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Coffee Talk and Crickets

In elementary school, I was shy about sharing the stories I'd been writing with anyone.

Every Christmas when I was younger, I would ask for stacks of composition books. My father and grandmother would give me several at a time. They were $1.29 apiece from Walgreen’s and had those speckled designs on them a la “Harriet the Spy.” I was really into the pop music explosion of the late 90s at the time, so I filled those pages with stories about a boy band called the Sunny Beach Boys (not to be confused with the Beach Boys) and a girl band called the Hollywood Girls. All the band members were dating.

In elementary school, I was shy about sharing the stories I’d been writing with anyone. Only a few close friends really understood this. In eighth grade, I had an English teacher named Ms. MacDougall. She wore retro glasses and always had her brown hair in a tight librarian bun. Ms. MacDougall's life partner was a kind woman named Mary who would substitute for her when she was sick. Anyway, Ms. MacDougall was the first person that encouraged me to share my work with my peers.

She hosted an afterschool club called “Coffee Talk” every Monday. When it got colder outside, she’d make large pots of hot cider with marshmallows melted into it. Only five people ever showed up regularly.

I wrote a short story the night before one “Coffee Talk” session called “Candy.” It was about a kid named Trevor who was walking home from school one day and upon arriving home, discovered that his older brother had overdosed on LSD disguised as Sweet Tarts. I was kind of a dark kid.

I read it aloud to the five-person audience. Crickets. No one knew what to say. Neither did Ms. MacDougall. At first, she was wondering if everything was okay at home. Things were horrible, of course. I was 14 and the world was stupid. I spent a lot of time brooding and putting studs in torn-up jeans. Feeling vulnerable and put on the spot, I ducked out of the room to cry in the bathroom stall.

Ms. MacDougall had a conference with me the next day. She looked me square in the eye and said, “I don’t know why you wrote what you did. But I didn’t know my eighth-graders could write like that. I’m floored.”

I didn’t know what “floored” in that context meant. I consulted good old Merriam-Webster:

floor: transitive verb
2 a : to knock or bring down
b : flabbergast, dumbfound

I decided then that if I could have this kind of affect on someone with something I’ve written, then I had to continue.

I closed the dictionary and continued about my day.

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