The other day, a Fedex package arrived, and inside was the proof copy of my first book, Things You Wish You Knew Yesterday. My wife and I were seated at a table in a restaurant, and the server walked up as I opened the package. I pulled out the book, and the server said, “Oh, are you a writer?”
The question caught me completely off guard. It took me back a long way in my life, all the way back to when I was six years old.
And I was starting second grade in this school.
We had just moved, so I was new to the school. All the other kids in my class had been together all through first grade, so I felt like I was entering a clubhouse where I was the only non-member.
As I walked down this very hallway, all the way to the room at the end of the hall, I held my mom’s hand and wished I was somewhere, anywhere else.
I was so shy. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, and for sure didn’t want anyone to talk to me. I wanted to disappear completely, but settled for the desk in the back of this classroom, all the way over there, way back by the drinking fountain.
Actually, I didn’t have the chance to settle in much the first week. My mom tells me as soon as she turned her back I darted out of the classroom and out this door…
…and headed, on a dead run, for our house-about two blocks away. Mom tells me that after a few days they locked the door to the classroom and that put an end to my escape attempts.
Most of the kids were welcoming, but there were a few kids in the class who immediately noticed my shyness and delighted in tormenting me. “Your ears stick out! Why don’t you talk? What’s wrong with you?” They were so mean. Books saved me. I lost myself in books. Through books, I could get away from that shyness and escape the feeling that I’d never, ever fit in. Books allowed me to insert myself into their stories, allowed me to believe I could be someone different than the misfit I considered myself to be. I wanted to tell people lots of things but couldn’t find the voice.
The school is now abandoned, the classrooms empty of everything but memories. It’s been fifty years since I sat back there by the drinking fountain, wishing I could figure out a way to tell people what I thought, what I believed, what I felt.
Now, fifty years later, I’ve found my voice. And sliding out of the Fedex package came the book that holds thousands of words that will tell people what I think, what I believe, and what I feel.
And I turned to the server and said, “Yeah, I guess I am.”