Forging Your Own Path - YALLWest Teen Writing Contest
That was my story, but I wanted a different one.
Typing the last sentence sent a rush of satisfaction through me. The prologue of Keiko’s story was complete, and I printed the two thousand words to hand to my English teacher the next day.
I was killing two birds with one stone—finally writing the story that had been living in my head for seven years and also nailing my short story. Holding the warm, freshly printed sheets in hand, I thought about how much Mr. Wentworth would love this.
I didn’t just want my English teacher’s approval; I needed it. If I wanted to apply to Williams and eventually be a part of their creative writing program, Wentworth’s rec letter was the way in.
Keiko was sure to win him over. Even though this was only the first two thousand words of what hopefully will be many more, Keiko held as much heart in this prologue as she did in the end of the story. From here, she takes control of her own destiny, forges her own path, and ends up standing for what’s right. It would be the epic, feminist tale that would help hundreds of girls like myself.
As much as I wanted to say I made Keiko, Keiko also made me. Her time in my head kept me afloat through those grueling middle and high school years, and now I was almost free from this podunk town with its prejudiced teachers and judging neighbors.
The first day of senior year had been composed of me worrying over whether Mr. Wentworth was truly a good creative writing teacher or just the leader of another joke class. Yet, when he had given that first lecture, his words about finding an escape and discovering new worlds had resonated with me and it felt someone understood my literary dreams.
Mr. Wentworth had given me hope, and with this hope, I prepared myself to ask him for a chance.
The words from the hallway buzzed in my ears. Mr. Wentworth gave those stupid papers back today.
I wanted to stop that passing girl in the hallway and shake all the details out of her, but instead I kept this snippet of information to myself. Granted, I also wanted to shake the sense into her after she called our creative pieces “stupid,” but my elation overshadowed any offense as I prepared myself to get my paper back.
I had decided to ask Mr. Wentworth for a recommendation letter after the papers were returned so he’d surely look at me in a positive light after reading mine. I didn’t want to ask him before he handed the back because of the chance that he would read my paper as one of the last.
As they say, you save the best for last.
The cold chill of the plastic seat under me did nothing to allay the excitement within. My fingers were a mess, drumming across the tabletop and picking at the frayed edges of my shorts. I occupied them with a pencil and the planning half of my English notebook, continuing to draft Keiko’s story.
This was probably the least attentive I’d been all year, but I just couldn’t help myself from daydreaming about the comments Mr. Wentworth would add. Did he like my descriptions, or the empowering aspect of Keiko’s story? Did he think I should have explained the bushido more, or the lush setting?
A paper landed on my desk before I realized it, and I glanced down with anticipation, which filtered to dread.
A 50 was circled at the top, along with a note to see him after class. This couldn’t mean 50 out of 100, right? I scanned the paper, flipped through the multiple sheets, checked underneath each letter for a hidden message made of underlines, to no avail.
As much as I tried to deny the terrible grade in front of me, I knew something had gone wrong. I definitely hadn’t printed the wrong story—this was definitely Keiko’s story, not the old Harry Potter fanfiction I had stored on my desktop from my pre-teen years.
While the first half of class had passed in flurry of positive feelings, the last half made me want to melt into the chair and disappear.
Every single bad scenario that could have happened passed through my brain, and I tried to justify each of them. “See me after class” could mean that he wanted to tell me in person how much he loved my story, and the 50 could have been a guise so no one would suspect favoritism of happening, right?
The shuffle of my classmates filing out of what should have been the most exciting class of the day spurred me into action.
I stepped up to Mr. Wentworth’s desk, watching him shuffle papers in hand. Glancing down at the first one brought up a circled 100 that was turned into a smiley face in red.
This made me even more confused. The grading scale obviously went up to at least 100, but this also meant that he wasn’t grading everyone super hard. I had hoped that the hallway girl’s words implied that everyone got bad grades, but this was signaling otherwise.
It could have been an anomaly, but something deep inside me knew that anomaly or not, this meeting was not going to go well.
“Mr. Wentworth?” I asked, hand clutching my paper, the 50 right above where my thumb grasped the stapled sheets.
“Hmm? Oh, Ms. Chan, that’s right.” His thin, wire spectacles perched on his nose and he finally diverted his attention to me.
I hadn’t realized how watered down his irises were, which led me to the conclusion about how I had never actually talked to Mr. Wentworth outside of a classroom setting. For all my fantasizing about him praising my work, I had never actually spoken with him about it.
“I was wondering if there was something wrong, or if you made a mistake with my paper…” I trailed off, turning the pages around so they faced him and setting it on his desk.
He stared at it for a moment, looking both puzzled before a calm, almost blank expression washed over his face. “Ah yes,” he started, leaning back in his chair and touching his fingertips together. “This was no mistake.”
I opened my mouth to interrupt, but he raised a finger for silence so he could finish.
“I know because you’re Chinese, the humanities aren’t your strong suit, but Amy, this was not what I was looking for.” He said this slowly, enunciating his words as his voice took on a condescending tone.
I sucked in a sharp breath, stunned. I repeatedly blinked, my opening and closing. Looking like a goldfish was definitely not helping my case, but I was, for once, at a loss for words.
“Hopefully, in the future, you’ll put a little more effort into what you submit to your English class, as much as you do in your math and science classes. If you need help, I’m sure we can arrange a tutor for you.” He glanced down at the desk. “Like Sara Green—she did a fantastic job with her piece.”
Were we speaking about the same Sara Green? The same Sara Green whose paper I proofread in class which was as banal as a creative paper could get? I stood there in shock, the papers wrinkling in hand.
What was supposed to be a kind smile appeared on his face, but it only made me angrier. There were so many things I could have said to him, ranging from correcting his false Asian stereotypes to ranting about Sara Green, but I just walked out, leaving the paper behind.
The moment I got home, I bolted for my laptop and began to write every supplemental essay for my Williams application, my fingers slamming against the keys in a blind rage. Sure, I probably wasn’t supposed to write these in the anger that had formed a haze around me for the whole day, but I assured myself that I would proofread them tomorrow with less aggressive eyes.
I needed to pour myself into this essay because I wouldn’t have Mr. Wentworth’s recommendation to keep my application on the table, that’s for sure. If there was any time that I was ripped open, my viscera metaphorically exposed, it was now.
Williams would be getting every last scrap of Amy Chan whether they liked it or not.
I poured myself into these essays, and when I woke the next morning and gave them a proofread, I was satisfied that this was me at my finest. If Williams couldn’t see how I could add to their school, then they didn’t deserve me.
I don’t need a condescending, racist, and balding white man’s approval to get into college. I can do this myself.
I will do this myself.
This is my story, and I will forge my own path.