I was included in that group of “non-believers.”
My Little Protégé
Just a few days ago, my nine-year daughter started writing her own fictional story. She shared the beginnings of her first few chapters. I was impressed with the imagery, storyline and age-appropriate dialogue. “I really do love what you’ve written. I mean that,” I said. Later, I had mentioned to her the short story from my seventh-grade English class. “It probably got tossed, but if I ever come across it, I’ll share it with you,” I told her.
Coincidentally, while looking through a drawer the next day, I found the handwritten story along with the note from my English teacher…
More than 25 years later, I read the story aloud to my aspiring writer-daughter. She listened intently as I flipped the tainted yellow ruled pages. Leaning on her desk she said, “Mom, I love it. You were a really good writer for a kid. You’ve inspired me.” With my daughter’s affirmation, I beamed. She actually thought my little story was interesting.
However, I felt a tinge of regret and sadness in this glorious moment of artistic connection with my daughter. They say the first step in making your dreams come true is to believe in yourself. And if you don’t have that first step down, then the second step is to have someone to believe in you.
Someone did believe in me. Someone was encouraging me. Someone noticed my intelligence and creativity. He was right there from the beginning of my writing endeavors – Mr. Murray. The issue was that I didn’t have the confidence as a young girl to believe in myself. I was stuck in my own stereotype of fear.
Over these past few days, I am slowly accepting this part of my life not as a mistake, but as a first step. The first baby steps in moving in the direction of my dreams.
As a mother, I will continue to believe in my children’s dreams even when they don’t feel confident. I will be there to listen and encourage. You never know maybe someday I’ll publish “California Summer.”
Naturally, I’ve already figured out who the book dedication would be to – Mr. Murray – the person who believed in me – even when I didn’t believe in myself.
Did you have a moment in time where someone believed in you, but you lacked the confidence and self esteem? What happened? Looking back, do you have any regrets? If so, what happened?
Editor’s Note: I know this is supposed to be Motivational Monday. However, not all of my stories will be uplifting, so to speak. Knowing that, please hang in there with me while I share a personal and painful story. My refection is one that I have not shared publicly until now. May you find some sense of inspiration from this hard life lesson.
I could feel the cold, hard ground under my limp body. I licked the dirt from my lips. The boy stroked my back.
“You okay, Kristal?” he asked. Unable to answer, I shook my head yes. “They went to call somebody, OK?” he said in a reassuring voice.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him nervously looking around. Closing my eyes again, I recalled flashes of the night. Going to the movies with a group of teenage boys and girls, I shared in the pouring of a clear liquid poison down my throat in the darkness.
The movie was a blur after that. I recall throwing up in the garbage can behind the small-town theatre, which was tucked away in the corner of the sleepy shopping center.
After becoming sick and unable to walk, my so-called friends panicked and ushered me to an empty lot next to the shopping center. And there I lay – motionless, drunk and helpless.
Going in and out of consciousness at age 14, I felt something on my chest. It was not my hand, but that of the neighbor boy who was supposed to be “caring” for me. The little pervert was copping a feel.
I was frozen.
And for what seemed like hours, I lay in the dirt lot being fondled by a boy my own age. I remember having a small crush on him before this night. He used to ride by my house on his skateboard, his lanky body, feathered blond hair blowing in the wind. All the dramatics of a teenage girl were in full effect.
At one point, he tried to flip me over. I made my body heavy and clawed the ground while moaning and quietly crying. I knew what would happen if he flipped me over.
Thank God, he was never successful in doing any further harm. Finally, I somehow made it home to be cared for by my mother.
I returned to the warmth of my mother’s arms. The mother who never judged me. Only loved me. The mother who did her best to guide me. But never condem me.
And while my teenage drinking was an unwise decision, I never deserved to be a victim of sexual assault. That was never my choice.
I know my daughters will mostly likely drink too much, or mess up big time. As a parent, I can only guide them. I can only love them. I can only live by example. I can listen. I can pray for them daily, sometimes hourly – like I know my mother did for me.
That dirt construction lot would soon be our town’s first mall. For years after, I would visit the mall, and remember what happened before the cement, bricks and drywall were erected. Walking around the mall in the light of day, I would think to myself, is this where it happened? Am I standing on the very spot?
But I know those painful memories are buried deep in the cold ground. And that is where they’ll stay.
Of course, I wish to change so many things about that night. I regret drinking the same poison that ruined any hope for a “normal” home life.
But this is life. You have regrets. You learn from your mistakes. And, you hope and pray your own children don’t repeat some of your same mistakes.
The results can be costly.
February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month
Each year, nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner. At a rate far higher than other forms of youth violence, teen dating violence impacts one in three adolescents in the United States through physical, sexual, emotional and verbal abuse.
Editor’s Note: I have decided to commit to a short series for the remainder of February entitled “Motivational Monday.” I will share a story, quote – something that has inspired me – in the hopes it inspires you…
“Each day, work as though it is your last chance. Work as if you can do the job better than anyone on earth. Work as though this is your final chance. Work in joy. Demonstrate the quality and effort that only you can give. Work like you deserve to be here.
Work as though this ‘job’ was always meant to be yours. Work as though it’s an honor to be here, right now, just as you are. You may fail. And fail. And fail. But that is only going to burn the fire to drive harder. Blaze that trail. The critics may mock and demoralize your ambitions and efforts, but you will prove them wrong.
Give it more than you think is inside you. We are so much stronger than we realize. Work through the pain. Let the sweat pour and know that no one is going to work as hard as you are; and no one can take away what you have accomplished. Nobody can take that away, but you.”
This mantra has been part of my internal dialogue throughout my life – and still is. I grew up in a dysfunctional upbringing with little encouragement from my parents to blaze my own trail.
I remember skipping school one day to smoke cigarettes with some high school classmates. When my parents learned of the news, my plain-spoken, blue-collar father took me aside, and said in his deep voice, “If you’re not gonna go to school, don’t waste your time or the teacher’s time, Kristal.”
It donned on me: I was in control. No one else was in charge of my life, but me. There was no fancy college fund for me to fall back on. No rich grandparents coming to my rescue. No Ivy League schools awaiting my gleaming attendance. There were no expectations, but my own. I set the bar. I determined the pace. I faced my competition. I was my own motivator.
Early on, I learned the rewards of hard work in junior college after nearly failing my first college math class. I technically failed the class, but when I checked my report card, the instructor issued a passing “C” grade. I was dumbfounded. When my classmate, who failed the class voiced his injustice, the teacher responded: “She worked harder than you.”
After transfering to a costly four-year university, I worked two or more odd jobs, often times double shifts in between classes. While working alongside my college classmates, I remember telling myself: “You are probably smarter, but I work harder than you do. I will never give up.”
I sometimes wonder what if I didn’t blaze my own trail. Where would I be? Ironically, the other day, I had the opportunity to capture a glance at the “me” I never became. I was driving my children to school in our neat suburban neighborhood when I saw “myself” sitting in a beat up old brown car at a stoplight.
I stared at this person, with their window open taking drags off his smoke. The music cranked, he squinted into the foggy morning. I could see the hard look of life on his face. Faded memories flooded my mind. Images of me sitting at a stoplight smoking. I was at the beginning stages of being this person I now faced more than 20 years later.
I felt such a sense of gratitude. I blazed my own trail. I worked hard. I never gave up. You shouldn’t either.Follow