When I was eighteen, a senior at Mt. Vernon High School, I had an English teacher who clearly hated the very sight of me. Believe me when I say he let me know on numerous occasions that this was the case. I’m not sure why, it might have been the long hair (yes, I once had long hair—no, I did not sport a mullet), it might have been my look of boredom at his monotonous tone, I really can’t say. But he allowed his hatred for me to squash any glimmer of talent I might have shown.

At his bequest, in other words, homework, I wrote a poem about a fledgling bird leaving the nest. I thought it was quite good since my normal poetic take was far darker. Handing back our assignments he smirked at me; at the top of the page was an extraordinarily large, red F. I couldn’t believe it. So, I confronted him—trotting up to his desk I slammed it down and demanded his reasoning. He pointed to a paragraph he had written at the bottom of the page which went something like this, “This work is far too professional for a person like you to have written and therefore it must have been plagiarized.”

I was dumbstruck! Maybe not the first time, certainly not the last, but I was! And I was angry. I told him I could prove it was my work which evoked from him some long forgotten snide remark. I went home and gathered up my rough drafts, of which there were several, and prepared mentally for the next day’s battle. I also spoke with my mother who gladly offered to storm in and give him a good boot in the ass.

The class bell rang, signaling my arrival at the battlefront, and I threw my rough drafts down upon his desk with the vigor of a dueling glove to my enemy’s face. I said nothing. I simply walked to my seat and sat; waiting.

Suddenly, my teacher got up from his desk and walked the long walk to mine, put down my poem and walked away. An A-. Would he give an A- to the professional I had supposedly copied from? Then I read his reason for the minus, “Typing errors marred your paper.” There were three. And they had been fixed by White Out as we were taught to do in the typing class I had taken at the same high school.

I was livid. I brought it up to his desk and looked him square in the eye and said, “You just couldn’t give me an A, could you?”

Nearly thirty years later I find myself writing and wondering where my voice had been; I feel like I had been silenced for so very long. Silenced by one public act of writing, showing my work to my classmates and to my then little world, that was stomped beneath the Jackboot of an uncaring and perhaps jealous educator. No, I don’t believe all educators are angry want-to-be writers. In fact, I’ve been lucky enough to have a few inspiring teachers in history and art for example. But still I wonder, what life might have I led if I had started a writing career as a younger man? What great novel might I have left behind in my silence?

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