I was a poor student in high school. By that I mean my grades were not all that good. I tried and I studied. I was not very good at note taking, and I hated reading. My father was always disappointed when I showed him my report cards. My teachers must’ve been kind to me when they gave me C’s.
Something strange and wonderful happened in my junior year of high school. I had a teacher who actually cared about his students. His name was Mr. Bonfilio. He was my biology teacher. The class required of us to read the textbook. That seems like an obvious thing but the book was thick and heavy, the type was small, and I had to do all that reading by the next day.
In addition to that we had to take notes from things that he wrote on the chalkboard. “Mr. B” came up to me one day after noticing how terribly I did the note taking.
“Do you need glasses?” He asked me. “You seem to be a bright young man but your grades are not reflecting that.”
I had that sensation that I jumped, out of an airplane without a parachute. I felt myself rushing to the ground. In an instant the truth of it came to me. Both my parents, my two sisters, my brother, all wore glasses and I was the only one who didn’t.
Right away he sent me to the nurse’s office. In those days each school actually had a full-time nurse. She wasted no time in setting up the eye chart. I couldn’t even see the eye chart. She wrote a note to my parents making it sound official, to get my eyes checked right away.
At the doctor’s office my mom chose a really unattractive pair for me. I hated them. I felt that I looked like a doofus. The ones I really wanted were too expensive she said. I didn’t want to look like a doofus so I only wore them when I was in class. I was really happy when they finally broke. I was then able to get a better looking pair.
The results were amazing. I was able to see the board. For the first time I saw what my teachers and friends really looked like. More importantly, my grades improved.
Then something else happened, I started to like reading. I loved the smell of new books. I liked Jack London so I tried reading everything he wrote. Many of his stories were over my head, by that I mean I didn’t understand them. I was still a boy. I knew Jack London lived in the Bay Area.
John Steinbeck wrote about the dust bowl, Monterey Peninsula, Salinas Valley. I thought it was amazing how he could make characters come alive in my mind. I tried reading everything he wrote.
I started reading the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming. President Kennedy enjoyed reading them and made them popular. I read all of them. The books flooded in and piled on top of my desk. I couldn’t wait to turn the next page. I read the Three Musketeers and I didn’t want the story to end so I read more books by Dumas. I loved the stories by James Fennimore Cooper. I would read late into the night and fall asleep reading. I would even dream that I was reading. I was asleep but I dreamt that I was still reading, pages scrolled down before my eyes.
I knew then that I wanted to be a writer myself. That was such a terribly difficult threshold to cross. Somehow and I haven’t quite figured it out yet, how my self-esteem was destroyed. It did not help me at all when my feelings of depression went into a tailspin. That thought, that desire to write stayed within me and continues to this hour.
The night sounds,
a single engine aloft,
the glow from the street lamps
dances through the undulating leaves.
A small circle brightens my pages.
I am in the shadows of my bedroom
and reading about Madame Bovary.
A night sound, and
I awaken from my trance
and examine on the ledges
other leaves that are me.
Henry Adams is there, still learning.
Bless me Ultima is a tale I wish I had written.
El Cid with sword in hand leads his people
in waging righteous war.
Balzac’s candle waxes and wanes,
while Azuela is trapped in his memories.
Pío breathes in solitude.
The Leatherstocking crosses the plain
while California burns.
Friday lends a hand
as D’Artagnan sips champagne.
Homer holds a place of honor,
next to Hoyle.
D.H. continues his human quest,
as Mr. London walks through Wolf House, head bowed.
The Third Reich haunts our collective guilt,
As the Admiral’s ships seek but never find.
Thornton Wilder will never grow old.
Tonight, as the cold seeps through the window,
as the sound of trucks from the highway fade away,
as the patter of the raindrops land softly on my window
like the ticking of my clock,
and as the smell of night ladens my eyelids,
I’ll awaken from my comfort and feel the winter disappear.
And I’ll curse myself for resting so peacefully
in the warmth of my words.
good night Madame Bovary,
I am looking for a home as well,
although mine is elsewhere,
yours is next to Dr. No.