The Story that Set Me on Fire!

In my previous blog, I shared my journey to publication. As you can imagine twelve years was a long time to have a dream. There were moments of indecision and doubt. There were time spans where I pushed my writing aside. Then, one day, I attended a writing conference. The conference was geared towards educators and how to teach writing to even the most unwilling learners. Melissa Forney was a master presenter. One of the tasks she asked us as attendees to do was to write a short piece highlighting an event in our lives. She urged us to be creative.

My partner-in-crime, Jane Adams and I  decided to participate. All night I struggled, wondering what could I write. It wasn’t until the next morning that inspiration struck and I wrote, Excuse Me. I went to the conference with my work in hand. There were about 15-20 other people with stories to read. I shrunk in my seat, scared to read my story aloud. My heart thumped and my palms stayed sweaty. Then the line formed for readers.

I heard some amazing, lyrically gifted speakers. I was impressed with everything I heard. Jane nudged me on the shoulder and asked, “Are you going up?” I remember shaking my head. I remember thinking the others are so good, who will like my story? Then finally, it was the last reader’s turn.

My chest heaved. I knew this was my last chance.  I stood and inched my way to stand behind the reader. This teacher was way beyond amazing, which added to my doubt. But before I could change my mind, the microphone was placed in my hand. Now, I’m not shy. I grew up a minister’s daughter so I was used to preaching, singing and standing in front of a crowd. But that particular day, my hand shook. This was my work I was opening up for criticism or ridicule.  Drawing a deep breath, I gave myself a mental slap, and said, “Show Time.”

I cloaked myself with the attitude I needed to read my story and began. All throughout people laughed and cheered. I was surprised. I was shocked. By the end of the story, I was Confident! The applause was deafening. Several people stood. For years, I got requests to read it aloud.

That was 2009. After I read that story, I called my younger sister and said, “I can write! I can really write!” From then on, I’ve worked on not just telling stories but also being a writer. I’ve worked on developing my craft. Every time I hit publish or give my work to someone to read, my heart rate increases. I wonder, will they like my work? But, then, I remember that story and I say, “I can only do me. ” I learned a lesson that day. Never be intimidated by the awesomeness of others because God has set awesomeness within me as well. You have your own awesomeness, seek it, grow it and allow it to flourish.

Here is the story that set me on fire and made me pick up my dream.

Excuse Me

“Excuse me, miss,” a young man, who appeared to be slightly older than me, called out. He attempted to seek me out again, but I decided to ignore his desperate, frantic call. I rolled my eyes, barely glancing his way, feeling supercilious and highly insulted that this man would even deign to try to hit on me. After all, he was not what I considered highly attractive. He should have known better to try to talk to me, I told myself. I was way out of his league. So, I tilted my chin in the air, deciding to ignore him, sped up and kept walking. It was a beautiful spring day in New York City and I was feeling pretty. Real pretty.

I was twenty one years old and had finally shed those pounds packed on by puberty so I was no longer the chubby-cheeked, chunky teenager. Instead, my sleek young body welcomed the feel and sway of a size-two fuchsia shirt tucked neatly into an extra small black skirt. I had gotten up early to flat iron my new short do. I had cut my hair three days ago and felt grown up and sophisticated. I always had a young face, so I thought the style made me look my age.

Just thinking about my hair cut gave me an extra bounce in my step. I had taken the train from Queens into Manhattan, where I would walk the eight blocks to the musty little room that I had spent my last semester of school. I was about to take my last final exam to complete my bachelor’s degree.

I sipped on the Mistic fruit punch I had purchased as soon as I came out the station. It had been packed in ice and was refreshingly cool on what promised to be a hot day. My ego suffered another boost when yet another young man beckoned to me. He had dread locks and judging by the b-ball in his hands and the sweat pouring down his body, had followed me from the nearby basketball court. I merely sucked my teeth. Dread locks gestured profusely with his hands to get my attention, but I refused to acknowledge his very existence. I felt relieved when in my peripheral vision, I saw him give up with a slight wave of exasperation.

However, I was secretly enthralled by all the interest I was receiving. Grinning from ear to ear, I pulled out the chocolate lipstick I had purchased the day before and gave my lips a quick touch up. Spotting my headphones, I pulled them out and hung them underneath my chin so I wouldn’t ruin my hairdo. I was not listening to anything, but knew that would keep the predators at bay if they saw I was otherwise occupied. But, that didn’t stop me from putting an extra sway in my hips and sashaying until I got to the campus.

Just as I was about to open the door to enter the building, a lady in a navy blue pin-striped suit tapped on my shoulder. I almost jumped out of my socks because the headphones had somewhat muffled my hearing. I tugged the headset from my ears and smiled at her, thinking she may be a professor or dean at the university.

She reached over, patted my on the back, and whispered something in my ear before going her way. I stood frozen. It took a moment for me to fully register the impact of her words. My heart thundered and the confident grin slipped off my face. My eyes widened and I instinctively covered my mouth with one of my hands, even while knowing that would do nothing to diminish my mortification. Her words had hit my core like a whirlwind and my stomach churned in consternation.

In slow motion, I reached around to feel my backside. Instead of feeling the smooth feel of spandex, my hands encountered the unmistakable feel of nylon pantyhose. My skirt was bunched up inside. Quickly, I pulled it out and felt my skirt hit the back of my knee in freedom. Perplexed, I wondered how I could not have known, how I had not felt the wind, so to speak.

I slowly trudged into the classroom hoping that the fire on my cheeks would cool. As I sat down to take my final test, all I could think about was that I had paraded my butt cheek for eight long city blocks for all to see. I thought of the men who had tried to get my attention! They had been trying to rescue me but I had spurned their chivalrous attempts. That day, I learned a lesson in humility for because I had thought I was all that, I had really showed my butt for all New York City to see. Pun intended.

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