The Diamond from the Dust

People just don’t understand. She lived in a world of dust, where there was no happiness. You have to know what happens behind closed doors before you can judge. He hit her. He hit her everyday and she couldn’t do anything to fight back. I was a little kid when I saw it the first time. My protective instincts kicked in immediately, but what can a five year old do to a full grown man? I kicked him in the shins doing nothing but earning myself a fair amount of black and blue marks.

I have a scar on my rib from the second time I tried to help her. He had a fork and my six year old body was easily over powered leaving four long cuts. She stepped in front of me then and told him to hurt her, not me. I had many more encounters with him, sometimes twice a week and as I grew to understand the world I worked harder to protect her.

By the time I was 15 I was training hard at football practice, lifting weights everyday, taking boxing lessons, and slowing falling in love with her. Her name was CarriAnn and she was a year older than me. She had beautiful brown hair that went down to her hips and matched the color of her eyes. She was much smaller than me and had a very large heart. On my sixteenth birthday, I took her to the carnival in town for a date. We had an incredible time and were soon in an official relationship.

One day we were sitting under the small bridge over the local pond and she said to me, “I love you.” She kissed me, then saying, “It is so much more real than I ever imagined it could be.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“What my dad does to me isn’t the same as your gentle touch; you are never rough or making me do anything and I just want you to know how much I love you. You are my diamond,” she said with a single tear rolling down her beautiful cheek. I wiped it away because nothing sad should ever be on the face of such an angel and kissed her forehead.

About a week after that I found him hitting her again and he had a gun. She was again in the dust. When I came in the room it was pointed at her head and she was screaming my name. Her eyes found mine and I saw the complete terror in them, igniting my anger. He saw her looking at me and turned suddenly, releasing three bullets. One entered my shoulder. I still lunged for him, not feeling the pain from all of the adrenaline in my body, but I was a lot weaker than my mind thought and, although I got a few good hits on him, he still had the gun that was now out of bullets. He swung with all his strength and connected the barrel with my skull, making me black out. I woke up in the same place as I landed and found her laying on her bed, crying, with more bruises than usual.

“Where did he go?” I asked her with as much strength as I had in my body.

“He left,” she whispered suddenly, remembering that I was in the room.

“Are you ok?” I asked, slowly crawling to the side of the bed.

She shook her head slowly and her body filled with shaking sobs as she crawled off the bed and wrapped her arms around me. I used my good arm to hold her as tightly as I could to me, and we both cried until I blacked out from the loss of blood. The second time I woke up in a hospital bed with bandages around all the bullet spots. There was no permanent damage to me, but the doctors said that CarriAnn was going to stay at the hospital for awhile. I visited her everyday. After two weeks they declared that she was pregnant. She cried a lot and I held her as close to my chest as physically possible, trying to make her pain go away.

“Do you know who the father might be?” the doctor asked her one day. I looked at her and she looked at me for a long while. I saw in her eyes that she didn’t want them to know the truth and I still wasn’t sure why. She usually said that she loved him and knew that he did the things he did because he didn’t know any better.

“I am,” I said, turning to look at the doctor, even though I had never done more than kissed her. I could feel her relax under my arms, but I could not relax. I knew that by what I just said I changed my life and I wasn’t sure if it was for the better.

The day the baby was born, CarriAnn’s father was no where to be found, a day she called a diamond. We named her Daryn and she looked just like CarriAnn in every way, and when I signed the birth certificate, I swore I would never let her real father touch a single hair on her angelic head.

Three weeks later, as I walked into their house, I heard CarriAnn scream bloody murder. Even after a beautiful blessing had been given to her, she still was in the dust. I didn’t understand as much about the world as I should but I knew that a scream like hers should never exist in the world. This time I was determined to save her. As I ran into her house, I grabbed a knife in the kitchen and ran back to her room where the ear splitting screams were coming from. He had his back turned toward me and I jumped on him, sending the knife into his ribs. He fell to the ground and I don’t know how long he lived after that, but I hope he suffered. I rushed to her side and she touched my cheek softly, smiling gently. Her hand was holding her chest and blood was pouring out between her fingertips. I kissed her forehead, knowing there was no way she was going to make it out of this one and she knew too. She pointed toward the small crib in the corner that was holding the accidental child from my weakest attempt at protecting her. I was more concerned about getting an ambulance for her, though.

I reached deep in my pocket for my phone and when I pulled it out, she put her blood free hand on mine and said, “Take her and leave.” There was no chance for discussing it because with that statement, she shut her eyes in pain and drew a deep breath for one last blood curdling scream that was never able to leave her lips. I sat there crying for a good long while then stood slowly and took the three steps to reach the crib. I wiped the last few threatening tears from my eyes and saw the most beautiful baby girl. Her sad, brown eyes looked up at me as if she already knew. In that moment, I swore that she would never know pain or sadness or cruelty. Her world would be a perfect place as long as I had something to do with it. She would be the diamond from the dust.

The Apparition

One cool, fall night, all of the Dighton Hornet football players and cheerleaders were on their way home from the last game of the season. It was a tough match between the Hornets and the Wilson Dragons. Luckily, the boys played with their hearts that night and won the game. The final score was 56-42. The bus ride home was rather quiet, as everyone was worn out. Outside, a dense fog was developing, and the bus engine hummed steadily as we continued our journey through the dark. The wind howled outside the bus and added an eerie feel to the night. As I looked around, everyone was asleep with their headphones on and music blaring. I had a strange feeling in my stomach, one of those that you just can’t explain. It’s not painful, but it’s not exactly butterflies either. It was almost like the feeling of deja vu. I felt as if this had already happened, and it was all just a dream. I began to look around the bus again and noticed that Rodney, the bus driver, was laying in the middle of the aisle by the stairs. Utterly confused, my eyes drifted towards his seat. Sitting there, in Rodney’s place, was a girl. Immediately, I knew she was not supposed to be there. She slowly began to turn around, as if she had felt my eyes on her. Her hair, black as the night, covered most of her face. All that was visible were what looked to be her eyes, but when I took a closer look, they were just deep pits where eyes should have been. Even though she did not have eyes, she seemed to stare into my soul, as if she had a deep hunger to hurt me. I tried to move back from her, but only slid further into my seat. She got up, and started to come closer. I began to scream, but no one could hear me.

“Avery . . .” the girl whispered, as she drew closer.

“What do you want from me!” I cried. I was pretty sure she wanted to kill me, but I asked anyways.

“I’m not what you think,” she said softly, as she held out her pale hands before me.

“I don’t understand,” I whimpered. Reluctant, and shakily, I placed my hands in hers.

Suddenly, a memory of my older sister flashed through my mind. I was three years old the last time I saw her. She had always been nothing more than a vague memory, but now I remembered. We went to the movies with our parents one night, and she was extremely excited about it. Without thinking about traffic, she broke away from the firm grip of my father’s hand, and sprinted out into the street. In a flash, her figure disappeared behind one of the many buses that passed by the theatre on this route everyday. A blood curdling scream emerged from my mother’s lips, and with me in her arms, she dashed towards the place in the street where my sister not laid. The last thing I saw was a pool of blood around my sister’s crumpled body before my father took me from my mother’s arms.

“Jump,” the girl said, and suddenly, realization slapped me in the face. This small, petite girl was my sister. She was trying to tell me something.

“Go now!” she commanded me. I felt the bus begin to slow, and the engines vigorous hum lessened. She was trying to save me. I finally understood her efforts, and began to walk towards the emergency exit on the side of the bus. I looked back to my seat for her approval, but she had disappeared. Without sparing another second, I unlatched the door and kicked it open. The bus was apparently set on cruise control, because it began to speed up again. I said a prayer, and leapt for my life. Tucking and rolling, I landed at the bottom of the ditch. I stood up, and watched as the bus continued down the road a little ways. A few moments later, just as I had, the bus also ended up in the ditch, but then rolled back out and across a bare cornfield. Shaken and confused, tears streamed down my cheeks. I seemed to be cursed, as those who mattered most to me were always absorbed by tragedy. I was thankful the apparition of my sister had saved me, but I would have gladly given myself up to save everyone on that bus.

Running towards the wreckage that was the bus, I found a cellphone amongst the corn stalks and dirt. I called 911 and told them what had happened. After climbing through what used to be the door, I looked for survivors. Among the many, there were some casualties. Not knowing how to react, I moved on to the next seats, and the next, and those after that. The survivors shuffled out into the dark, and we sat there and waited for help. Ten minutes later, many rescue vehicles came to our aid. Cold and confused, we just wanted to go home. This night was just permanently added to the list of things that would always haunt our memories.

It Went On

The beeping alerted me that I was still well enough to be alive which seemed almost as tragic as my childhood. There in the chair beside me sat my sweet granddaughter with her red hair in a curly mess because she simply could care less. I loved that about her. She was so outspoken and such a darling even though she had every right not to be.

I smiled weekly at her only to watch her look up from one of her many books. Carelessly she tossed it to the side and shut the television off. This was the time that she would ask about my childhood just like any other time except now I would tell her the truth. It was the least she deserved.

“Grandma?” she asked. The tireless in her voice struck me as odd because I knew all too well what that meant. My lovely daughter and her putrid waste of space that she called a husband had been up fighting throughout the night. “Will you tell me about it?”

I swallowed before dragging myself up the stiff bed into a better position. My strength was failing rapidly causing me to collapse once I was in my position. And then I spoke, “Life was hard. My father . . . he wasn’t the model father and to be frank, he was abusive. Mother had rarely ever given it any attention and preferred to stay at work than be at home. Occasionally it’d be so bad that the next day I couldn’t attend school because it hurt too bad to move. I think that all of my teachers understood.”

Silently, Olivia sat back in her chair and pulled her knees up to her chest. It was highly doubtful that her mother, Daisy, had said anything to her. Maybe a word of caution would have been helpful before I started . . .

“He also degraded me quite often . . . calling me fat and worthless or telling me that I’d never get anywhere in the world. It hurt and what I did to compensate with the pain hurt even worse. I became anorexic, started to inflict pain on myself, and joined every club that my school offered me just so that I didn’t ever have to go home. Your uncles helped me get better, told me what I really was, and made me believe it. Your uncle Dave went through everything I had in ten fold because your grandpa had been harder on him because he was a boy. My younger brothers, Rich and Jackson, never had to go through that. I’d taken the heat for them each time and eventually when I got out of having to stay in a dorm my first year, I let them come live with me. I grew up fast . . . too fast,” I said quietly, staring at the white wall. I saw it all. Everything was horrid and came back like flashes, making me squeeze my frail hands into fists.

“Why was he like that?” Olivia asked. I smiled softly and offered my hand out. She took it carefully as if I was going to break if she took it like she would have any other person’s hand.

“Olivia, darling, some people are just mean and there isn’t anything we can do but either take it or fight back,” I said while looking at her. She offered up a weak smile, understanding what I was saying.

There wasn’t a thing really wrong with Olivia. She was strong and independent, where words failed her, actions didn’t. There was something about her that made me wish that I could have been like her. I wished I wouldn’t have been so weak to show my dad who I really was and what I was capable of.

“I finished college and wrote a book within those years and got it published. It was named New York Time’s bestseller and compared to To Kill a Mockingbird. I wrote about high school and how hard it was. You’ve read it multiple times,” I said and at that she smiled. It was enough for me to continue. “Then I realized how much I really loved performing. You know of my addiction to show tunes and such. I was on Broadway in a few shows, landing the lead in only three out of the seven performances that I auditioned for. Not once did my father ever contact me, and I was somewhat sad. I expected some sort of card or something talking about how well I did or a congratulations on any sort of achievement. It sort of hurt.”

“He died the year after I became a guidance counselor. Dave, Jackson, Rich, and I never went to the funeral. We didn’t feel like we should have. He never gave us anything good to remember in life except when he took one of us out for a car ride. He had a favorite child every time we turned around. Somehow Jackson had managed to be that kid most of the time,” I said.

A sigh brushed out Olivia’s lips like she knew exactly what I was talking about. In all truthfulness, she did. Baxter was just like him. I didn’t like to think that my sweet granddaughter would turn out like me. It was true that she wasn’t like me in my youth but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t react the same.

“So why did he do what he did?” she asked, squeezing my hand slightly.

I sighed, “He liked to say that he was mean so that way he could make our skins thicker. I think that was partly true but that he was just a tormented man. My grandma on his side wasn’t exactly the greatest person.”

Silence except for the wretched beeping that was starting to slow. I took that second to close my eyes and lay my head back. There was a pounding on my head that was driving me wild. It hurt and was slowly spreading to the rest of my body.

“Why did you become a guidance counselor?” she asked.

When I open my eyes, I saw her staring at me warily. Olivia had noticed the heart monitor gradually coming to the slow pace that meant the end.

“I became a guidance counselor to help those out that were like me, hurt, scared, abused, inflicting self-harm . . . they needed someone to talk to and I was that person,” I said. “There was one person that was really bad. Her parents went through a divorce after she had watched her brother die. Before all of that, she watched her best friend blow his brains out. There were more like her but never did they take it that hard.”

“I hadn’t told you but she visited me. It was nice to be able to converse with someone that had been the first person I confided in even though she was supposed to confide in me. You know the story. But, at the end of her visit, she gave me three little words ‘It went on.'”

We shared a knowing look. When I had been in better health, we shared tragic stories that we had found exceptionally interesting. Most of hers had come from books while mine had come from the children that had come and talked to me. She had found Kay’s to be as intriguing as I had. When Kay started to walk down the aisle of the school, waiting for her diploma, I had said ‘Life goes on.’ That had been Olivia’s favorite part of Kay’s story.

“How did you stay strong through all of that?”

I swallowed the lump in my throat. It was here. The light meant death. It was so warm and inviting that it was impossible to want to stay where I was.

“I didn’t know I was strong. In the moments I was alone, I took a step back and thought over everything. You need people that you love and trust to help you through. Nobody can be strong on their own, my dear, no matter how hard they try.”

I stepped through the light, watching as the one who loved me more than she loved herself stare blankly at my deceased form. A tear slipped ever so subtly down her cheek and landed lightly on her dark jacket.

I had died in a hospital bed in a hospital room with my hand in my granddaughter’s. Nothing had ever been so peaceful and grand.

Classroom Authors

English 10 begins each year with a unit on short stories. This is both a review and the learning of some new material. After all the stories are read, discussed, and debated, students complete an exam and a group project. But my personal favorite assignment from this unit is the creation of their own short story. Requirements for this project are vague, allowing students the opportunity to express themselves with little restriction. The results are always interesting as their creativity and ideas continue to surprise me year after year. The next few blog posts will showcase some of my favorite short stories from this school year!

Enjoy!
Mrs. Wyatt

Jalapeño Jelly

The following is a process analysis essay written by a student in my College Composition class.

Enjoy!

Mrs. Wyatt

In truth, the first time I saw the recipe, jalapeño jelly didn’t appeal to my imagination. However, after making this culinary conundrum several times, I discovered the unique and pleasant flavor of this uncommon jelly. It is definitely an interesting dish to serve at a party and a staple recipe for cooks who grow jalapeños in a summer garden or who like spicy and sweet flavors.

The recipe’s simplicity and complexity lies in the ingredients. To whip up a batch of jelly, gather about six to eight jalapeños depending on size, one large green bell pepper, one and a half cups of distilled white vinegar, six cups of sugar (yes six), and a package of pectin. Pre-proportioned liquid pectin works nicer, but I have always used powered pectin and simply change the recipe slightly.

Before moving on, ask yourself if you plan on preserving. Simply wash and set the jars and lids in a canning basin on the stove filled with hot tap water. Each person approaches this process differently. Use good canning logic to determine when to start processing the jars and lids. They will need to boil fifteen minutes. A recommendation for those with hard water: wait until after chopping the peppers to start the heat. Cans that boil over fifteen minutes in hard water, develop a coat of mineral powder which can affect the lid seal.

Prepping takes a majority of the time. Begin by slicing, seeding, and chopping the jalapeños and bell pepper. Wearing rubber gloves is imperative for this step. Jalapeños get their heat from chemicals that can burn skin. Some people also wear goggles because the fumes are very pungent. How large you slice the peppers depends on the individual. Personally, I prefer to cut the pepper into small, confetti-like pieces. Take one cup each of jalapeños and bell peppers and put them into a large pot (at least one gallon). The pot needs a stainless steel interior or the jelly will taste like metal. Another recommendation includes selecting a pot with a good stout handle or handles for pouring the jelly. Add six cups of sugar to your pot of peppers. Please use a piece of paper and pencil to tally the number of scoops because inevitably at this point someone will come to the door, call on the telephone, or the sky will begin to fall! I can’t count the number of times I’ve lost count. After adding the sugar, add the cup and a half of distilled white vinegar. Using a wooden spoon, mix this weird combination together and place on the stove.

At this time, unless already done, turn on the heat to the jars and lids and wait until they are boiling before moving on. Set the heat on the jelly at medium-high. Stir occasionally until the mixture comes to a boil. This particular jelly is notorious for bubbling over but don’t fear. Simply add about two teaspoons of butter to the mix and the foaming should settle down. Be sure to keep a watchful eye on it though. Continue to stir the jelly now and then to control bubbling and prevent a mess. If you think it will bubble over, remove the jelly immediately, wait for the foam to go down, and return the pot to the stove top with the heat turned down slightly. Allow the pepper mixture to boil ten minutes and then add the liquid pectin if you are using it. Boil for an additional three minutes. For those seeking a challenge with powdered pectin, get ready for my crazy pectin prep process. First, say that three times fast. Then, add one box powdered pectin to 3/4 cup cold water in a small pot. Place the pectin on a burner and begin to heat at medium-high two minutes after the jelly begins to boil. Wait for the pectin to boil and simmer for one minute stirring constantly, while occasionally stirring the jelly with the other hand, and lifting the lid on the jar basin with your foot to make sure that water is boiling all at the same time. Ideally, one minute of pectin boiling will line up with the ten minutes of jelly boiling. However, some leeway can be afforded. The jelly can boil for two to three minutes over ten before adding the pectin. Add the hot pectin, and boil for an additional three minutes.

At this point, hopefully the jars and lids have boiled fifteen minutes. Remove them with the canning grip and tongs. Pour the jelly into the jars and place lids on top. Screw the rings on to secure the lids, snug not tight. From this point you can give the the jars a canning bath or choose to simply allow them to cool. If the lids pop down, store in the cabinet; if not, store in the refrigerator and use within a few weeks.

These jellies make excellent presents around the holidays. To make a red batch, allow the jalapeños to ripen to a red color on the counter and use a red bell pepper. To serve, pour over cream cheese and arrange butter crackers on a serving platter.

This jelly is the epitome of sweet heat. Everyone will be asking for the recipe, but only you decide whether or not to share your hot little secret.

I didn’t sign up for this! The bulletin board problem.

I went to college to be an English and history teacher. I’ve studied women’s history, English literature, and sentence structure. My education classes focused on classroom management, lesson plans, and teaching methods. All of my classes helped prepare me for the world of teaching. But they left out one thing. One very painful and difficult thing.

Bulletin Boards.

You’re probably thinking, bulletin boards? Seriously? How difficult can that task be?

Difficult. Seriously difficult.

It’s not enough to put up some colorful paper and some cut pictures. Bulletin boards need to be visually appealing, eye catching, informative, and relevant. To teenagers. See the problem?

Each and every year I struggle to create quality bulletin boards. It’s quite a bit easier during the school year with the availability of student work, pictures, and information. But back to school bulletin boards are always a challenge.

This year I didn’t have to worry about one of my two bulletin boards. 2013/2014 school year is the first year the new English Language Arts Common Core standards will be taught at the high school level. I feel strongly that students have a responsibility for their own learning and, as a result, decided to dedicate one board to the new standards. This board will serve as a reference for me and a resource for students to make the connection between what we are doing in class and the appropriate standards. This bulletin board was quite simple to make.

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My second bulletin board was more of a struggle. This board is located at the back of the classroom and doesn’t as easily attract students’ attention. Last year I changed the board several times but didn’t feel I had a lot of positive response from students until I posted research paper calendars and reading assignments they had to see. This year the challenge was to create a bulletin board students would find interesting and relevant from day one. I spent hours on Pinterest looking to “borrow” that perfect ideas but nothing was jumping out at me. Instead I took some inspiration from Hollywood.

And what’s hotter in Hollywood right now than movies based on novels? That’s right. Nothing. Inspiration! The list of recent movies adapted from novels includes The Hobbit, The Host, Warm Bodies, The Great Gatsby, and on and on and on. Last year several of my students who read The Great Gatsby in class made the trip to the city to see it on the big screen. What a perfect idea for a bulletin board! If they see the movie trailer, see the movie, or find the cover interesting, the next (or the first) logical step is to read the novel. And if the board inspires even one student to pick up a novel they otherwise might have overlooked, isn’t it all worth it?

To create this board, I selected just a handful of the several novels available, printed the covers, created QR codes that link to the movie trailers, and made paper spotlights. Of all the bulletin boards I’ve created, this is by far my favorite!

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Enjoy!
Mrs. Wyatt

PS – The QR code generator I use can be found at http://www.qrstuff.com. Students use the app Qrafter to read the codes and access the content.

Keeping up with a blog

As some of you may have noticed, I haven’t blogged in almost a year. This is sad, but the unfortunate reality of someone who’s never been good at keeping up with things like this. I have never been one to write in a journal or record events in scrapbooks. The truth is, after teaching all day, working with forensics students, grading papers, and getting ready for the next day’s lesson, I often lack the motivation to write on my blog.

In the next few weeks, I will be taking advantage of the time before school starts to add some new posts with student samples from last year. In addition, I will be reviewing several new apps I have explored over the summer.

If there is a topic you would like to see covered on the blog, please let me know. I’m always open to new ideas!

Trying to get better at blogging,
Mrs. Wyatt