In the fifth grade, Ms. Laing (the best fifth grade teacher at Garretson elementary and perhaps the world) had us write a scary story. It was around Halloween time and I remember I wanted it to be extra scary. The story ended up being about two girls who go out one night, get lost, and ultimately are kidnapped by someone (a monster? a maniac? I don’t recall) and are kept in a coffin-like apparatus. They were not able to move at all, because inside the coffin were nails that restricted their movement. Finally, the girls were released. When they went to report their tragic story to the police, they found out they had been kept in the coffin not for days, as they first believed, but for decades. And now all their family was dead.
It was not a cheerful story, but it was Halloween after all, and apparently Ms. Lain was on board. When she handed the stories back to us, mine had words of encouragement. I don’t remember what her exact words were, but I do remember feeling like my teacher had liked my story and was somehow saying, “Keep writing.” I wish I could say, “I’ve kept the story since then and have it in a journal, where I look at it for inspiration, every time I feel I’ve chosen the wrong path.” I didn’t. Somewhere along the way it ended up in a landfill alongside my algebra II notebook and the glittered up trifold poster of Antigone. What has stayed with me, and what Ms. Laing didn’t know, was that was the first time I had felt good about writing. It was the first time I realized that writing gave me a voice. On paper I could control a world that felt out of control. Or in the case of the Halloween story, create a new, albeit twisted, world. Writing gave me a power that no one could take from me. That was a BIG revelation.
I may be remembering that wrong. Ms. Laing may have just written positive and encouraging comments on all her students’ stories, not just mine, because isn’t that what all great teachers do, encourage their students? In any case, I took it as a sign that I needed to keep writing. And I did. I wrote other stories. Many that I never finished but felt needed to exist at least partly in the real world, only to be lost again. But I keep writing.
Thank you Ms. Linda Laing, wherever you are.