What Success Feels Like

He is a little short.  A little round.  A tad immature, socially.

Not athletic…at all.

And he is self-aware enough to be okay with that.

Instead of doing his work, he often draws.  His cartoons are impressively detailed, his colors vibrant, his designs full of whimsy and movement.

And, oh boy, can he write.

Often he stops by my desk and tells me about the progress of his book.  He has several in the works, actually.  He  emails me a copy to review.

I open it with all the well-practiced detachment of one who has read many “books” over the years.  This is different.  I gobble up each line.  This kid is passionate about dialogue and his chapters spill over with conversations that advance the plot and build layers of character.

And, now, he is moving to Ohio.

His last day rolls around and I scoot over to the local IGA to grab some Klondike bars for 6th period class.  Minutes before they enter, I set one out on each desk. On his I put two “Krunch” Klondikes to signify his special status.  He has left his lamp, a project from Tech class, on my back table so I place it next to his ice cream.  He has fashioned it to look like a giant dog bone.  There on his desk it could be a trophy.

I grab a copy of The Write Source 2000 and dust it off, a thesaurus with yellowed pages, and an illustrated book I have bought with my Scholastic points this year.  I write a note in each one.

In the thesaurus I write, “Every writer needs a thesaurus.”  In the Write Source 2000 I carefully ink his name, the name of our school district (he has amazing penmanship so I know it will matter) and the date.  Someday he will wonder where this book came from, so I want to help future-him.  “Ahh, yes.  I remember…” he will say, nodding his head and thoughtfully turning the book over in his grown up hands.

Then, on the inside leaf of the fabulous trade book El Deafo by Cece Bell, I write his name. Underneath, I write, “Artist. Author.”  Because he is.

The bell rings and students start filing in.  He is one of the first — awkwardly juggling a pile of books that rightly should be in his locker, his glasses case lurching from side to side.  This is his essence and how I will remember him.

He stops in front of his desk.  “What is all this?”

“It’s for you, ” I say. “Because you’re leaving us.  And I want you to know how much you’ve contributed to our class...and how much you will be missed.”  We all help him assemble his belongings and take his seat of honor.

Students press him about his latest writing venture.  “Have you read his book, Ms. Compo-Martin?”  I tell his newest champion that I have.  “It’s great, isn’t it?” They gush. I agree wholeheartedly.

Students scribble email addresses and phone numbers on ripped pieces of paper and send them across the room.  With their chocolate smeared mouths, his peers excitedly request copies of his book. It is as if they’ve never seen him before.

Maybe they haven’t.

Still a bit bewildered, ice cream in hand, my celebrity looks up at me and asks to no one in particular, “Is this what success feels like?”

His first taste of success is sweeter than the Klondike bar dribbling down his chin. How sad that it should come so late in his middle school career.

But, I am thankful for the opportunity to be the agent of this momentary triumph. He has transcended the vacuum of anonymity and realized the power his creativity can unleash. He will never forget this moment.

And neither will I.


Amazon’s link to El Deafo by Cece Bell


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