Happiness

It was the first time I had proof of what I’d always felt, of being set apart. The English Teacher had set the class of 16 and 17 year old girls a task. There we were in a first floor classroom, with its dust, long high windows and shafts of sunlight; full of old varnished wood, creaks, a feeling of something ancient. The following year we would be sitting in a spanking new building with sharp tidy desks, painted cement brick walls, clean, sprightly, and technological. But for now, we were back in time, even then it was an old-fashioned classroom; perhaps we felt we were part of history. The teacher, a nun, who hoped she was radical, but really, I believe, was unhappy, put on some music. Strangely, I remember the song – Musical Youth’s ‘Pass the Dutchie’. It just happened to be on the radio. I think she was possibly moving away from the typical classical music which traditionally inspired people to write, or maybe she forgot to bring a tape to class, or couldn’t find one. I don’t think there were CDs then, not in a popular sense anyway. Write whatever came into your head. I wrote about the memory of happiness. I was 17, and at that stage in my life, it was clear that happiness had been mine as a child. So at 17, I wrote about the loss of happiness. The teacher took her time coming to me. I heard with surprise what other girls had written. ‘When I heard the music I thought of………..’. ‘Someone was clicking their pen which put me off’ and suchlike. I know now that the teacher thought I had a gift for creativity in the English language. I think she saved me ‘til last on purpose. I had made no mention of the music or my surroundings. I wrote about what had been evoked. I wish I still had that little piece of writing, but I remember the two discoveries at that time – my writing was different to everyone else’s in that class, and therefore there was a chasm of understanding between me and my peers, and I also realised I was more sad than a 17 year old should ever be. I had no idea that I would be happy again.

The next year, I had a different English teacher. She filled our heads with learned quotations from novels and she never gave me more than a C for a creative essay. I’m not sure if she ever knew, but she broke me. I tried so hard, but it was always a C. The inferior essays of other pupils were given a glowing A. I tried and tried and wept with frustration, but never pleased her. Something changed, I lost my sense of freedom with the English language, with words, and now as a 40 year old, I still feel stunted. Any career I thought I might have as an English teacher died with her killing of me. I stopped following my heart with the lovely language, with the lovely expression of ideas, and fulfilled what I thought people wanted. Now, life has changed and I have stopped blaming her, and I have such a different life than I ever could have imagined. At no other time in my life have I ever been so aware as I was as a 17 year old infant that I may never be happy again. The discovery was profoundly sad and made me believe for too long that happiness was not my choice, but that lack of happiness was my destiny.

Happiness 8.7 of 10 on the basis of 2751 Review.