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Monday, March 22, 2010
Remember when .....
September 1981 Amherst Massachusetts.
Nervous frightened an undergraduate in a creative writing class the teacher walks in tall, imposing looking scholarly and artsy at the same time, I am intimidated by his attitude. He barely glances at me; it is as if I do not exist. His eyes scan the room and land at the rear where someone is sitting who he stares at, lets his gaze swallow this person. I turn to see out of curiosity why whoever this is is deserving of this intense focus. A tall, depressed looking woman, younger than me, her head buried in a thin paper back book, gives him no recognition back. “I am Kirby Farrell. I write,” he declares. “I’m a writer and my job is to teach you to find your voices. Some of you already have been looking. Others…” his eyes now find me…”Well, others might take a very very long time.” The air is heavy with tension, nerves. Sweat. A bead drops from my forehead but I am too self conscious to wipe it as it slithers down my cheek. I shift in my seat like a trapped animal in a cage. Outside the warm autumn of Western Massachusetts radiates with undergraduate laughter, chatter, whispers. I hear leaves crunching under feet taking their time to get to or from their destinations. I gather my things ready to rush from the room, the words “who am I to think I can be a writer like these people?” running like a circular saw slicing my insides to pieces. No one in my family has done anything. I shouldn’t even be in college. This is a mistake, a big fat stupid mistake. Then a hand taps me on the shoulder. The woman from the rear of the class has moved into the empty seat behind me. She whispers, “Do you have an extra pen or pencil? Mine just ran out of ink.” I reach into my backpack and pull out the only pen I have and give it to her. Her coal black eyes see into me. “You have another, right?” she asks. I mumble something stupid. Kirby steps forward and smiles at her. He calls her Monica as if he and she are lovers. “He’s full of himself,” she says softly to me. “Don’t let him bother you.” Are we now friends for life? Is she my lifeline in the sea of academic muck I will have to wade through? Later, weeks later, Kirby tells me Monica’s father is a famous author. And I remember her words to me. “You have real talent,” she said. “Everyone else in that class is full of shit. Including the teacher.” She's a friend. We run, eat, get crazy together, swap stories, are silly and save one another's lives. And she shares intimate stories of what it's like to be the daughter of Richard Yates. I believe now, after recognizing her burden, it is better that no one in my family has succeeded in the outside world. When I pick up a pen,I believe for the first time ever I have something to say. She helps me shape words, ideas. I fall in love with her entire being. I feel respected, seen. And when she becomes homeless and manic, I invite her to sleep on the sofa in my apartment I share with two other people. I know now, 30 years later, everything in your life can change when you give someone your only pen.