According to my mother, I never left her alone whenever I saw that she was reading. I always poked my head into the book to see what it was, and she eventually started reading to me. My father didn’t get it.
“How can she understand at her age?”
He asked something like that when my mother told him to read to me one day because she was busy cleaning or something.
“What do you mean how can she understand? She knows. Think she doesn’t? Read it to her and see.”
My mom had been buying and getting little books for me and my father hadn’t known. I was my mom’s little smartie.
Before I started going to school, my mother made flashcards for me and taught me words that way. She said my teacher argued with her when she came to pick me up after my first day.
“There is no way this is her first time going to school,” she said, “she is way ahead of the other students and knows all the material already.”
“No this is her first time. She’s never gone to school before.”
“How is it that she knows everything already then?”
“I read to her at home, and we practice with flashcards. That’s all.”
The conversation carried on that way and in the end the teacher acknowledged my mother for doing a good job with me.
When I started primary school, I always read my textbooks as soon as I got them. The English ones I mean, the ones with the stories. Up until the ninth or tenth grade I never tried reading any of my other textbooks. They didn’t have stories. Why would I read them then?
In seventh grade romance novels were the trend. Everyone was reading and circulating them. I was in.
“Hey is that book good?”
“Yes! It’s about this man…”
“Let me borrow it when you’re done.”
“Oh, I can’t. Ashley already asked for it, and after her it’s Chantelle.”
“Oh. Well I’m next after Chantelle then.”
It was like that most of the time. We were all in line for books. More than one too. If I couldn’t borrow one, I asked around for another. As soon as one student was finished with a novel it was passed on to someone else and someone else and someone else. For a while, I never bought a book. I didn’t have two hundred dollars. I would rather save that money than use it to buy a book I’ll only read once (I can never read a book more than one time). But eventually I did. The bookstore was just down the street from school and we had to pass it to get to the taxi stand to go home. I went there a lot, for stationery. I needed pens and pencils, binder refills, folders, items for special projects. I rarely bought books in there, but I always looked at them. The romance section was off to the side where the cashiers’ desk was. I located the little area that kept Mills & Boon, Silhouette, and Harlequin, always noting the prices. I think I only ever bought two, after much deliberation. I still remember the title of the first one: The Millionaire’s Forced Bride. It was a really nice story. They all were.
It pretty much ended after that. The last two years of high school were for us to prepare for our final exams. The CXCs, which every high school student in the Caribbean would take. Some of my schoolmates still read for fun. I didn’t have the time. Or maybe I did. I just wasn’t that interested anymore.
The writing was something else entirely.
I wrote my first song in the third grade. It was supposed to be three of us, but after one of my classmates suggested a title, I ended up writing almost the whole thing. I sang it for my teacher and she was as proud as ever and wanted me to sing it for the principal. There was a bit of an accident in the tuck shop that stopped that from happening though. There was too much smoke.
In the sixth grade we had to do a whole bunch of projects; charts, poems, songs. It was fun. I wrote a song about rivers, and a chorus about filtration. We made raps about other things as well, and poems were always in the mix. I kept all of these in a folder, and I kept writing poems.
One evening after hearing the news, I suddenly felt really sad and started singing. I was singing my feelings. When I realized where it was going, I got up, turned the lights on, and got a pen and a sheet of paper. I wrote a song. It was my first song. Well my second song, if I counted the one from grade three. I’m still not really sure.
I wrote on and off like that and by the time I was in grade eleven I had fifty songs in my folder. That was a lot. They weren’t all good of course, but I had written them all. In that same grade I got baptized and moved to another country. I thought of burning all my songs since they weren’t gospel, except for maybe five of them. I was now a Christian after all, and these songs weren’t Christian songs. I didn’t burn them. I just left them behind. I felt bad about that, felt I should have made a decision. I should have gotten rid of them since I was now a new creature and I was to do away with my old self.
At church I talked to an elder about my singing and songwriting. Well, all I needed to do was consecrate my voice to the Lord and only sing for Him from now on. Okay. I decided to do the same with my songs. I bought a new notebook and wrote all my (now gospel) songs in.
When I came to America, I had already graduated from high school in Jamaica, but I came in December when the school year had already begun and for a bunch of reasons instead of going to straight to college, I went to high school again; grade twelve. Fine. As long as I didn’t have to repeat grade eleven which I had already gone through (grade eleven is the last year of high school back home). Some time during that year, I asked my stepmother to buy me a cute little book I had seen on our way out of a department store. I had been writing poems and they were all on loose paper. I needed them to all be in one place. That book would be the place.
I finished high school, again. And I finished community college. I’m now on my third book of poems and looking to buy a fourth one because the one I’m using now is almost done.
Stories? I’ve never been good at writing those. English was one of my best subjects in school, and I write fairly well. I’m just not good at making complete characters. I don’t know how to describe them, or the setting. And though I might have a nice story made up in my head, I can’t make it all work out once I start writing it down.
I’m reading again. Slowly but surely getting back into it. It’s making me want to write stories, though I know I’m not really good. I would like to publish a book one day, but I’ve never thought of it being fictional. My last pastor said I should really think about publishing my poems because they’re really good. Maybe I’ll publish two books then, one with my poems, and the one I still haven’t figured out yet.