One spring day, young Heidi climbed up the kitchen stepladder, reached into the back of the cabinet and located what appeared to be a luscious chunk of chocolate. Now, growing up in a house filled with dieters, I knew it was more likely I’d find Bert and Ernie playing Mahjong in that cabinet than candy. Still, it sure looked like chocolate. I held the square to my nose and sniffed, teasing myself with anticipation. Peeling back the waxy wrapper I gazed at my treasure, licked my lips, and went in for that first divine bite. Two seconds later of course, I spit out the unsweetened Baker’s chocolate with dismay.
Life is rarely what we expect it to be, is it?
A few weeks back I wrote a post about the time line of pivotal events that led me to writing. But I left one thing out. That is the moment I seemed destined to never become a writer.
Orientation week, my freshman year of college, while the rest of the flock herded happily to and from events with their BFF-for-right-now alongside them, my roommate had not shown up. I was a nervous umbilical chord looking for someplace to plug myself in. In the midst of my panic I had to take a standardized test to determine my placement level for freshman English. (Never was a big fan of the standardized test.) I still remember staring out the window most of the time worrying about my lack of roommate, and wondering what kind of whack job in the housing office had placed me–introverted girl from the suburbs–in the most infamous of campus party dorms. (There’d been fires, not to mention death in that dorm people, I mean seriously.) I’m not even sure I finished the test.
Suffice it to say I ended up in remedial freshman English. We had a primer with one-page assignments in it, and every week I dutifully handed them in receiving A++’s on each one. A few months before that test I was in my third year of honors English, writing a research paper comparing Kafka’s Metamorphosis to Ionesco’s Rhinoceros. Now, all of a sudden, I wasn’t even allowed to read a book, or write a story.
I wish I could tell you I stormed into the dean’s office and insisted they’d misplaced me. Sadly, that is not how the story goes. Instead, every day, I watched the students across the hall in regular freshman English pull out novels for discussion as my self-confidence unraveled. They had defined me as “less than” and I believed them. I imagined the whole world of writing and literature was off limits to me, opting to pursue anthropology, philosophy and religion instead.
I don’t regret studying those subjects, incidentally, and finding out what made cultures, groups, and individuals tick. Certainly studying the human condition from different perspectives has informed my writing as well.
Life is strange, isn’t it? How I wish I could go back and tell my younger self to say something. I won’t lie to you. I still carry shards of that girl with me, the one who believes the negative definitions of others. But I am much better equipped to care for her now, to empathize with her fears, and yet still summon the strength to keep moving forward.
Remember the little girl with her sticky, bitter-chocolate-covered fingers? While it’s true I learned a lesson that day not to stick odd foodstuffs in my mouth without asking someone first, the experience also impacted my mind. I got curious about baking. That unsweetened stuff wasn’t chocolate, but it sure smelled like it. It had chocolate potential.
So perhaps I wasn’t supposed to become the person I am back then? The fact is I write powerful words now, words that never could have come out of me at age twenty or thirty, even. And the life skills I’ve learned will help me negotiate and promote on my behalf in ways I never could have in the beginning. You see, I remember that young girl with no voice, and I’m determined to speak for her now.
How about you? Has anyone ever pigeonholed your abilities and gotten in the way of your chocolate potential? Talk to me about it.