Although I had written creatively since I was a child I never called myself a writer. Until my high school boyfriend was murdered.
He was killed 15 years after we had dated, and I hadn’t been in touch with him for many, many years, but it was still a shock to hear of his violent death.
I was a new mom, home with my small daughter and watching the evening news when I heard his name mentioned. He had been shot in his car along a road in an area apparently known for drug activity. His murder was never solved.
Not long after hearing about his death this is what I wrote:
My high school boyfriend was murdered recently.
I caught his story on the news and then, disbelieving, followed it in the local paper for several days. Detached, I couldn’t cry over his death, rather I could only say to myself, “That’s such a sad story.”
In my mind I returned to high school, a time when months seemed like years and years seemed to stretch for decades. I can clearly remember the first time I saw him. It was at the track at Watsonville High. He was standing behind the starting line, arms crossed, in his trademark painted on jeans, watching me as I prepared for a race. I remember the first words he spoke to me, weeks later when I finally met him.
This man who was shot to death once bought me pink tennis shoes for Christmas. For my birthday, a fine gold chain with the tiniest of rings holding my birthstone. He shared important times with me – deciding where to go to college, my senior prom, high school graduation. He was the first boy to tell me he loved me.
It had been ten years since I’d seen or talked to him. My life is now lived at a pace where ten years go by and it feels like only a year. I was able to grieve for him eventually. Days later, when recounting the story to a friend, I began to weep. I creed for who he and I were, way back then, pure of heart and full of future. I cried for those whom he has left behind, for ultimately he was a son, brother, husband and father.
I am proud to stand as witness to his life and say: “He will be missed.”
At the time I had a long commute to work and would listen to a local news station on the way into the office. One of my favorite segments was called First Person Singular and featured local residents sharing their thoughts and opinions on local issues, national concerns, or other random things. At the end of each broadcast there was an invitation to share your opinions and stories.
I thought, perhaps, what I wrote would be worthy of consideration. It was, and I was invited to record my piece for the radio. It was awesome!
I recorded it in one take and the older woman who had run the segment for many years told me I had talent and to write more. That was just the encouragement I needed.
Not long after that I sent out this email to my friends and family:
I’m coming out of the closet!Thursday, May 15, 2003 11:00 AMas a writer, that is! 😉I wrote and submitted a personal essay to a localradio station. They accepted it, I recorded it and itwill be airing on Monday June 2 at 7:33AM and 5:33PMPST.Even if you are not in the Santa Cruz area you canlisten live via the internet — just go tohttp://www.kusp.org/firstperson/ and click on the“listen live” icon.Many of you know I have been a “closet writer” for along time, well, since I could write. This is mypublic debut and I hope you can catch it — it’s only90 seconds! If you miss it, the written version willbe posted on the KUSP website shortly after it airs.Hope you all are well!Jessica
That was 13 years ago.
Since then I have grown as a writer and finally (!!!) refer to myself as one without making a funny face or hesitating, mumbling, stuttering, or qualifying it like I did for many years.
If you had told me in high school that he would have been the one who influenced me to share my writing publicly I am sure I wouldn’t have believed you. For many reasons.
I think of him and his passing when I think of my writer’s journey. And when I do, I thank him. I hope he smiles that mega-watt smile when I do.