Something a little different than usual;
I write silly essays and stories because of an eighth grade teacher who said I was good at it and an eighth grade girl inspired me. It’s that simple.
A seed was planted in my brain almost twenty-five years ago by a poor first-year English teacher named Mrs. Taylor. I took extreme pleasure in tormenting her throughout that entire school year. So much so, at the end of that year she inscribed my yearbook with a message that read something to the effect of;
“Dear Joshua, throughout this year you have caused me to question wether or not teaching is even what I want to do. I have been brought to tears and felt like pulling my hair out more than once. But as the year progressed I also saw that I was learning so much. You have so much potential and have become one of my favorite students. This was my first year of teaching and I will carry the lessons you have taught with me as I soldier on, knowing that teaching is exactly what I want to do. -thank you, Mrs. Taylor”
Mrs. Taylor was able to see some tiny spark of potential in a mouthy, punk kid that no other teacher could. Where she found that spark, the rest of my teachers saw only trouble. I wasn’t mean or cruel. I was sarcastic and sneaky. There was always a scam going on or, what I and my classmates found hilarious, lame outburst to interrupt class. I had a mischievous streak that hadn’t yet gone criminal, more of a Dennis the Menace persona than anything truly subversive.
Once, I claimed to have lost a textbook, which I had actually hidden, and proceeded to take up a collection from the other kids to replace it. After gathering a reasonable sum I miraculously found my book and tried to pocket the donations. What I called luck, she called some sort of extortion.
Another time I convinced a partner on an English project to help me write an entire book of crude Hellen Keller jokes. We turned it in with huge, proud smiles. We expected A’s but were rewarded with trips to the office, letters home, and a lecture on sensitivity.
More classes than not were constantly in chaos as I argued the finer points of my 13-year-old philosophy. It was more for laughs than to convince anyone of anything. I don’t know how Mrs. Taylor never lost it and gave my a swift kick to the rear.
Early in the year I had a typing class. As we didn’t have enough computers for everyone, we were randomly partnered up with one of our classmates to share one. My partner was Aisha, a pretty but big haired, dark mascaraed, Mexican chola girl. She intimidated me quite a bit. She hung out with kids that scared me; the little gang-bangers that where friends with the big gang-bangers that sent nervous lightning bolts down my spine when I saw them. That year, a boy from our class was shot to death in a gang-related incident and Aisha ran with his crowd. I was a smart aleck and trouble maker for sure, but I wasn’t one to get involved in that type of stuff.
As we began to learn the basics of typing, Aisha was nice to me and I gave her a wide berth. She made me nervous and she knew it. I was a dumb white boy and she was a girl from the neighborhood who knew a thing or two. She liked it.
One day, as I was busy concentrating on typing a paragraph from the board at the front of the class, I felt a hand on my knee. I froze. What was this? It freaked me out. A lot!
At this point in my life, my romantic experience consisted of drooling over bikini-clad girls in the advertisements of Thrasher and Transworld skateboard magazines. I had never had a girlfriend of consequence. I knew nothing more serious than awkwardly holding sweaty hands at recess or the passing of “if you like me check the yes box” notes (which, full disclosure, too often came back with the “no box” checked or didn’t come back at all).
Here was a worldly woman, a dangerous lady, a figure in a world that frightened me to death, putting her hand on my leg…and leaving it there! It wasnt accidental either!
Typing was my new favorite class.
Everyday I showed up early and everyday the hand returned slyly under our desk. When Aisha was absent, I was bummed and didn’t accomplish a thing. When she was there, I sat up straight and happily typed away for the both of us. She would offer to help, but I would have none of it, for fear that she would remove her hand and never replace it. I typed and typed and typed. After class, we went our seperate ways. We slipped back to our seperate cliques, never mentioning what happened to anyone, but I knew we shared something special, even if it was never acknowledged outside of fourth period typing.
One day our assignment was to take a random sentence, written on a scrap of paper and placed in a basket, and write a story with that sentence as the starter. Aisha and I drew our slip from the basket and started our story. I handled the typing, of course, and together we came up with a spooky tale of a monster creeping through the night. It was silly and I was far more interested in the hand on my leg than whatever we were creating. I’d suggest something and Aisha would add to it or vice-versa. In less than an hour we had completed the assignment and turned it in as the bell rang signaling the end of class. I walked out of class high on life as usual and forgot all about it.
About a week later Mrs. Taylor asked me to stay after class. There wasn’t anything unusual about it, I spent more time in detention that year than anyone else in the entire school. After the rest of the class had left Mrs. Taylor pulled out a piece of paper with the story Aisha and I had written on it. I was afraid that I had written something offensive and forgotten about it so I was instantly defensive, which Mrs. Taylor found funny. She calmed me down and proceeded to tell me that my typing teacher had read the story and was so impressed with it that she had brought it to her. After reading it herself, Mrs. Taylor was impressed as well. She then told me about a short story contest she knew of and asked if I was interested in submitting our story.
“Why not?”, I thought. At least I wasn’t getting into trouble with it like I did with my Helen Keller creations. And besides, this might mean I’d be “forced” to spend more time with my typing partner, Aisha.
A month or so later we found out that we’d won. There was no prize that I can remember other than a certificate. But somewhere there is a Jr. High yearbook with a picture of dorky, white-boy Joshua Jones standing next to a tough looking chola named Aisha, holding a shared certificate for “Best Short Story by an 8th Grader”.
I’m not sure what happened to Mrs. Taylor or Aisha. I moved away the next year and never saw them again. I’ve been scribbling down notes, opinions, essays, and stories ever since. Two very different females, inspired me in two very different ways, to keep it going. And so I have.