I grew up shy, quiet, tongue-tied and longing for something more, although I could never put what I wanted into words. I was just a girl who winced at having to get up at six thirty a.m. to make it to Home Class on time. Nobody who saw me imagined my larger-than-life thoughts. I was an average looking girl wearing acceptable looking clothes, who dreamed of something more than an idiot boy who wanted to snap the strap of my training bra.
I lived an everyday girl’s experience. I ate chocolate shakes when my lunch money ran low because they were only seventy-five cents. I ducked my head and tried not to care when girls prettier than I was called me names–brace face, metal mouth, pizza face. I’d accepted from early on that I just wasn’t the type of girl who was going to fit in, although I’m not sure when I first had the thought. I think it became less of a pain the older I got because surely things happened for a reason. Suffering had to have a point; feeling like an uninvited devil’s imp from hell had an end, right?
The books I read made me feel I wasn’t alone. There was hope. There was an optimistic sort of ending. There were lessons to be learned with the characters I fell in love with–characters who struggled with peer pressure, Multiple Sclerosis, death and parents who were divorced. Those stories written by Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary and Carolyne Keene saved my life. I can’t even properly communicate the power of those stories and the characters who influenced me–I just know that it happened. I was humbled and taken-aback by how much I seemed to connect with these characters; they weren’t real, they were just someone’s imagination on a page.
Why did they have such power over me? How did they influence me so much? Was I nuts? Did I have my head too high in the clouds like people said I did?
Maybe. Always maybe.
Once I learned how to read, that was it. Reading was all I wanted to do. And then I decided I wanted to do what those writers had unwittingly done for me–to save a life. When you’re young, awkward and not at the top of the popularity chain, characters like Deenie, Nancy Drew and Marcy Lewis helped keep my soul strong.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone that I wanted to do the same thing for others some day…if I could. If I had the strength, the perseverance, the dedication. But nobody seemed to understand my need to write while other kids my age were outdoors living it up. I didn’t even understand it myself. My flag of self-esteem was never high, and wanting to write made me feel more conspicuous and embarrassed.
I tried to ignore the odd glances older people gave me, the embarrassment I felt about it when my teachers caught a whiff of my desire (was I doomed to be a freak forever?), and the utter incomprehension of my friends and family. Maybe it was teen-aged angst in action, not that it matters. It was almost enough that the feelings strengthened me at the same they ostracized me.
What I do know is that at twelve years-old, when I was in the sixth grade and wrote my first story for a teacher’s review (The Lucky Charm, which totally sucked jumbo-size eggs), I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be God on paper. To make a positive difference in someone’s world. To give back what I had been given.
Because words can save a life.