“Wylbia, come up to my desk please.”
Fear washed over me. The only other time Mrs. Socha had called me to her desk, she had lectured me about letting some of the kids cheat off my work. I had tried to explain that I had a hard time saying no to them, especially when they were offering me bags of Swedish fish from Ziggy’s, the mom and pop shop a few blocks away from school, but she wasn’t having it. She was the best teacher I’d had up to that point in my academic career, 5th grade, so I didn’t want to disappoint her and I hadn’t let anyone cheat since our “talk.”
I walked up to her desk slowly, the beehive hairdo she wore a good a place as any on which to focus my eyes to avoid her direct stare. When I arrived at her desk, she asked me to turn and face the class. As I look out at the other students sitting at their desks, I felt something being placed on my head. I pulled it off and saw it was a birthday hat. I held it in my hands and gave her a “Wait, what’s going on?” look. She turned to the class and said, “It seems that we missed a birthday last month. Let’s all sing and do the birthday dance for Wylbia!” I smiled the biggest smile I could while tears began forming in my eyes.
It was early February 1981 and I’d turn 10 years old just a few weeks earlier. Mrs. Socha’s 5th grade class was my favorite place to be. She made everything so much fun, and her signature beehive, 20 years past its expiration date, just added to her quirkiness. Because our days in Mrs. Socha’s class were filled with fun and games, I had assumed that celebrating all of our birthdays was automatic.
My birthday fell on a Sunday that year and I never thought to mention it when it came around. It didn’t help that I was also deathly shy. When the class didn’t sing happy birthday on Friday, I figured Monday would be the day. Then Monday came and went with no song. I’d been forgotten and I didn’t know what to do about it.
A week later, my English teacher assigned a writing project. I don’t remember the specifics of the assignment, but whatever it was, it was open enough to allow me the opportunity to write a story about a young girl whose teacher had forgotten her birthday.
I wish I still had that piece of paper filled with words that spoke of hope, expectation, disappointment and rejection, I’m guessing. I imagine Mrs. Socha reading my “tragic” story giggling a little, but also touched.
By the time the class finished singing happy birthday I was a blubbering mess. Mrs. Socha led me into the hallway, bent down to give me a hug and told me two things: Be more assertive when you want something and never stop writing.
One of my favorite writers, Ulises Silva, who also happens to be a great friend, challenged me to write about “Why I Write,” a topic I think about on ocassion. As I reflected on the reason, I realized that while I wish it were because I want to share great characters and stories with the world, the truth is much more selfish than that.
I write because my 5th grade teacher told me to be more assertive and to never stop writing. So when that shy 10 year old girl reappears and I’m anxious and at a loss for words, I remember that a blank page allows me to sort out and express my thoughts in a way I could never vocalize. I write because my life is a book, and my experiences are stories.
Check out the next contributor in the #WhyIWrite series: Curious George and the Anime people made me do it (or, why do I write).