My writing career began with a smile and a lot of tears when Mr. Yeni collected a journal assignment meant to improve the class’ writing. We were to write about the exciting events taking place in our nine-year old lives for that week – a minimum of four pages worth of kiddie insights. My journal was a few sheets of loose-leaf paper warped by dried tears that had come pouring out of me the night before, after being beaten by my father for something that seemed so small that his response to it made me wish he was dead. I wrote so in my journal entry that night as I cried and cried like only a child can.
The message was pure emotion buried between descriptions of me eating spaghetti on Tuesday and tossing my Aunt’s cat from her first floor window on Thursday. It drained from my head to the paper and was forgotten about by the time I handed in the assignment – but it set off an alarm in Mr. Yeni’s head. The social safety net of P.S. 55 caught me the next day.
After a subsequent meeting with the school’s counselor, where my father explained how children are raised in Haiti, I was told that I would have to meet weekly with the professional stranger and talk about my feelings. I did, and I usually cried while doing so.
During my first session with the counselor my teacher decided to read something I had submitted on the same day as the journal. That other writing assignment was to create a story similar to one we had read in class. Its protagonist hated his new baby sister, but learned to love her through a series on endearing scenes that children were meant to relate to. While talking to the counselor I didn’t think about the idiotic story, or the homework I wrote based on it. Instead I was telling her how much I hated life. I cried as I told her how worthless I always felt.
I was wiping away tears as I stood outside my classroom door for a few moments – trying to regain some composure. Inside my story was being read. I calmed myself before reentering and prepared to slip in as quietly as everything else I did in life. As soon as I opened the door, however, I was greeted by applause and laughter.
“That was hilarious!” the class clown told me.
“Great story!” said one of the bullies.
The first girl to develop breasts quoted back a line of my story to me. I smiled, sat down, and glowed with the knowledge that writing had changed my life in the span of a week. I decided then that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. What I didn’t know was that at that moment I had already become one.
*Images Courtesy Steven Chea