Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mrs. Lady

One of my electives in high school was Drama. I had taken Speech in junior high, and we staged a few dramas, which was my favorite part of the class.

Most people called our drama teacher Mrs. Lady. As I recall, she had earned that nickname when she had taught in a predomninantly African-American school in Arkansas. Padre told me that “Lady” was a title of respect - as in “Lady Day” (Billy Holiday).

One of Mrs. Lady's first assignments for us was to keep a journal. I used that journal to write poetry. I may have copied a few poems I'd already written just to fill out the journal.

I'd recently started writing poetry prior to enrolling in high school. You see, someone close to me attempted suicide the summer between junior and senior high. She slit her wrists — with the grain, so to speak — and I was the first to find her.

I dealt with this trauma in two ways — one healthy & acceptable, the other not so much. The healthy coping skill was writing poetry — fairly typical mediocre high school poetry, with the distiction of having blood-soaked imagery. The other was imitative in nature.

I was not sent to the guidance counselor. I was not sent to a therapist. I was going to school with my arms wrapped in blood-stained tissue, but only my fellow students asked what was going on. I lied, of course.

That journal for Mrs. Lady was my therapy.

I still remember the first time Mrs. Lady returned my journal. I had signed my poem "jac". She wrote “Are you ‘Jac’? This is very good!” I felt like I'd received a dozen gold stars.

Mrs. Lady was extremely supportive of my poetry. She sent me to a regional contest to read my own poetry (under the nom de plume Jacques Bijou). I did not place, but I treasured the fact that she believed that strongly in my writing.

Drama was in the early afternoon. Sometimes, if Mrs. Lady was having a bad day, a girl would say something like “I think Lady would really appreciate a poem written by you today.” I would dash something off, and get it delivered to her somehow.

I don't know if those poems made any difference to her. But thinking they did helped me feel pretty special.

It may seem overly dramatic to say Mrs. Lady saved my life. But I'm still here, almost 30 years later.

No comments: