Learning to Write

My earliest memory of writing was in preschool. My family of four, my mom, my older sister, me, and my mom’s boyfriend (who we affectionately call Rocket) lived in a run-down, two-bedroom house near the train tracks on the south side of town. My sister, who was five years older than me was obsessed with reading and writing. And although I was not old enough to comprehend how words on a page could form images in your brain, I was eager to participate in such rituals.

One day, I recall exclaiming I was going to teach myself how to write. I took a pencil in my little hand and grasped it like I was holding on to the handlebars of my bicycle, clenching my fists around the tiny piece of wood, and I pressing it against a yellow, striped notebook. Carefully, I’d move the pencil up and down on the page as my wrist scanned left to right, watching the grey lines flake onto the page. The tip of the pencil was running up and down hills creating meaning, I was sure of it.

“Does this say something?” I’d ask my sister, waiting and watching her face for excitement.


And I’d tried again.


All she would say was no. Not “close!” Not, “almost.” It was painful and discouraging. How had she learned to make words? I’d scratch the page with the eraser end of the pencil, leaving desperate, pink shavings in my lap. Then, I had an idea.

I thought of my mom’s writing — how her letters were not like the hills my sister wrote, but roller coaster loops. And so a reassessed my plan, adding a loop to my strategy. Taking my pencil in my hand, I coaxed it up and down and added the loop, ending with a few more hills and a curled end.

“What about this?” I inquired. It must have been the 20th time, and my sister was exhausted looking up from her book in annoyance. I was distracting her. Her face was strained, her eyes slanted.

But then her face changed. The corners of her eyes relaxed. Her lips moved from pursed to gentle and parted.

“Actually…yes,” she paused “It says Mom. In cursive.”

I was like a baby speaking my first words. I felt overjoyed at my ability to teach myself something. Not only had I written something, it was something that had the ability to make my mom proud, to give her joy and move her. I expected praise, but Corrinn was not impressed. She went back to reading her book.

I studied the word on the page, the straight parts, the curves, and my favorite — the loop which turned my stomach with excitement. I took my pencil in my hand again and copied those beautiful shapes in the page. Mom, Mom, Mom, I wrote, preparing to share it with my mother the moment she walked in the door. She would be so proud and understand the amount of time I took to carefully practice those lines.

I sat on the couch looking out the window, watching the sunset, waiting for her car to pull into the driveway. It was cold by the window, and the heat from my impatient forehead created flog against the evening, so I traced the letters on the glass. Mom. Where was she? I dreamt about her reaction and woke up to the sound of the door closing. “Hello!”

Oh no. I’d missed watching her drive up.

I rubbed my eyes, and frantically searched for the notebook which had jammed itself into the crack between the cushions and the back of the couch. I ran to her and held up the notebook like a masterpiece. I was an artist, and I’d save my lifework for her. She smiled down at me and praised my sister for teaching me how to write my first word.

I gave my sister a glare and ran back to my room in silence.