Like many adults, I don’t look back fondly at middle school.
According to my selective recollections, it was two years of mockery and ridicule and humiliation. According to the photos and comments within my 1986 yearbook, titled, “Tomahawk,” it was two years of a jeans that were too short and shirts that were woefully out of style and an awful hair cut (and kids happy to remind me of such).
In their defense, well … um … eh … yeah …
During those dark days, I had an English teacher named Jane Franzen. I don’t remember a ton about Mrs. Franzen, but she was warm and friendly and saw something in me that I didn’t see myself. That’s why, at some point, she encouraged me to start writing stories for her. Which I did. They were, generally, three- or four-page horror-related pieces about scary men with masks and blood-covered knives and footsteps coming from behind. I’d use my friends’ names as characters (Gary Miller murdering Dennis Gargano; John Ballerini chopping up Jonathan Powell), and then I’d print them out and submit.
This was not about grading, or extra credit. No, Mrs. Franzen just liked a kid who liked writing.
Come to think of it, I have this fuzzy memory of sitting in the library, handing Mrs. Franzen one of the stories and watching her laugh with delight.
Man, I loved that.
I shuffled off to high school in 1987, the same year Mrs. Franzen died of cancer at age 52. I can’t say, definitively, she changed my life and made me look toward writing as a career.
But I can’t say she didn’t, either.