The Wood Became Alive

It was the second week of September in my senior year, and I was staring at a blank page.

My advanced composition teacher, Mr. V, had assigned us a journal to be kept over the course of the year. My literature teacher the previous year had done the same, and by the end of the year I was writing song lyrics in it because she never read it. I’d write stream of consciousness words in there of whatever was stuck in my head that week.

But Mr. V was different. Rather than blindly assign us pages, he’d asked us to respond to a news article. It could be any news article, about anything at all. But we had to write two, two hundred fifty word reactions a week. He’d check, on a random basis, whether or not we were keeping up. And since I was bucking for class valedictorian, it never occurred to me not to keep up.

I had so much to say, but I wasn’t sure how closely this was going to be read. I wanted to talk about my brother’s high school graduation, my visit to music camp over the summer, my devastating break up with John, my award winning piece on the charity group working with unwed mothers in Detroit, of my huge fight with my best friend Dawn, my mother’s new boyfriend. Prudence would dictate I keep my ramblings to something safe.

I clipped an article about Suzanne Vega, and her new record, Solitude Standing. I talked of how I related to her music and how the haunting chords and layered lyrics spoke to me on many levels. I talked of how much I enjoyed solitude, but not being alone, which were two very different things. I talked about how I felt alone even in the most crowded settings, such as Mr. V’s classroom. I mentioned a recent break up and the turmoil that had set up within me, which made me feel like the Small Blue Thing that she sang about. I referenced the Undertow and how I was friends with it too. I quoted her song: “And when I’m dead, if you could tell them this – what was wood became alive.”

The entry dated was 9-18-87. I thought I was being vague but reading it tonight with eyes that are now older than his were when he read it, I see that I was not subtle in the least. The only thing I didn’t say but might as well have was that there were fresh scars healing on my wrists.

Mr. V responded in red ink at the end of the entry:

“It’s comforting to know that there is someone out there who feels as you feel, who expresses so well the turmoil within. And based on what you wrote here, you are already alive. Thank you. You’ve trusted me with some of your most meaningful feelings. Yours is a journal with much thought and reflection.”

It was a life raft, and I grabbed onto it for dear life.


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