I didn’t always live in Queens. Just before sixth grade, we moved out to Long Island, and before you knew it, I was hitting those awkward teen years.
If you want to know the truth, I was a teenager with no direction, and no ambition whatsoever. A lousy student with even crummier study habits. I was painfully shy and mortified by speech class, where I had to step up to the podium and debate on an issue I didn’t give a hoot about. In geometry and algebra, I was one of the few who managed to turn, what should each have been a year-long course, into 18-month-long ones. What can I say? I needed the extra time for the math to sink in.
My future looked bleak. I was flailing.
Even Mr. Meissner, my science teacher was baffled at the thought of my prospects. He talked me into enrolling in his General Science class which actually proved to be one of my favorite classes because the only thing we didn’t study in that class was science. We were a class of misfits. My “lab” partner was on his third year of being left back. He’d boast that he knew a lot about nothing, and it was true. Everyday, he’d regale us with his breadth of knowledge about the most mundane things. I never knew anyone who knew so much about so little.
Frankly, there was little hope for me. Mrs. McHale, the Home-Economics teacher nearly twisted my arm to get me to take her class so she could teach me how to sew. She literally yanked me out of the hallway one day, and the next thing I knew I was enrolled in her class (much to my chagrin). I hated sewing. I took the class but I never sewed a stitch. My mother, who was a master with the sewing machine, ended up doing it for me. To this day, I can’t even sew a button on a shirt.
The computer teacher practically twisted my other arm to get me to take his class as no other girls had signed up for it. So I did, but these were the computers of the past, pre-Apple and pre-PC’s. There was no internet access. Nothing, but mysterious codes for enormous computers that I was sure would never amount to anything of significance in my lifetime. Those binary numbers just swam over my head and dive-bombed on any future I might have as a computer analyst.
And then two things happened to change my life. And by things, I mean two people: Miss Stern and Lynn.
Miss Stern taught Creative Writing. Up until then, the extent of my writing was limited to assorted diaries I’d kept throughout the years, and the copious notes I’d write in class and pass to my friends, when I should’ve been paying attention to classwork.
And then I took Creative Writing and the world was transformed. It was as if my life had gone from black and white to brilliant Technicolor. My heart became infused with joy. Suddenly, I was turning in assignments on time and raising my hand with record speed–excited to read my work aloud, whether it was an essay describing the contents of my bedroom or a poem in the style of Ben Johnson. It was in her class that I learned the line, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.” Oh, how I loved Miss Stern, and how I loved her class. To me, there was nothing better!
Except maybe my friend, Lynn. If you ask me, Lynn had one of those intensely bright minds that left me in awe. She took AP honors classes, and barely needed to blink to get an A. Yep, she was smart as a whip, with a biting sense of humor, much like Dorothy Parker.
Lynn and I traveled in different circles. You could find me with the potheads, the delinquents, and the ones who prided themselves on knowing much about nothing. Whereas, Lynn was with the intellectual crowd, the ones who knew their life plans, and had dreams of going to Princeton, Columbia, or Dartmouth.
And, then one day, by chance, we became friends. Which evolved to good friends. Whereupon, we embarked on a series of fabulous adventures. Just me and Lynn. And, in the process, Lynn changed my life.
Oh, and I suppose this would be as good a time as any, to make a formal apology to the country of India. As you requested, we never returned to your embassy.
But I’ll save these stories–the tales of our sometimes wild adventures–for another day.
So, how about you? Can you remember someone who may have helped change the course of your life?