Breath on Paper small group is taking a break between semesters. For the next few weeks we are taking advantage of this time off, we hope you enjoy revisiting our favorites. We will return June 12th.
The line streched down the long green hall. It was the last day of the fall semester and every student who had just finished 12th grade English/Lit was anxiously waiting to find out if they’d passed. A two word response is all that would be granted. Failure meant repeating her class.
Fear gripped me and I held my breath as I inched along the lockers, waiting my turn. I felt sick as I wrestled with the thoughts in my mind. “What if I failed? What if my efforts weren’t enough? I can’t do it again. I can’t go through her class again!” I was certain if I had to, it’d be the death of me. (First-world problems for that of a 17-year-old high school student. However, it was the most life-altering experience of my life up to that point. But I’ll get to that in a minute.)
I reflected on the last four months as we shuffled along. I’d never had to work so hard for a passing grade in my life. Especially, not in English/Lit. I’d never gotten anything less than an “A.” But when your final exam counts as the majority of your final grade and the teacher tests you on everything BUT the notes she required you to dictate verbatim, nothing comes easy. Your only guarantee for survival is to memorize everything she said would be on the test, AND everything that she didn’t.
I’d been in survival mode all for the sake of a grade, and the semester had taken it’s toll. Now completely stripped of dreams and identity, I no longer recognized myself. The person looking back at me in the mirror was thinner, pale, and wore dark circles that no amount of makeup could hide. (Being completely real here.) Then there were the scars and swelling from where I’d mutilated my face, thinking I was popping zits at 3A.M. between study breaks; zits that were really never there. A behavior result of the suicidal depression with which I’d been diagnosed.
I had co-opped again that semester, which meant I left school at 11:15 a.m. My daily pattern was to come home, maybe eat a sandwich, take an hour nap, then head to work till 6:00 p.m. I’d come home, grab something quick to eat, take my prescribed Adderall, and immediately go upstairs and begin studying until about 4:30 a.m. I’d go to sleep till 6:30 a.m., get up and ready for school, maybe grab a banana, and repeat it all again. In my mind, this was the only way to stay prepared for her class and have it fresh on my mind. (Yes, I realized the insanity of that thought process….later.) Sleep deprivation and lack of nutrition will certainly put you on the fast track of the “depression express.”
As the line shortened and I stood behind several other students receiving their verdict, I listened to the flippant, uncompassionate tone of her voice as she spoke to each student, only barely glancing at them long enough to tell them their fate. “You failed. You failed. You failed. You passed. You failed.” I began silently pleading to God for mercy as I approached her desk.
I gave my name and waited the longest six seconds of my life as I watched her glance down at her printout. My eyes were fixated on her white hair pulled back in the tight bun she always wore, and her profile that was set in a permanent scowl. “You passed.”
For a moment I wasn’t sure I heard her correctly. A wave of relief and confusion overtook me before I heard my voice crack in disbelief. “I passed?”
Without looking at my face, she snapped, “I said you passed! Now go!”
I hurried out the door and to the parking lot as fast as my exhausted body would take me, fighting back the tears until I was in the sanctuary of my vehicle. My sister Holly was already inside waiting on me. As soon as the door shut, the floodgates opened. (We’re talking ugly, snot-dripping cry.)
“Oh no! Did you fail???” Holly asked, wide-eyed and alarmed by my breakdown.
“No. I passed.” I blubbered out.
“Then why are you crying???” She asked, clearly confused.
“Because it’s over! It’s finally over! And I never have to write again!”
Now some of you may be giggling at that last statement for obvious reasons, while others, I’m sure, are curious by that declaration.
At ten, I discovered I had a passion for writing. In fact, it wasn’t just a passion…it was my identity. The one thing I knew without a doubt I was good at and gave me purpose. Verbalizing my thoughts and feelings was never my strong suit, but give me a pen and paper and you’d easily be able to read the innermost depths of my soul in the ink. Poetry, story-telling, song lyrics, journalism — you name it, I wrote it. With a particular love for poetry and fiction, I would pour hours upon hours writing in a notebook that I carried everywhere. My school friends can attest to this fact.
It’s who I was. I was born to write.
I’d planned on pursuing a career in it….until encountering Ms. Jezebel as my 12th grade English/Lit teacher…
Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion of this post and the revelation that came from this experience. You don’t want to miss it! I promise it’s a goody. To read it, click here.
Heather Whidden loves Jesus, is married to her best friend and is mother of 3 blessings. She is a professional photographer and has a heart for ministry. She loves spending time with her family and friends, writing, reading, and traveling. Time and people is what she values most. You can read more about her here.