I was on the verge of a major depression in third grade until my teacher helped me see the light. Failure, at that time in my life, was unknown to me. I was the best at all subjects, so I thought, and official teacher's pet. But I realized my streak of perfection was quickly coming to an end each time I compared my drawings with my classmate Angela's. My family had lied to me, well misled me and I was devastated. I had proudly taken home my artistic renderings;self and family portraits, nature drawings but my specialty had been sunrises, crayoned the ideal mixture of orange, red and yellow in order to replicate that same ripe mango coloring that I saw in the morning sun. Various family members, mostly my two grandmothers, had delighted in my art work and hung my masterpieces on refrigerators, kitchen doors and bedroom walls. I was convinced I could do anything. Then I saw the perfect life-like images that Angela drew of our classmates and her family members and suddenly I saw the dog that I drew actually resembled a cow with four chicken's feet. No matter how I tried to improve, when I would look at Angela's drawings and her dog with actual paws it distressed me. My good life was coming to an end. One day after school, Mrs. Burgess noticed my distress.
"Alright kiddo, out with it. I don't see that sparkle in your eye. What's going on?" She had a way of getting the truth out of us and she always answered a question with a question. She wasn't ancient like most of the other teachers. It was the seventies and she wore bell-bottomed pants and funky, rainbow-colored toe socks. She frosted the tips of her dark hair, wore lots of mascara and pearlized, champagne-colored lipstick that matched her nail polish. Plus, she could pop her gum louder and blow bigger bubbles than anyone I knew and frequently asked for pieces of our Bubble Yum. She didn't even care that we knew that her first name was Vickie and not Mrs. like all the other teachers insisted. She was third in line of the people that I wanted to be, right behind Pam Grier and Thelma from Good Times(minus the living conditions). If her class had been televised weekly, in a motion picture, or I was confident that I could get her type of hair into afro puffs as fly as Thelma's, then she would have been first choice, hands down.
"Out with what?" I kept clapping the dust from the erasers like a dutiful teacher's pet volunteering after school, hoping she'd think the chalk dust and not my wounded pride caused the fat tears forming in my eyes.
"Did you know that I have surgical tools in the trunk of my car? Do I need to go and get them to operate on the cat that has your tongue?" The tears escaped, crawled down my face and plopped in the chalk dust beneath my feet.
"I can't draw," I blurted and began wailing.
"Say's who," she asked, the pop of her gum like punctuation.
"Says me," I moaned hiding my face in the crooks of my arms. She lowered my arms and lifted my face towards hers, her speckled green eyes flashing with concern.
"Why would you say such a foolish thing?"
I explained to her about Angela's beautiful people and my chicken-footed cow dog and she started laughing.
"See even you know it," I whined. She laughed more, asked me if I was done feeling sorry for myself as the tears slowed and handed me a tissue and a flyer.
"Aren't you glad you don't wear mascara yet? If you did you'd look like a raccoon right now." I smiled weakly and read the flyer. It advertised a writing contest. Top prize was a gift certificate and a live reading of the story at the public radio station's.
"I won't win. When they see my pictures to go with the words they'll laugh," tears flowing again.
"You silly girl. Do you know that my husband looks forward to reading your spelling word sentences each week? Don't you see? You draw just beautifully except you do it with words."
"What do you mean?"
"That means go home and figure it out. It's no fun when I give you all the answers. Get to work on your story and lemme have a piece of Bubble Yum before you go."
I went home and began work on my story though still perplexed by her words. I weaved a tale about a little boy having a nightmare and being chased by a huge ten-eyed monster. He runs into a cave and eventually into what he thinks are the monster's arms. As he is trying to break free of the monster's grip he wakes up and realizes his mom is holding him and it was all a nightmare. I submitted my story even after Mrs. Burgess nixed my idea of letting Angela draw pictures to accompany it.
"Don't need pictures," she insisted.
I won first prize but still wasn't clear about what my teacher meant.
On the day that I went to read, the station manager gave us a tour and showed us where we'd be reading in the sound booth. After I read my story, she congratulated me.
"I loved your story and your descriptions made me see that little boy and the monster just as if you'd painted a picture."
That year I learned one of my greatest life lessons. We all have a unique paintbrush and a story to tell.