She was short and chubby, 30 something with long blonde hair. She was kind yet firm, quick witted with a sarcastic ‘don’t fuck with me’ attitude. Her name, like my own, was Kate and in an era where teachers were only ever called Sir, Miss or by their last names she rebelliously refused to answer to anything else but Kate.
She was the only teacher at our school that every kid seemed to like. She even commanded respect from The Joker. The Joker was, on his best day, an absolute asshole. He had somehow found his way into nearly all of my classes that year, he hung out in the back of every classroom, always sitting sideways on a tilted chair surrounded by a small gang of loyal disciples who had probably figured it was better to join him than risk coming up against him.
I never once saw The Joker lay a hand on anyone physically, his weapon of choice was verbal psychological torture and all his razor blade comments always came with a crooked half smile and sinister laugh. He knew exactly what buttons to push within minutes of meeting someone, it was almost a gift. He was well known for sending teachers running from the room crying, a few never returned.
The Joker had tried his asshole handbook out with Kate on day one that year but she tore him down with her sharp wit and cool deadpan expression within seconds at every turn. She didn’t give a flying fuck what he thought, this was her classroom and her rules. Eventually he realised had been defeated and gave up trying. While she’d earned enough of his respect for him to stop disrupting classes, he never did stop calling her ‘Miss’, grinning his twisted asshole smile each time he did and hoping for a reaction that never came.
I had always hated school and that was reflected in my marks, I struggled badly and found it hard to grasp basic concepts whereas other parts of me apparently had a hidden passion for academia. My school reports fluctuated between outstanding to utterly rubbish.
Of course I didn’t know why I was like this back then and by this point now starting year 10, the academic parts of me had long since vanished, they’d either given up or been swallowed up by our rapidly declining mental health and I was left alone at school and failing most subjects spectacularly.
I wasn’t ‘naturally smart but not trying’ despite what the teachers thought and could try my ass off but still fail miserably. I had enough trouble paying attention on a good day, on a bad one dissociation took away my memory entirely. Sometimes teachers would get frustrated with my results insisting I was failing on purpose because I was “intelligent and knew the subject matter”, but I had no idea where they were getting that impression from, I was struggling to keep my head above water in every aspect of my life; it’s hard to perform well on tests when you can barely remember your name.
Eventually I stopped going to most of my classes instead spending my days listening to music, climbing hills, smoking joints and drinking cheap wine with some of my outcast friends. I don’t know if the school called my parents about my truancy at all, if they did it was never mentioned to me. My maths teacher simply wrote on my report card for that semester “I cannot comment on Kate as I’ve never sighted her”.
During this period we still went to English class though. Kate was by far my favourite teacher and not just because she could handle The Jokers wrath, she explained things in ways that seemed to make sense to me. For some reason a subject that I had hated passionately every other year of our life suddenly gave us meaning. I don’t remember much myself now honestly, strangely I know how to write an essay yet I couldn’t tell you what a verb is without googling it. What I do remember is that Kate awoke a part living inside of me that year, a previously pent up ball of nervous energy, an observer of the world who was desperately trying to find an outlet to escape the madness of our mind.
Kate took no shit but had the patience of a saint, she had a way of motivating the un-motivatable and somewhere along the way she taught us that the dreaded curriculum mandated task of daily journaling could be so much more than a bland dot point agenda of what your day had entailed. She taught us that journaling could in fact be used as a tool to untangle any aspect of your life, a way to purge the good, the bad and the downright ugly; it was soul cleansing and you could be as graphic and vivid as you pleased.
Unlike essays and formal writing tasks, there were no wrong ways to journal. With no rules to fuck up and no grammar police we discovered an energy flowing through us and when we wrote we felt as though we’d become possessed by a spirit, our hand seemed controlled by this outside entity spewing our truths onto paper in a frantic effort to set us free.
A true wordsmith creates a world through their writings, they evoke such deep emotion in their readers that it shakes them to their cores and leaves them lost and craving more at the end. People like this, they can’t not write, it’s etched so deep inside their bones that when then urge hits them they must give in to it whether it’s three in the morning or the middle of a business meeting the words must be released or they will surely go mad.
The Scribe was born in Kate’s classroom and from that moment on words coursed through her veins like life blood. All day and all night she told her stories, mostly in the back of our mind, the words of an endless novel, the stories of our life. We knew they needed a place to rest outside of our addled mind but fear keeps you prisoner and she wouldn’t be ready to truely share herself with others for decades.
We burned everything that made it onto paper back then. Nearly as soon as we’d written it we’d have to set it on fire to make sure it could never be witnessed by another, that it could never be witnessed by ourselves.
We left school at 15 years old, halfway through that year. There were a million reasons but the biggest was our mental health rapidly imploding, we had become a seemingly unsalvageable suicidal mess and school was killing us even faster.
Day’s after we left, Kate walked into our work out of the blue and in front of other staff and customers berated me loudly for leaving school. Her initial angry tone turned to one of concern as she told me we were headed down a dark road, she begged me not to give up, she said we could get help, she even said to do it for her because we were the only person in that class who had half a hope of going to university.
It was the single greatest compliment we had ever received. Somebody had actually noticed that our world was burning down around us and cared enough to turn up and offer a fire extinguisher. We knew she was right, we knew this choice was going to change our life trajectory forever but we’d made a decision and that was that.
She’d stared at me waiting for a response and I simply whispered “I can’t”.
She looked us up and down for a moment, threw her hands up and sighed deeply and said “I respect your choice even though I don’t agree with it and I wish you all the best”. Then the last English teacher we would ever have turned away and walked out of our life.
I haven’t seen her since but to this day I am eternally grateful for Kate. Not only for teaching us the power of words but for believing in us when nobody else could, particularly ourselves.