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Who Would Have Thought?

I grew up grappling with the English language. It was a series of shoulder throws, breakfalls, pulling, and pushing. Growing up on the international border proved words were currency, allowing you access to several commodities but failure at proficiency left you vulnerable to exploiters. Panic and suspicion would color my parent’s faces when confronted with the garble of the unknown phonetics. At the first opportunity, they entered me in school and exposed me to the world unbeknownst to them.

It was, in lack of better words, a less than pretty transfer. A speech therapist employed by the elementary would hold others along with myself back on Wednesdays and Fridays to work on our pronunciation. The words left an aftertaste of frustration and embarrassment. The alien words proved deceiving: rules were built to be contradicted, different letter combinations were pronounced similarly, and its great unpredictability was an understatement. Still, my mother’s longing expression as she gazed upon the English-written books made me curious as to what kind of contents they could hold.

In fourth grade, a teacher named Mrs. Rojas took particular interest in my writing, mostly because I expressed my extreme distaste for the practice. She sparked my interest when she read out lout “Because of Win-Dixie”. With my finger, I would follow the lines she read down the worn-down pages. Her multiple voices and sudden voice elevations enraptured my mind and made me look forward to the next reading session. Secretly, I would read ahead of the class trying to make my own voices with high intonations for the young protagonist and a low croak for the older characters. As she read, I would covertly scribble important events on a torn piece of wide-ruled paper. At home, I would re-tell the important events to my mother to share the joy I felt from reading the small novel. During this time, I would see her behavior change. She would curl up in my bed, covers to her chin, and stare at me in anticipation for the next event I would describe. In this setting, she did not look imposing or hurried, instead, she contained this infectious childish giddy that would make laughter bubble out after every few details I would add to the story. As the story flowed, she would interrupt with questions of her own, smile in the parts that made me smile and grow sad in the parts I cried in. When the novel ended, I mourned it along with my mother. It marked the end of an era, but the beginning of one as well. I began to hungrily wait for the next book. And the next. And the next.

I steadily grew a love for books, if only, to relay to my mother later and see her eyes shine. The books grew heavier as time passed. They amassed larger vocabulary and set up intricate storylines that were previously inconceivable for me to tackle them before. Fantasy, thriller, dystopian, with no discrimination they all fell prey to my mind. Without me noticing, a repertoire of vocabulary had been collected and there was a noticeable improvement in my writing. Words glided into the blank page effortlessly and stories that had set up a permanent abode in my brain were finally able to break free into the world. A heartwarming instance that lured me into the world of writing involved Mrs. Rojas. It was a school day afternoon and I had just finished running a lap around the gymnasium for volleyball practice. Her head poked out from an opened door, and she signaled me to come forward. I quickly excused myself and she began leading me into her classroom, the sound of her heels “clicking” and “clacking” against the linoleum floor echoing in the empty hallways. She gestured for me to sit, and I plopped on the blue plastic chair. After sitting down and shuffling some papers, she paused and looked at me – the entirety of my sweaty self melting into a pile of stuttering nerves. “I shared it with my husband you know”, she began, “the paper you wrote last week”. Okay, unexpected statement. I nodded unsure where this would follow. “He loved it. When did you suddenly learn how to write so well?”. I tilted my head unsure of what paper she was talking about. She pulled out a paper filled with nearly indecipherable scribbling that I recognized as mine. She began to read my paper out loud. It was a short essay, written in the five-paragraph format she had taught us, using the thesis formula she had emphasized, and contained but two grammar mistakes. After finishing she looked up and cracked a grin mirroring my own. It was indeed a well-written paper. One I could play in the cinema within my head. “Can I share it with the others? Print copies for the future classes?”. I nodded with fervor and after saying thanks, she sent me on my way.

In high school, I was once again subjected to writing, but this task was remarkably different from what I had formerly grappled with beforehand – a sonnet. More specifically, a Shakespearean sonnet. Early on, I encountered a deceivingly hard obstacle: how to include emotion? I succeeded in all the other areas required to make a passable sonnet, so what was it exactly that kept my teacher from approving my sonnet for presentation? At home, my computer screen had been plagued by my exasperated face for far too long. I had perused the internet looking at other forms of poetry desperately reaching for inspiration for days. Sadness, happiness, lustfulness, and bitterness captivated me with each poem I read, and yet, my problem persisted. One positive outcome had at least resulted from this seemingly fruitless quest. I realized I had not lived enough. The sonnet I was writing contained themes of heartbreak and mania, but I had not lived those experiences to have them effectively come across to the reader. Other popular emotions were also out of reach. Had I ever experienced a sadness so intense I could write about it? How about happiness? Bitterness maybe? Everything paled in comparison to the poet’s endless well of emotion. I approached my teacher with these thoughts. Laughter escaped Mrs. Ackinar’s lips as a response. My eyes widened at the sight and confusion colored my face. “You have never thrown a tantrum? Have never wanted to jump up and down in joy? Have never felt ashamed or even nervousness?”. I was aghast. “That-that is the problem. I have but those things are not anything. They are nothing”. “Wrong. That is enough. Maybe not awe-worthy. But you can make a good sonnet with genuine feeling behind it”, she responded. I bore holes into my shoes for a long time after that statement. “A-annoyance?”, I finally said. “At a fly”. She pursed her lips into a thin line, in retrospect to keep from bursting out into laughter, and nodded emphatically. “I look forward to it”, she declared. I left the classroom feeling accomplished at the headway I had just completed. After the approval, I presented my sonnet to the class. It was met with chuckles and amused eyes that spoke of the relatability my sonnet held.

Looking back, it was few people who truly impacted my desire to pursue books. My mother, Mrs. Rojas, and Mrs. Ackniar’s motivation and sound advice were pivotal in this journey. Who would have thought that a girl who struggled so much with the English language could one day enjoy its written format to such an extent? I hope to continue growing this love each day.