When I was 9 years old, I lost my father to a violent death. At the time, people thought children needed to be spared from their own reality and I was left with an enormous gap in my heart, longing to know what had really happened to him. Fortunately that same year, I met the only teacher in all of my schooling years that truly believed in me. She also seemed to be the only adult around who seemed to understand that children needed to feed their souls and nurture their self-esteems as much as they required food. We never talked about my dad but each time I wrote an essay for her class I could see how eager she was to read it and how thoughtfully she wrote her comments. Her attention was a source of joy that made me want to be kind to everyone.
Before the end of the year, I wrote her an essay about how I had befriended a dog in the neighborhood. Her owner would let me walk with her around the block and during one of our tours, I told them both about my father’s passing. “Why are you confiding this to a complete stranger?” The neighbor asked. “Well,” I said, “isn’t death a complete stranger anyway ?” When my teacher gave me back the essay, I saw her hazelnut eyes shining, from pride or from tears I couldn’t tell. That is the day she took my face in both her hands and told me in a hoarse voice: “You, my girl, will become a writer.” I have never forgotten her. Her name was Odette.