By Janeese Wilson
Sitting on an old worn out looking desk, in a dark, gloomy classroom, straight out of a horror movie, was just the beginning of my nightmare. Upon that desk was a pencil and sheet of writing paper uncontrollably laughing at me. My ankles were shackled to the chipped wooden legs of the old desk. Suddenly, a handsome muscular man, wearing an all-black suit, staring at me with red devilish looking eyes, appeared at the front of the classroom near the chalkboard. Written in blood behind this mysterious vampire-like man, on the board read, “English Writing Failure.” The man in all black started walking towards me laughing along with the evil paper and pencil. While laughing, he said to me, looking deep inside my soul, “Forget about having a future, face it Janeese, you can’t write!” He drew closer to me. I recognized that deep smoker’s voice. Could it be? Yes, he was my English teacher, Mr. Wilson. English writing was a subject I feared the most. Failing this subject not only haunted me, it motivated me to push myself in a way I never thought were possible. Often times we let the fear of failing overtake our minds. Facing reality and putting aside distractions can lead to making the impossible, possible.
Waking up startled, I quickly sat up in bed ready to run away. Then I realized I was in a safe place, in my bedroom. I started getting dressed for school, then headed down stairs to eat breakfast with my mother. While walking down the stairs into the long hallway leading into the kitchen, my mind continuously seem to focus on the exam. The smell of delicious eggs, bacon and waffles grabbed my attention for only a moment, then that miserable feeling of failure made me lose my appetite. I’ve been having this dream right after I found out that I failed my English writing state exam my sophomore year going into my junior year in high school.
Everything went well my sophomore year, at least I thought it did. My writing class was the only class I made a grade of a low C in. I would get so aggravated when my teacher handed back graded essays. Looking at the huge letter located at the top of my paper in red ink, alongside that letter was a dash, a C-minus to be exact, then I’d shrug my shoulders telling myself, “It’s alright, it’s a passing grade.” I felt that I worked so hard on expressing my point within my writing. I completely understood the instructions that were given to me. Most importantly, I knew the main idea of the text, which allowed me to show my knowledge. My instructor had always written his feedback located at the bottom lefthand corner of my essay. It read, “it’s missing something, go back and read Chapter 9 on page 346.” “Mr. Wilson can’t be serious,” I thought to myself. Deep down in my heart, I believed that my English teacher hated me, along with my writing. I have to admit, I placed the blame fully on him! He didn’t know a good essay if it slapped him right across his handsome face! I never took his advice, and I didn’t go back to read that chapter he suggested. I had fair grades throughout every subject that year with A’s, B’s, and allowed to bring only one C in my mother’s household.
My mother, a single parent of five children, was a heavy set, thick and nicely shaped woman with a beautiful youthful Indian featured face, gorgeous brown almond eyes, long jet-black curly hair down her back. Her personality towards my siblings and me was heavily strict: she could smell a lie from a mile away. Sweet as can be until you pressed the wrong button. Discipline was her middle name, punishment was writing bible verses page after page until she said stop, making us memorize scriptures and take over more chores than what the other sibling had. Behind her rough side she desired for us all to attend college, I became her only hope.
Being the youngest out of five, I was the last to graduate from high school. All of my siblings graduated, moved out and decided to work 9 to 5 jobs. Not me, I focused on college. My mother had high hopes for me, well, too high to the point that when she spoke to her friends and family about me all the time. She put me on a high pedestal saying, “Yes girl, my last baby in the house, college bound, thank you Jesus, praise the Lord! My lamb chop so smart!” The pressure was on. I had to face her and tell her I failed the written portion of the state exam.
I remember this day like it was yesterday. The kitchen table was set up so neat, resembling the settings of an Eggo Waffles commercial. Instead of letting go an Eggo, I needed to let go the fear that crept up inside of me. I opened up tell hear with a trembling, halfway crying voice, about my failure. She was happy; I was moving forward into my Junior year, and getting another chance to prove myself again to pass the exam. On the other hand, when I told her the news, she said with disgust, “Give me your game system, your cell phone, and you are only allowed to spend time with your friends, once a month. Do I make myself clear, Janeese?” Staring into her eyes of outrage and concern, I replied with a gulp at the kitchen table sitting next to her, “Yes ma’am.” I felt so hurt and sick to my stomach. Then she continued saying, “I’m doing this because I love you. I want you to ask your English teacher for tutoring, every other week you will write me a paper, young lady, and you will also ask for the necessary resources to find out what the state is looking for in your writing to pass. Go, bye!” I cried all the way to the bus stop.
This experience I had to face stuck with me till this day. I could feel the disappointment from my mother; it felt like a sharp knife just stabbed me through my heart. I wondered what she was telling her friends and family after that hurricane I gone through. Failing really made me think about my career, and if I’ll pass to get into a good college. I didn’t want to be like my siblings: stuck working at theme parks, cashiering at grocery stores, or dressing up like a huge rat at Chuck E. Cheese. I really wanted to make my mom pleased with me. I started thinking about what kind of future will I have with no diploma. It would be so embarrassing not being able to experience wearing a cap and gown walking across that stage for graduation. This was definitely the beginning of my wake up call. Could this nightmare get any worse?
After a while, I finally made it to school early enough to speak to my sophomore teacher Mr. Wilson. Oh no. As I was approaching Mr. Wilson, I still saw him in my dream as a vampire. I had asked him for help, not only for my mother, but for me. I put that creepiness aside, held my head high, then asked Mr. Wilson what is the state looking for in my writing. He smiled and said, “Wow, I’d be happy to do whatever I can to help you pass. This shows me that you take your life seriously. I applaud you for taking responsibility for yourself.” I replied, “Thank you, it helps when you have a strict parent, she’s my support system.” We both laughed. Mr. Wilson had given me handouts, and then offered tutoring. Time went by, I started to feel that albatross around my neck release itself and flew off to be free.
Tutoring was no walk in the park. Mr. Wilson had given me no breaks. He sent me home with pictures upon pictures and told me to describe them all each and every time we met, along with homework. Thinking to myself, “why am I describing these pictures?” On almost each paper I turned in, during our sessions, he marks in red ink that I’m too straight forward, try and look deeper, open your mind, and what is the message behind this photo? One picture in particular he had given me was of a malnourished child with tears running down her face. Mr. Wilson asked me to not only describe but tell him what’s going on in her mind. I didn’t know where to begin, I went home staring at the picture, then out of nowhere I started to cry. I put myself in the little girl’s shoes, then I typed up my paper. When I turned in the paper the next day, a week before our next exam, Mr. Wilson read the paper smiling, with teary eyes he said,” This is exactly what the state is looking for, your progress in writing has blossomed with such strength. You’re ready.” From that trial I faced, I became a true overcomer.
In addition, by prioritizing, making good grades, I had a good balanced system fitting in tutoring. All without including my cell phone, game system, and time with friends. I really started seeing a difference in my writing. The state wanted more details and vivid descriptions. I applied that to my writing, and then the moment of truth. The state exam came back. Yes! I could hear the hallelujah choir singing in my ear. You guessed it, my friend. I passed the written part of the state exam with flying colors. The weight of that nervous burden on my shoulder lifted off from me.
Using my time wisely, excepting the sacrifices made, and listening to my mother created the outcome I wanted. My mother was so proud of me. I got everything that was taken away from me back in my possession. Even though I’m not a big fan of writing, I will forever remember this writing experience. Aside from all of the material things, I continued to have that balance into where I am now. In nature being afraid only turned into inspiration. That nightmare just turned into a happily ever after. English writing is now a theme I will never have to be afraid of. My fault in this essence turned into an inspiration that thrusted me in an approach that I thought was difficult. Never allow a nightmare to control what’s already inside of you to make it better. Shifting aside interferences that may hinder your success, can redirect you to make a hopeless situation achievable.
Course: ENG 095 Basic Writing and Reading Strategies, Fall 2018
Assignment: Literacy Narrative
Instructor: Svitlana Levytska
Photo credit: Kevin Chang. Licensed through Creative Commons.
Hello Svitlana–I just read your story. What a powerful example of how you can turn failure into success and the many lifetime skills you learned along the way. I”m happy you have a loving supportive mother to motivate you to succeed. Keep going on your path.