When I was in Grade 9 I had Mrs. Robson for English. She was young, in her 20s, and had a cool wardrobe and stylish hair and was hip and down-to-earth and relatable in way that instantly made her everyone’s favourite teacher. On the first day of classes, she did an exercise where we got together in groups and composed a list of questions to ask her, and I still remember how she answered a question about her favourite colour – “When I was younger, yellow, but now I think red,” and how all of us young teen girls nodded in agreement and made mental notes to get some red plastic dangly earrings just like hers as soon as possible.
One of our earliest assignments was to write a short story that featured only one character. I opened mine with my character, an old lady, sitting in front of a mirror brushing her hair, remembering when it was red instead of white. Mrs. Robson wrote in the margin, next to the first paragraph, “I like this.”
I often find myself thinking about that little bit of red pen scripted down the side. The memory of how it made me feel lives in a secret box in my heart along with the other great moments of my life. Of course I was happy to have pleased my teacher – I’m still a sucker for an A – but it also opened my eyes to what writing could be. It was about more than just assignments, answering questions, getting a good mark. It was about finding an audience, someone to read your words and really hear you, to think about your stories and decide that they like it. It was thrilling and intoxicating, a small seed of an idea that grew into something bigger.
When I was in Grade 12, Mrs. Robson was killed in a car accident on an icy winter morning while on her way to work. She’d only been married a couple of years and they had no children, though of course her funeral was packed with hundreds of kids, including myself. I was sad to have lost one of my favourite teachers but at the time I was too young and too self-centred to really understand what a tragedy it is for someone so young to be lost, or to understand how one kind comment can change a life. If I could go back and thank her, I would.
This morning I was trying to write something that would not come easily and when that happens, without me consciously reminding myself, I like this swims behind my eyes, and then I try again.