I changed the letter a little, then a little more, then read through it for the fifteenth time to make sure I didn’t leave any errors, which I did every time. But I had to finally let it go. I hit the send button before I gave myself another second to hold off.
The expression of gratitude is not what makes me so nervous. The fact that I’m writing a letter of thanks to the most difficult English teacher in all creation is what has me in a sweat. Lordy. I hope my grammar was okay. I’m not going to read it again because I know I’ll find a terrible error, something deleted or misplaced or some other horror.
The woman is nearly 90, and she still scares the hell out of me.
Anyway, without looking at it (you can, I’m not), here is what I sent.
Dear Mrs. Sizer,
I hope this letter finds you well. I hope this letter finds you. I was given your email, one I don’t know whether you still use, by Rickey Pittman, a man I found online who reviewed a Texas History book of yours. I have looked for you for a long time, and now here you are, hopefully, on the receiving end of this letter.
After years of searching, I finally found you, and now I don’t know what to say. The time is 3:12 am according to my laptop, which means that the stars have passed over a little farther than my computer thinks they have. In other words, the hour is very late or very early. In any case, my inability to sleep has made me a bit delirious, and I’m sure my words reflect my state. But so be it. My inability to sleep is what is giving me the courage to write.
My eyes are nearly closed and bright lights are flooding the parts that my lids have exposed. So this white computer screen looks like old yellowed paper—the perfect kind for writing a hand-written letter on.
So, pen in hand, I’ll get right to it.
You inspired me more than I have words to express. I love to read and especially to write, and though I have always enjoyed the two, I didn’t start the love affair until having you as a teacher.
Your passion set fire to the classroom, and your class was difficult. Both of which I am grateful for.
“Out, damned spot! out, I say!” you played as I watched, entranced. I’ll never forget your theatrical display. Your class left me with several memories, in fact, some great, some fantastic, and some a bit humbling.
You were appalled one day at my reading Cliffs Notes for Dracula (in class, no less).
“It’s just as scary,” I recoiled.
I honestly had no idea those little books had analyses in the back. I never paid attention to them. I thought the books were mere synopses, but they must have been more than a brief summary because I wasn’t kidding when I said the booklet was just as scary as the book. And just so you know, Dracula was the only book I recall reading the summarized version of. Even then, my analysis had no need for any writer’s watered-down interpretations. You were my guide. I still feel a tinge of guilt for not reading the book, though.
You told me once to never use “it is” and “there are,” and my writing has benefited greatly because of your advice. I don’t write professionally, only for fun, but part of the fun is creatively arranging the words once I find them. Your advice not only helps me in that endeavor but it forces me to write creatively even when I have no intention to.
So here you are near the end of your writing days, and here I am in the midst of mine. You must know that a part of you is in me because you planted a seed. I am a math teacher, but (don’t tell) I’ve read seventeenth-century poetry in class and discussed the social implications of Orwell’s terrifying dystopia. Despite my love for literature and writing, though, I didn’t take the English route. My degree is in physics. I think I chose the right path anyway, because I, like you, can instill a love for language arts regardless. A senior, one of my best math students from last year, told me over the summer (quite excitedly) that she plans to pursue a degree in literature. She told me that I am the reason for her change of heart, and I told her not to thank me but my high-school British lit teacher. You sparked a flame in me, and I would never have the ability to pass along your passion had you not taught me to see the world through the eyes of a writer.
I have another 50 years of reading and writing ahead of me—another 50 years to inspire future writers and lovers of literature to follow my lead. And the generations to come will experience the same. And on and on.
I am writing to thank you for opening my eyes to a world of literature that is more than a collection of stories and for fostering in me a passion to write. I am writing also to tell you that I have thought of you often over the years. But above all, I want you know, Mrs. Sizer, that your influence has made you immortal.
I wish you all the best,