Friday, January 4, 2013

The power of words


I saw a posting about an essay contest today, and I got so freakin’ excited that I dived right on to MS Word and wrote my essay in about 30 minutes! Then I went back to see how to submit it and realized it was only for Atlanta residents. Dammit! People, this is why you should always read the fine print FIRST. Oh, well. I thought that since it was such a powerful piece, I’d post it here as my fourth blog post of the year. It’s about appreciation for that one special teacher who might have done something to change your life. I had one, and here is my essay:

Prejudice. Racial profiling. Bullying. Sexism. These are four things I knew about too well as an adolescent, minority girl in public school in the ‘80s and ‘90s. My last name was a welcome mat for religious and racial persecution no thanks to the ongoing Gulf War at that time. Jocks used to play keep-away with my backpack, shouting false claims and mockery about me being a terrorist and that Saddam was my uncle. I had a couple bullies who thought it was hilarious to throw spit wads and gum into my long, curly Indian hair. I was frequently asked if my dad owned a convenience store or if I was related to Ghandi. No, dumbasses. I was born on the Caribbean Island of Trinidad & Tobago, and I am Indian-hued because of my beautiful ancestry. Get a clue! Instead of verbalizing these witty comebacks that formulated in my mind out of the fury in my heart, I cried and tried to remain as obscure as possible. Fashion wasn't on my side since I was labeled as “nerdy,” and I didn't have many friends because I simply didn't fit in anywhere.

During my out-of-school time, I spent most of my childhood in my haven, my bedroom. This is where I obsessively read tons of books. I also wrote short stories in which I was the most popular and beautiful girl in the world, whatever world I created. Bullies were turned into mythical creatures whom I slaughtered into oblivion with my super powers. When I got fed up of reading and writing, I’d just lie on my bed for hours and think (with the radio on), longing to understand what was my purpose in this world.

Then came 7th grade Language Arts class, and I got my answer. My homemaker mom taught me how to read before I was 5 years old. So, it’s no surprise that I always excelled in Language Arts and English classes. This class was like entering Platform 9 ¾ and going to Hogwarts, a home away from home where I learned to "spell," only it wasn't magic spells, but words. Same thing to me! My pen was my wand. Ms. Cheri Cowart was big on writing short stories, my niche! She took a special interest in me. I was taken aback at being praised and treated like a superstar. She raved about my stories and one day told me, “You are a very talented writer for your age. This is very good work. Never stop! This is your strong point, so keep on writing. I know you will do great things with this ability some day.” She helped me get a thriller I wrote published in the school’s literary magazine, one of my proudest achievements. I admired how she took special time to mentor students she thought had serious potential. She told my parents several times in calls and notes how amazed she was by my writing and demeanor and that I was the type of student who made her love teaching. We kept in touch until I went off to high school. These were the days before smart phones and social media, so contact was lost.
From then on, any time someone tried to belittle me or put me down, I remembered ONE person believed I was talented, and that’s all I ever needed. Her words stuck with me all my life, and through teen pregnancy, family turmoil, abuse, divorce, illness, and crisis after crisis, I always remembered what she said and held on to my dream. I attempted careers in the medical field, pharmacy, banking and finance, health and safety, but look where I ended up. Right where I was always meant to be.

Today, I’m a professional writer, editor and communication specialist for NASA Johnson Space Center. I’ve written for local newspapers and magazines. I started my own writing and editing business, and I’m a self-published author with many future books and stories in the works. I run a book review blog and still read like a word-obsessed maniac. For years and years, I used my journalistic connections, tools and people-search memberships to find Ms. Cowart but to no avail. I checked social media, hoping she had an ID somewhere. No luck. She was quite young when she taught me. For all I knew, she got married and moved, died, left the country; how could I ever know? I even called the school district to see if they could provide some information. Dead end. Then, in 2011, I randomly typed her name in the facebook search for the umpteenth time, and finally! Her name came up with a photo that resembled her, but I was uncertain. I sent a message right away, and the next day, I got a reply that said, “Devil Girl, is that you?” Bingo! She nicknamed me Devil Girl after a phone chat with my dad. He told her I was smart but very stubborn and rebellious. Ha! I love him. I guarantee you he’d still say that today.

She told me she's now retired but never forgot me. To this day, she still talks about me to her students and uses me as an example of motivation. She even kept a photo of me. She still remembered every single thing about me, a lot of which has NOT changed one bit. She even sent me a birthday package to prove she still knew me. In it was a book, a ton of chocolate and a photo of me from 7th grade. She still rocks! 

United after 22 years. I finally found her and had the golden opportunity to thank her. THAT teacher. That God-sent teacher whose boundless heart, kind words and encouragement carried me through the darkest hours of my entire life and allowed me to believe, against the odds, that I could be just what I wanted to be.

A writer.

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