Who’s that there behind you?

my mom is in the green
my mom is in the green

“You’re doing the right thing,” my mom said. “But you should know something before you go through with it.”

I was in the 6th grade and terrified of my math teacher, Mr. W—. A group of us had decided to go complain about him. We wanted him to stop calling us stupid and ignorant.

“What’s answer to number 5?”
“Are you stupid?”
“No, I–”
“Gimme number 12.”
“Number 12?”
“You’re pathetic. Do we have any smart people in here?”

I thought name-calling was rude and we didn’t have to take it. So, I got a group of classmates to come with me to complain–Mr. W— calls us names, he shouts if we sharpen our pencils or are too slow turning in our folders, he slams our books shut on us or knocks them to the floor, he frightens us.

My mom looked at me. “If it is important to you and you believe what you’re doing, then you have my support,” she said. “But just know that when people say they’re behind you, you take a look back and you’ll find you’re alone on the hill.”

At the appointed time I stood in front of the 6th grade building waiting. When it was clear that no one else was coming, I trudged up to the office anyway. My step-sister was waiting for me at the counselor’s door. “Where is everybody?” N. asked.

“I don’t know.”

“You sure you want to do this? It’s not going to help.”

Our school counselor opened his office door. “You girls wanted to see me?” he asked with his wild curly hair and big grin. I went inside, and sighing my step-sister followed me.

Later, we were sitting in English class when the classroom door opened and another student came with a paper in her hand. Our English teacher looked at it. “Marta,” she said. “N. Mr. W– would like to see you. Do you know what this is about?”

Our classmates whispering behind us, N. and I shook our heads and left the room.

I tell more and more people I write and make art. Often I’m surprised by who cares and who doesn’t, who wants to know more and who changes the subject, who takes it seriously and who forgets. People you barely know may be more supportive than people you’ve known for years. You shouldn’t measure a person’s love this way, but it’s hard not to.

Have you ever been surprised by who supported you and who didn’t?

8 thoughts on “Who’s that there behind you?

  1. When it comes to writing, I try not to read (heh) too much into people’s lack of support. The people who “aren’t there behind me” are often, I think, just embarrassed and awkward and don’t know what to say except (in disguised form) I could never do what you’re doing or I wouldn’t have done it that way or even I’m worried about you because I don’t understand this and what it means for your life and, particularly, for ME (which isn’t really a lack of support for me so much as a statement that the speaker needs reassurance or support).

    What always, always surprises me is the support of strangers. (Not least because I am not much of a one for self-promotion so it always feels like I’ve been sought out, or at least discovered completely by chance, siting on a stool at the end of the drugstore soda-fountain counter.)

  2. Sherri

    I was surprised once when my husband asked to read my first book after several years of pretending it didn’t exist, not so surprised when he stopped halfway through and resumed pretending it didn’t exist. I was surprised when my mom stopped caring about what I was writing, because she’d always encouraged me before. I was surprised when my step-daughter read all 5 of my posted chapters recently, then came back on her own to check if I had more and read those.

    I guess I’ve never been surprised when a stranger offers support. Relieved, but not surprised. I don’t know why. A writer’s quid pro quo, I guess. We need each other exactly because our families are often uninterested.

  3. What JES said- I think it often says more about the person than it does about us. Jealousy, feeling threatened, not sure what the writer want/needs, worried they may not like what you write, can all come in to play here. Heck, it’s happened to me on the other end, until I started writing myself.

  4. Pamela

    Jes, your comment made me think about my friend L , who several years ago, was telling me how she and her friends laughed at her friend Rene when Rene announced she was going to pursue her acting career. L stopped laughing when she saw Rene was in Jerry Maguire. Some people don’t understand our dreams or our drives to achieve them.

    And Sherri, I think there is a fine line between support and jealously. I think the uninterest in an indication that they have crossed over into being a bit jealous. When I announce I was going back to school to get an advanced degree, I imagined everyone being happy for me. So many of my friends were not. I think I reminded them of things they wanted to do but didn’t, and they were jealous.

    I am always suprised at the people that support me. It’s never the people I expect.

  5. JES, well then hurray for sitting at end of the soda fountain counter.

    Sherri, I don’t even let my husband read my work. I don’t want the silence or comments. But he is supportive in his way.

    Sarah, I agree with you and JES these days. It says more about the other person (though that is hard to keep in mind).

    Pamela, great story about Rene. I’ll remember it. And as for surprises, who would’ve thought that you’d find me here and we’d be back in touch. And if we’d still been in touch when you went back to school, I would’ve cheered. I’ll always cheer.

  6. loriaustex

    ” ‘Marta,’ she said. ‘N. Mr. W– would like to see you. Do you know what this is about?’

    Our classmates whispering behind us, N. and I shook our heads and left the room.”

    Doesn’t anyone want to know what happened next?
    I do!

  7. Ha! Well, you’re the only one to ask, Lori. What happened? We went to that teacher’s room and it was empty save for himself. He knew everything we’d said. He went from shouting to pleading. You ungrateful kids these days! and How could we do this to him when he worked so hard!? In the end we came to a kind of truce, and he was nicer to us the rest of the year. Not so nice to my classmates though, which I admit to not feeling bad about. I’m such an imperfect soul.

    I did feel terrible about complaining though, like I’d really hurt his feelings.

  8. I really need to get off my dad’s computer, since he and I are going to the gym tomorrow at 6 am (OMG, why did I agree to that?!) — but whew, thanks for telling me What Happened Next.

    Oh, the teacher sounds like he was a very messed-up bully. But I am glad he was nicer.

    In Jr. High, one of my teachers caught me in a lie (one I can’t recall, but which my dim memory thinks was a pre-teen excuse for having missed something or other) — and she made me go apologize to another teacher, one I really liked, right in the middle of the other teacher’s class, for telling him the same lie. I was so embarrassed I burst into tears in front of everyone as I stammered out my apology.

    And the teacher I liked was so very kind about it — I think he was angry with the “make her apologize” teacher for the public humiliation bit — his kindness to me also made me cry.

    Ah well. The stuff that future art is made of, or fueled by.

    Anyway, thanks for the rest of the story, and now off to sleep for me…

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