When I was fourteen and in ninth grade, I wrote a love story about a girl in love with a boy named Connor. In high school, Connor got cancer. The love story continued after his diagnosis, but Connor didn’t make it. He died at the end, and the main character went on with life, forever changed. She named one of her kids after him.
I barely remember writing the story, but I remember reading it years later and being surprised that I had written it because it was actually not stupid. It was not a story of a fourteen-year-old girl pining for a perfect boyfriend. It was about friendship, loyalty, and moving on. Sitting among my old journals and scrapbooks of cuttings from old magazines, I read it with no memory of writing it. When I read the part about Connor dying, tears welled up in my eyes. I cried at the end of my own story that I had written when I was fourteen years old.
I do remember one thing that happened after I wrote that story: a specific ninth-grade English class with Mrs. Reinfried. She was an older woman with short, curly hair and black-rimmed glasses. Your archetypal English teacher in high school. I waited until class was over and walked up to her desk. We didn’t really have a close relationship, but she always said I was one of the best kids in the class. I figured she’d be honest with me about my story.
“Could you read a story that I wrote?” I asked her, handing over the stapled pages.
“You wrote a story?” she said, a little surprised. I had done my homework and sometimes raised my hand in class, but that was about it.
“Yeah. Can you just read it and tell me if you like it?”
“Sure,” she said. “Thank you for asking me.”
The next day during class, Mrs. Reinfried kept looking over at me, and it seemed to me at the time, a little oddly. After class, she approached me and handed back my stapled pages. “Did you really write this?” she said.
“Yes,” I said, confused. Why would I tell her I had written it if I didn’t? It wasn’t for an assignment. I had nothing to prove.
“This is very, very good,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said.
“No,” she said. “Jena, it’s very good. I have a hard time believing that you wrote this.”
I looked at her. “I wrote it. Last week.”
She stood there for a moment, looking at me, her eyebrows furrowed. She seemed confused, and I didn’t understand why. I wrote a story and asked my English teacher to read it. Big deal.
Looking back, I wish she had told me to submit that story. But we lived in a small town, smaller than a town where people submit stories or get published. We lived in a farm town, where kids go to 4-H after school and enter their sheep into contests. Not their stories.
I’m approaching thirty now, and I’m remembering all of the times that I was told that I was a good writer. I’m a passable cook, an okay friend, and a work-in-progress romantic partner. I’m a sometimes-good Samaritan and a loving, if sometimes politically incorrect dog owner.
But I’m realizing that I’ve always been a writer, and I forgot somewhere along the way. It’s something that I’ve loved since I could read – I wrote 5 chapters of a novel in third grade, about a girl who ran away to Rochester, New York. When I was 22, I wrote another 5 chapters of a novel about a girl in love with an enigma of an Indian boy. Now, I’m coming back to it all and remembering how much I loved it. This vortex of a blog that nobody reads is a blessing in that I can write mostly without editing. There are other avenues opening up slowly, though, and I’m glad.
I’m remembering that I’m falling back in love with the first love I ever had – this practice, which I find to be almost as sacred as meditation. So when I go back to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving, I’m going to dig up the story I wrote when I was fourteen, about another girl’s first love, and re-read it.