I told you that you would have to follow your words someday. It was never about finding out what you were supposed to do as it was about just being yourself.
My second semester of college I took a creative writing class. My professor introduced himself as, “Henry” on the first night of class. He was soft spoken with a thick head of gray hair, dark blue eyes and he rarely smiled. On his right hand, he had a Hosmer Prosthetic hook that he explained was because, “I lost the hand somewhere in a jungle in Vietnam.”
When he lectured the class, he’d softly tap the canted finger hooks together, his level of interest and distraction measured by the speed of the clicks. He never met anyone’s eyes directly and his lectures were short and his notes on our written pieces concise and unemotional. He was very critical of my comma usage, if I do recall. “Stop using so many commas.”
Henry wore tweed jackets with patches on the sleeves and plaid shirts with jeans and cowboy boots to class. The boots caught my eye immediately. They were well-broken in, with what I imagined was a deep burnt orange leather when brand new, had since faded to patchwork shades of tan with remnants of the original rich color in the creases and cracks that had formed like laugh lines. He must have loved those boots. Our first assignment issued on night one was to write a two paragraph essay about a non-living object. We had twenty minutes to write, it took me less than ten and I was breezing out the door.
We arrived for week two and he walked up to the podium, leaned against the side casually (same boots on his feet) and began to read off the paper in his hand, “They’d seen better days. The well worn tips were thin and taunt stretched thinly across the toes that were just beneath the once rich orange leather…” My head snapped up. He was reading my piece to the class. As he read, he couldn’t keep the slight twitches at the corner of his mouth, clearly amused. I slumped in my seat and turned a deep shade of crimson, embarrassed and horrified. When he finished, he lifted his head with a rare smile. He told us he’d read a piece each week, without revealing the author. He never met my eyes as he spoke.
And so the semester went. My stories were read class after class, the one about first sunset I saw over the ocean, when I got my glasses for the first time and wore them to school in third grade, even the one about my undying love of ketchup. (Don’t judge, the assignment was to write about something with a distinct flavor.)
Yet, week after week he never looked at me directly, we never spoke outside of my comments in class, and by the end I still didn’t know why he kept choosing my writing. As we were dismissed for our last class and without looking up from what he was reading he said, “Carrie, I need to speak with you.” I felt a sour flavor sting my mouth. I had no idea why I was so nervous, but I was.
The classroom emptied and I stood there, clutching my bag in front of me, like a protective barrier between us. He was quiet for several moments and then looked up and his face was blank and expressionless. He clicked his finger hooks slowly.
“You need to do this,” he said simply.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“You’re a writer.” He stood up. “Not ‘good’ at writing. Not just skilled at telling a story. You’re a writer. If you don’t do it, you’re not being who you were meant to be.”
I said nothing at first. I’d always wanted to write, but I didn’t think I could make a living with my words, so I switched my initial major from English to Business after my first semester. “I’m not sure how I can do that.” I admitted.
“Just keep doing it.” And that was it.
Then, just yesterday, the email. He sends them every so often and never referencing any particular piece of my writing. His notes are always short and to the point, but somehow at the perfect time when I need to hear them.
Thank you, Henry. I’ll keep writing if you keep reading.