I’ve always been kind of shy.
It’s a fact of life. If someone asks me to read aloud, my voice is quiet. If I have to present something, I can feel my face grow hot and light flares in my eyes as I stumble through.
In seventh grade English, that changed.
I’m not sure why, but that summer I’d decided to try my hardest to be more social and likable. And that started with kicking my shyness out of the house.
When school started and I found out I had English first period, my excitement dwindled a bit. I mean, back then, ELA was my least favorite subject.
I tried my hardest, and thankfully, my teacher was HILARIOUS and seemed not to mind me – which was more than I could say for my 6th grade teacher. Mr. Meehan made everyone laugh at least once a day. I began to love having English first period. It was the perfect start to my day.
It was also the perfect place for me to thrive. I turned out to be quite interested in writing poetry, stories, and novels. I loved writing, really loved it, and that made me more confident about being loud. I tried hard to stand out.
One day, Mr. Meehan announced to the class that we would be participating in the Kenneth F. Gambone writing contest. Three students our age from across Long Island would be the winners. We could write in any genre as long as it reflected the chosen theme. Of course, participation was optional.
I found myself sitting in the computer lab with about 10 other students tapping away at computers. Mr. Meehan told us the theme, which we’d been unaware of until then, and we got started. I knew immediately I wanted to write a poem. I worked from the last lines to the first, from the middle to the end, with no order whatsoever. By the time our minutes were up, I was fully satisfied with my poem.
Weeks later, Mr. Meehan asked me to please join him outside the classroom for a few seconds. I caught a glimpse of a paper he held and thought it said the name of the contest on it. My heart jumped.
He showed me the paper and said, “Congratulations! You won third place in the writing contest!” Half of me couldn’t believe it, and the other half let out a joyful yell.
As a prize for winning, Mr. Meehan and I both got free admission to a fancy luncheon at a restaurant called Captain Bill’s. I also received a $25 Barnes and Noble gift card and three books.
Two days after that, my dad started to yell at me saying I was useless, dumb, worthless, and untalented. My mom and siblings were also being uncivil. I was feeling raw and angry, especially after having won that competition and being congratulated so much. I thought it was unfair.
About a week later, we were working in class on writing poems about ourselves. I wrote that I was untalented after the episode with my father. As I wrote it, I felt a pain inside, as if I didn’t ever want to write again. I didn’t change it though, and showed it to Mr. Meehan as it was.
That evening was one of the worst for my family. My mom was bitter and tired and snapped at me, my brother was ruining my things, my sister was making fun of my aspirations and saying the same things father had said days ago. I felt hopeless and started to believe the things they were saying.
About an hour before bed was when I got to the worst point. I was sitting at my desk with my eyes closed, imagining myself disappearing forever.
That was when I remember what Mr. Meehan had said when he’d read my poem: “This is not true. You are talented. Your poem at the writing contest touched my heart and many others’. Believe in yourself.”
That touched my heart. I knew then that I was thinking the wrong way. There was another path and people were on my side. And after that, my family’s actions didn’t seem so bad.
I’ll remember this for the rest of my life. Mr. Meehan saved me when I needed it most. He may not have donated thousands to a cancer fund, but he did something I believe to be greater.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.