Monday, October 4, 2010

Guest Post - Kris from Pretty All True

If you have not yet visited Pretty All True you are missing an amazing writer. I read Kris and only wish I could use words the way she does. Her descriptions and memories of a tumultuous childhood are at turns both heartbreaking and inspiring. She's also laugh (and snort)-out-loud funny.

I write a lot about childhood memories.

Someone recently asked me if I have a photographic memory.

I do not. That suggests to me that I could pull up any moment in my childhood and reproduce it in exact detail. I do not have that ability. My memory is not a videotape of the past. It is not exact.

There is no single version of reality, no complete retelling of a past experience.  That’s why writing is an art. I can take you to where I was, but the place I was? That place has been colored by the passage of time . . . perhaps just a few hours or maybe years and years of living. So really? I can only take you to my memory of the place that was.

And that memory is true and real and perfect to me.

It is not all there is. But it is all I have to offer. So, no . . . I do not have a photographic memory.

But I do remember. I remember a 6th-grade math teacher who used to read aloud to us every Friday afternoon. Can you see her? I can see her. But you cannot.What if I describe her for you as I saw her then from my second-row desk?

She was tall, very tall and thin.  Severe and mannish, despite her long skirts and flowing blouses.She wore strangely bulky shoes and she had an odd gait. Her shoes made a loud uneven clomping sound as she paced before the chalkboard and up and down the aisles to be sure that we understood our math assignments.  She was far too old to have the burgundy-flamed hair that sat atop her pale stern face, but it never once occurred to me at the time that she had not been born with this hair.

Do you see her now?

A few more details . . .She was all angles and sharpness to me, her body thin and strong, her movements tense and purposeful, her voice a biting precise judgment when she spoke. She seemed to me to be my math book come to life . . . exacting, calculating, cold.

She carried a ruler in her hand, her long slender fingers wrapped around its rectangle. With sudden harsh movements, she would reach into the curve of our bodies over our papers to indicate a mistake, a misstep, an error. Her loud commanding voice would announce the failure to the class.

She did not want to be friends with us. She did not invite our confidences. She did not seem aware of our lives outside of her classroom.

And there was this . . . She had one glass eye.

She never acknowledged it. Never spoke of it. But we all knew, and we watched as one cold eye tracked our movements and the other colder eye did not. She did not miss much.

That was my 6th grade math teacher.

Do you see her? I have shared all of these details to tell you of the times when she was that which I have described. So that you will understand the contrast.

The softening.

Every Friday afternoon, she would pull her chair from behind her desk. Roll it to the front of the class. She would go to the back of the classroom door, where she hung her bag and her sweater. Put on her sweater.Reach into her bag for a book. Slip off her shoes and then walk in silent stockinged feet back to her chair.

Settle in.

Open the book . . . she was fond of The Boxcar Children series . . . and she would read to us.

Her reading voice was magic.

Not the voice of my math teacher at all, but instead a fluid feminine floating thing, filled with emotion and nuance and vulnerability.

I was always captured by the transformation. From hard to soft.From harsh to yielding. From plain to beauty.

From teacher to woman.

Always, as she read, the story appeared before me in the classroom air. Not as a picture painted before me, not as a movie played for my amusement against the chalkboard screen, not as a radio play.

No, as she read, the story appeared before me as though I might step into it. As though I was no longer a frightened small girl with too many secrets, but another braver character altogether. I was a girl able to leave the regular world behind and survive on my own. Apart. I was stronger and better version of myself. One of the boxcar children.

Some of the class would fall asleep to the lull of her voice. She never minded. Others would stare out into space, captured by visions within their imaginations.

And one little girl in the second row of desks would occasionally end up with her head buried in her arms to hide her tears. That I was not in fact this braver other from the story.

Just myself instead.

As my teacher was just herself.

My teacher would sometimes lay a hand gently on my head as I gathered my belongings at the end of class, “Have a good weekend, Kris. I will be here when you return on Monday.”

Do you see her now?

I hope so.

Because this is all I have to offer.


  1. Kris, wow. I want you to teach me to do that!!

  2. so glad you offered this one. love.

  3. This makes me want to go back to that time as the adult I am now, and find out her story.

    Why the sterness and then only allowing the softness on a schedule?

    This is the kind of reading I love...where I get excited and wonder what else there imagination wanders.

    Thank you.

  4. Kris,

    How nice to skip across the internet and find you here today. I love it when my friends are friends with my other friends, and they all hang out together, because I'm all social like that.

    And this is, of course, another astounding piece of writing from you, as always. This time, about the power of words. Yours, to bring us back with you to a particular time and place, and your teacher's to transform herself and her classroom into just what you needed at that time: a nurturing space that showed you...the power of words.

    Bravo, my friend. And thank you for sharing, once again, so generously of yourself.

  5. I can see her.
    And I can see you.
    You are both so very beautiful.

  6. Really evocative! I did feel like I could experience her, see her through your words! Well done!

  7. Yes. I see her.
    You let me see her. And hear her.

    And I see you too.

    As always, you amaze me. I love you.

  8. She reminds me of my 9th grade English teacher.

    What a beautiful description. We can learn a lot from your talent with words!

  9. "the braver other"
    you are so generous to us, Kris
    love and tears.
    at my desk...

  10. Love this- for the beautiful way you portray this memory, and for the way it brought up memories of my own. Of the teachers I both loved and feared. They were always the best teachers.

  11. Amazing Kris. You are so talented with serious and with humor. I am in awe of your gifts.

  12. You do everything a writer needs to do. You have what cannot be taught. And your audience is grateful.

  13. Fabulous, fabulous. What a great read. Love the confidence, the description and the familiarity of the teacher experience.

    Good choice of writers by this example!

  14. I especially liked the ending, where you showed her humanity - and yours. Thank you so, so much for posting this for us. xo

  15. It must be so difficult to be the stern teacher when she did have such a soft side. Thanks for showing us both. I fear looking that deeply into my past.

  16. This was so captivating! Yes, you did let us see her and you. And we are all grateful for the opportunity to look into a part of your childhood.

  17. I love when you're in my reader twice in one day!

    What a stunning and intriguing portrait...

  18. OK, I was planning on returning to answer your comments this evening. To address each of you individually. Answer your questions.

    But now that I am here, I am just overwhelmed by the love and support this group has shown me.

    So much love.

    One of my favorite things about blogging . . . about writing . . . is the connection that I am sometimes able to make with invisible others.

    The readers.

    The readers who come to my carefully chosen words with open hearts and open eyes and open minds. You let me in.

    But you do more than let me in. You bring your own memories and your own lives and own selves to the experience. You allow my words to resonate against your own internal words.

    A connection is forged.

    I feel connected to all of you.

    I love this writing thing.

    Thank you.

    Thank you very much.


  19. I'm going to send a link to this page to my friends because they should read this. They probably won't and they will be missing out because it is beautiful, as all that you write is. Love it.

  20. Kris, do you know your writing inspires me to write? I think you do. but I needed to tell you. Your images of your memories bring forth images of my own memory. And I want to write about it. because of your gift.

    thank you.

  21. What an interesting character you portray with her love of fiction and yet she became a Maths teacher. I wonder what story lies behind that too.

  22. Kris,
    You know what's interesting to me about this is your the first person I've ever seen who doesn't have a photographic memory but remembers everything about a childhood memory. The reason I say that is because I am the same way. My mind is like a sponge where memories go to be stored in detail. My family and friends make fun of me, and yet are delighted by the memories I have. Reading this makes me realize that I could turn that into wonderful detailed stories. Thank you for such a wonderful lesson.

  23. You're an amazing writer. I love your story... thank you for sharing it with all of us.

  24. Beautiful Kris. Yes, I see her and I hear her.

  25. That was lovely. I can see her. Your words were a perfect description. I was surprisingly proud of this teacher as you described her. I felt like I should tell her thanks for being cold and warm at the same time. It clearly made an impression.

  26. This weblog entry is being featured on Five Star Friday!

  27. I wonder if she wouldn't love it if someone sent her this story, because I know sometimes how hard it can be just to get through the day and there are only certain times you can let yourself be soft-- and maybe that was her time, but oh, what an impact it made, and it seems like a good one.