“My Story… ” Monday: The Reading Sub

(I love telling stories. It might be my favorite “style” of writing. It is, without a doubt, the stuff that most of my readers best respond to. This year, I want to tell you some stories about my past– about people who’ve made me who I am today. Some will be happy, some will be sad. Some you will find encouraging, some you will find maddening. But they all have one thing in common. They are all: People Who’ve Made Me Who I Am Today.)
I remember two big things about my 7th grade reading classroom. The first is that this Browning quote was posted on the wall.

 

 

 

I spent many, many days gazing at it. (Obviously, since I apparently remember it 24 years later!)

 

I also remember that we got a sub partway through the year when my regular teacher went on leave after having a baby. Truth be told, I don’t recall if she had a boy or a girl or even what the teacher’s name was, but I remember that we got a new teacher.

 

Oh, seventh grade was another rather awkward one, if I really think about it. It’s funny because, honestly, I don’t remember middle school as being horribly traumatic. But, if I break it down, it was chock-full of turmoil and struggle and angst. I kind of wonder if this is selective amnesia, much like having a baby…

 

Anyhow, seventh grade is the year I went from glasses to contacts, hadn’t yet gotten braces (they did them much later back in the day), and started to shave my legs. The latter occurred after one of the super popular girls noticed my legs weren’t bare and smooth when a couple inches were hanging out the bottom of a madras plaid skirt I wore. I was mortified and fled home in tears. I shaved my legs that night.

 

Other “womanly” things happened that year, too, and I won’t get into the details, but I wasn’t nearly as happy about it as “Julie” in the pamphlet had been when we’d had the “girl discussion” at school. I didn’t like my curves, I didn’t like this new journey into womanhood, and I wasn’t one bit interested in all the maintenance that seemed to go along with it.

 

Toss in the general social nightmare of junior high and the adolescent years, and it was an overwhelming time.

 

I knew I was a strong student, but I wasn’t particularly proud of it at that point. I knew people had told me throughout my youth that my eyes were gorgeous, but they’d been hidden behind glasses at that point for so many years, it seemed but a memory. I tried to be kind, at least most of the time, but that wasn’t really a valued trait at the age of twelve. Honestly, I didn’t feel very special at all.

 

I made it through that year, obviously, and it certainly wasn’t all bad. I don’t think my unease with myself was a real unique circumstance, and I suspect many of my classmates also felt a bit lost and inferior along the way.

 

It was time to have yearbooks signed, and I always hated that part, too. I never felt the need to “collect” signatures. It felt a bit like a competition. And, really, how many “have a good summers” and “see you next years” did one person truly need scrawled on a page? Once I got to high school, I would learn to just ask a few very close friends and the heck with the rest, but, in middle school, I went along with the crowd and asked oodles of people “sign my book?”

 

One of the people I asked to sign my book was that substitute Reading teacher. She had been nice enough and all, but I didn’t know too much about her. We certainly had never had any significant discussions, nor had she ever paid any more attention to me than other students.

 

She thought carefully as she looked at the page. Finally, she started to write. When she handed it back, she looked me in the eye and said, “It’s true. Every word of it.”

 

I couldn’t wait to see what she had written, but I played it cool until I could sneak a peek “on the sly.” This is what I read:

 

You have it all, Jessica: looks, brains, and personality. You’ll go far in life.

 

My heart raced for a second. I looked from side-to-side. And I read it again.

 

These were words I wanted desperately to believe, but I wasn’t sure I could. In fact, I wouldn’t let anyone else sign that page after her because I feared someone would read what she had written and laugh at me.

 

But I cherished those words. I held them in my heart through some of the darker times, when I doubted my value. They ran through my head when I hit a rough patch and felt like “less.”

 

In a way, they fueled me on by making me feel that, essentially, I had no excuse for not pressing on and striving to be better. I couldn’t play the “woe is me” card if I’d been dealt a darn good hand, now could I?

 

Thanks, Reading sub. I hope you’d be proud of where I’ve wound up. You helped me get here.

 

 

Other people who’ve made me who I am:

Mrs. JohnsonMoneThe Guy in StarbucksKeithMr. Dorfman, Jay, Hannah, Reno, Dr. Y., Jessica G.

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