He didn’t exactly hand it back to me. He threw it at my face with a flick of his wrist. At least, that’s how I remember it. In reality, it was a combination of the two actions. He went up and down each aisle, returning each assignment to its respective student. The class was alive with anticipation. It was the final assignment of the year. When he got to me, he paused briefly, dangling the stapled sheets of paper over my head. He started to place it on the desk, but at the last minute, he decided to just let it go. The sheets swooped in an arc and settled on the veneer surface of my desk. On the upper right hand corner, in blue pen: C-. I could have lived with that grade, if not for the words scribbled beneath it, in a spidery, almost illegible writing: Uninspiring story. Writing is not for everyone. You should reconsider your choice of becoming a writer.
That declaration was the final assessment of my work in the Advanced English class. Each assignment I turned in to Mr. Linares was met with a curt response. With each backhanded feedback, I did my best to please him so that he might at least see a glimpse of talent, but that never happened. Perhaps he was right because that final assignment, a short story based on fantasy, had been a failure in his eyes. Who was I to argue with an expert? I looked up to him like a hero who had succeeded in the field I wanted to pursue. He was supposed to encourage the fledgling writers under his care.
This was my senior year in high school and I was in the prestigious pilot program of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program. I was proud when I was accepted, but now I wondered if they had made a mistake. I changed to an undeclared major the following Fall and then proceeded to fail miserably.
* * *
Mr. McGinny handed back my final in Physical Geology. I could tell he was disappointed in my grade: F. I can’t say I didn’t earn it. I couldn’t care less for striated minerals, igneous rocks, or diorites and I put little to no effort into it despite the fact that I needed this class to complete my required courses. I was surprised when he said that he would give me a chance to retake the final considering how openly uninterested I was in his class. H knew it, but he said that he enjoyed my mid-term research paper on the trickle down effect of sediments. “Your paper was the most entertaining research paper I’ve read,” he said. “Have you considered taking an elective course in Creative Writing?”
Suddenly, this teacher whom I dismissed as irrelevant brought back my long-dead interest in pursuing writing as a viable career option. He was the flint that re-ignited the dream that Mr. Linares, who was supposed to nurture it, had stamped out seven years ago.
They say you should never meet your heroes. Sometimes they disappoint. I add this: Don’t limit your pool of potential heroes. Sometimes they come out of unexpected places… Like a gem among minerals in a sedimentary rock.
If only I had retained information from Mr. McGinny’s lesson on how to distinguish a gem from a mineral. I must have. I got a B+ on my final the second time around.