We all remember that ONE teacher! That one that has significantly impacted our lives. The one we feared the most, yet wanted to succeed for! The one who never forced respect from us, but commanded it. That ONE teacher that felt like home.
By the time I walked into her class for the very first time, we were all accustomed to Mrs. Brand’s no-nonsense reputation. She was harsh. She was utterly dreaded. Some of the things we would hear from other students was the fact that she was rude and unkind. I remember her as firm, unyielding and tough, but I too, remember her being kind above everything else. There was always something gentle about her; something that made me feel safe around her. Safe; something I wasn’t quite accustomed to feeling. Valued; something I had never felt before. Smart; something I never thought I was. Wanted; something I thought I’d never be. What Mrs. Brand didn’t know was how I looked forward to a new day, just so that I could go to school and see her again. How I would sit at home for hours perfecting my homework; an essay or reading a book for an oral the following day. How I would wake up during the night to glance over my homework, desperate for her approval … anxious for her to be proud of me. What Mrs. Brand didn’t know much about was, how “home” was smothering and shattering me; how I lied and pretended how loved I was, how perfect life at home was. What Mrs. Brand didn’t know was how relentless I was in my pursuit to become better, not for my parents or friends, but for her.
She loved essays. She loved giving us compositions and I loved doing them. Through the mountains of essays we were given throughout the years under her, I discovered an authentic love for reading and writing that was first introduced to me by my grandmother. I realized that essays weren’t meant only for school; I could write them for myself without anybody knowing. And I did. Through her guidance and imposing perfection, she unwittingly taught me to create a world of my own, and live there until I poured it all out onto paper. What Mrs. Brand couldn’t know was how she offered me an escape; a way to survive and a way to belong. I belonged with her; I belonged in my stories and I belonged everywhere in the world. She taught me that I was not who I was born into. She showed me that I was different and that DNA did not dictate who I would become someday. She taught me strength and she allowed me to dream of my very own fairy tales. As haunting as my nights were, there was nothing in the world that could diminish my excitement and enthusiasm for the next day; for school. The moment I would stroll into her classroom, home no longer existed. I was familiar for a while and I belonged for a moment. For the next few hours, her world was my world and her class was my home. Free from fear, free from anger and free from the strangers waiting for the bell to ring so that they could sweep me up and hurl me into a brand-new nightmare that would last until the sun would rise, once more.
Each rebuke, each penalty and every single scolding would force me to re-evaluate myself and strive to do and be better. Through all this, I never once felt hated or unloved. I knew that she saw a better version of all that I had done. I was sure that she was wanted to prepare me for the world and hand me the moon. Each word of wisdom and each instruction would take me on a journey to become the very best version of what I could be someday. The discipline she demanded shaped and guided me for years to come. The respect she commanded became the very foundation of who I was to become.
With each crossroad I would face not too long afterwards, with each new direction I would be flung into, I would remember her and I would recall all that I KNEW she would say. With each decision came a responsibility that I would hear her demand.
And then … then I began writing “for real.” I wanted the worlds that had become so noisy in my head to become real. I wanted peace and quiet from them. I wanted to silence them, so I began to write about them. As I began to write, so did my stories take on a life that I could in no way at all, begin to imagine. They spilled from my mind into my fingers and showed up on my screen. The stories began to dictate their own endings and I let them. I was living there with them; I felt all that they were feeling and I let them lead the way. Yet … as all of this was happening, I remembered Mrs. Brand. I evoked all that she had once demanded; my very best.
Seven books later and three living around somewhere inside of me, I still think of Mrs. Brand. The day I signed my book contract, I thought of Mrs. Brand. I think of her often. I wonder what she would say and I wonder whether she would remember me? I hope that she would be proud of the very many colorful paths I had taken and I hope she would approve of all that I had done. I hope she knows how superior she made a once tormented little girl feel. I hope she knows how much I needed her, and how she never failed me … not even once. Not as a child … and not now.
I hope that she could see all that I have written. I hope she smiles in pride and says something like, “I did that …” or “That, was because of me …” I hope that life has treated her kindly and I hope that her days are joyful, blessed, and fulfilled. I hope that she landed amongst the stars, and I hope that she has stepped on everyone because, I have.
Mrs. Brand, it’s me … Alice. From the very bottom of my grateful heart, thank you.