When I was a high school freshman, I approached my English teacher, Mrs. Richard. My appetite for words urged me to ask her where I could buy one of the books we used in class—The American Heritage Dictionary. She looked up from the papers she was grading, red pen in hand and a sparkle in her eye. Through her smile, she said she’d look into it and continued to edit. A few days later, she slipped me a brand new copy and wouldn’t accept my money. She said it was an honor to give a book to someone who was hungry to learn.
The dictionary spine lay gaping on my bedside stand. Every day, I devoured a new word and nourished my growing vocabulary.
It wasn’t long before some classmates teased me. “Use normal words,” they said. “Who are you tying to impress?”
Their criticism threatened my passion for language; I considered defending my love for language by continuing to spout new-to-me multisyllabic speech, but I wanted to belong more than I wanted to increase my vocabulary. So I stuck the red dictionary between my ceramic dice bookends, where dust gathered on its top edge.
Several years later, I sat in my kitchen’s tender pre-dawn hours while my first husband and two toddlers slept. This was my time to do what I enjoyed—learn about writing from a borrowed copy of The Artist’s Way. I stole pockets of time, every chance I could. It was my secret.