I’m sure if I asked, you could tell me the names of some of the people who influenced your life – your mom for teaching you about selfless service, your dad for teaching you about working hard, your grandfather who told you war stories and inspired you to become a police officer, your high school English teacher who gave you your first ‘A’ and encouraged you to keep writing so that now you write short stories /rambling blog posts / sad songs at midnight, your neighbor who always gave you a $20 tip when you helped her carry her bags so now you always look for ways to be kind to children.
Those are some of the people who get mentioned in award speeches and whose names are listed in the acknowledgements of first novels.
But what about the people who ran through your life, the people whose faces you can still remember, even if you’ve long forgotten their names, but you can’t, for the life of you, figure out what their purpose was in your life. You just know you remember them either for what they did or what they didn’t do – for how they could have changed your life but didn’t. Here are a few of mine:
- My high school Physics teacher. She was married to my Art teacher. He came to the school first then she arrived a few months later. They had a baby son and while maybe that gave me and my classmates an unrealistic expectation of how she would treat us, she was the most serious, most selfish mother I’ve ever met. We were a class of 13-15 year old girls, who at that age looked to every woman we saw to be a good role model for us. She was poised to be the woman who encouraged us to become scientists, who showed us that natural hair was beautiful, that you could have a family and a career and still be nice and cool. But instead, I remember she showed (us) no compassion, she rarely smiled, she graded hard and at the end of the year when most of us said we didn’t want to study science the next year, she didn’t seem like she cared. Hmmm, now that I think about it, she might have changed my life after all. If she’d been nicer, I might have continued with Physics the next year of high school. Who’s to tell?
- The Persian teacher in a class I took notes for my first year in college – he was a Farsi-speaking English teacher who said he wrote poetry and prose in both languages and we were intrigued. But he refused to share his work with the class, even when we begged to be inspired. I always wondered whether he ever published his work and I’d look him up but I don’t remember his name. When I read The Kite Runner, I thought about him and stared at Khaled Hosseini’s picture for a long time, trying to figure out if they were the same person.
- My friend’s stepmother who was mean to me but who became a character in a story I wrote years later – her fictional self endured harsh plot turns when I put my artistic license to work.
- The HR rep I was sure was going to hire me when I graduated college. She wooed me and let me believe o was a shoe-in for the job. My confidence soared. That is, until she sent me an email that said they were going in a different direction. I’ve often wondered what my life would have looked like if the company had decided they were going my way after all.
- The young man I thought would have married me back when I was young and carefree. I have a special place for him in one of my books. Even the Bible tells you that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
- The publisher’s assistant who read my novel submission and stamped “rejected” on my cover letter then put my name and address into the generic “unfortunately…” letter I received a few days later. I’m a published writer anyway! No thanks to you.
- The person who took my yellow turtleneck at camp when I was 15. Yes, it was summer and I didn’t need to pack a turtleneck. No, I’ve never forgotten it, not because it was a great sweater but because it’s the only item of clothing that I have ever lost. Still. Two decades have passed and I wish the person hadn’t stolen it but I have a newer, better yellow turtleneck now so it’s okay. Finally.
I promised to keep the list to 7 but special mention goes to:
- The librarian who hesitated to tell me what kind of books she read and then started acting strange. I wanted to get her a gift but, clearly, after that stunt, I aborted the plan.
- The lady in Harlem that I reached out to and tried to be her friend. She stopped responding to my tweets so I stopped liking her pics on Instagram. I didn’t want her to think I was overeager. I saw her in the Starbucks a few days ago and she didn’t have a table while I had the coveted one by the window. If she was my friend, she could have sat with me but she ended up taking her drink to go.
Is there someone who could’ve been something to you but they missed out on the opportunity? Wanna give them a non-shout-out?
P.S. I am using this post to complete the Versatile Blogger award I was nominated for by my friend, Simon.