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Her head bowed slightly as she gently lowered her spectacles to study me with those familiar, penetrating eyes. They were big, and her mascara was clumpy. She was in awe. She reached over the countless novels resting upon her desk, and the pages of mystery and fantasy flew forward and back with the breeze.
The door was shut tightly, but I could still hear the muffled hollers of gleeful students unmistakably audible if you strained hard enough. The final bell of the year was always memorable, but this year was slightly different. This was the last, final bell. This was the end.
My gaze shifted back to my teacher behind the desk. I was not free yet. A hint of a smile played at her lips, but in an instant it was gone. The pile of paper resting underneath the red pen that had scurried critically across them was positioned directly bellow her hand. The hand with the long, glistening painted fingernails.
Sitting neatly on her desk in perfect order, the essays reminded me of wounded soldiers. Instead of the crimson blood that leaked out of men brave enough to fight for what they believe, the evil red pen had slashed the essays apart.
I didn’t want to be a soldier. I didn’t want to gamble for the honor or respect that often came with taking chances. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but its victims looked surprisingly alike. Torn apart and ridiculed the essays lay defeated. Except for one. I decided, the very last week of High School, to join the armed forces. And, only one soldier was as clean and flawless as it was when I had cowardly turned it in.
Like a hawk, this teacher had surveyed her Remedial English students as we filed into her classroom nine months prior. Head bent low, her eyes whizzed from one misfit to another as if we were as easy to read as one of the many books she desperately craved. I vowed that I would never show emotion. I would never let her get to me. I would never let her make me want or care. I vowed to no one in particular, that I may not be a soldier, but I would not surrender to the enemy.
She had only faltered once as she absorbed my ludicrous appearance. I caught her gaze for only a split second, and although that moment had gone unnoticed by the freaks in the desks around me, I now possessed the satisfaction of knowing that I may be beyond this teacher’s reading comprehension level.
At the time, my hair was the brightest shade of hot pink imaginable, fingernails still wet from the recent coat of black Sharpie I had applied during the period before. She scolded me for refusing to read Hamlet with the class. The class repulsed me. They could barely string words together. She didn’t know that I had already read Hamlet. Studied it. Four years ago. She didn’t know that I did not deserve to be in this awful class. She didn’t know that the only reason I was sitting before her in Remedial English, was because I had made it so.
She didn’t put up with me. She did not tolerate me, and I ended up locked in her perfumed class listening to gleeful students exiting the building without me on the first day of school. Now, I was here on the last. She had said that she only wanted to help me. She had said that she wanted to see me succeed. The only thing that had changed since then was my hair color. And the reason she was staring.
Now, ironically, she was staring in bewilderment. Unlike the novels upon her desk, I was proving to be too difficult for her to analyze.
She stood up, still clutching my essay. “You will be famous,” she mused, watching me attentively. I was stoic. “You have the ability to do great things, if you summon the courage to reach your full potential.”
I stared up at her, searching those icy, penetrating eyes for the last time. I couldn’t be famous, because I wasn’t going to write. I would fail.
I said nothing. I did nothing. Except watch her. She extended her arm and pulled open the drawer to her left. Her fingers wrapped around a thick, red book and offered it to me. I took it. It was a dictionary. It was words. She had tied a pink bow around it. I got out of the chair and left the room with my words, not looking back.
Standing outside her door, I opened the dictionary. I flipped through all the letters that supposedly held my future. If the teacher was right, all I had to do was arrange them in an order that would fulfill my destiny. But surely, I couldn’t.
Above the title was a handwritten quote I recognized by Marianne Williamson. It was scrawled in red.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”
I went back, turning the handle slowly and reentered her room. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t do anything. This was not the end. She approached me hesitantly. And she hugged me. This was only the beginning.
I lifted my eyes to study the teacher. In her breast pocket she had the pen. The red one. This was the pen that had written my detention slips, letters home, and office referrals. This was the pen that had fallen to the floor in surprise as my teacher read my essay. This was the red pen that I had finally conquered.
She offered it to me. And I took it. And I finally smiled. And I began to write the words that had been locked in my mind for so long. With the red pen.