To remain semi-anonymous, I'll call him Mr. J, though that's pretty close to his real name. Mr. J probably doesn't realize it, but he saved me in high school. The hours I spent in his office sharing my thoughts and feelings were a lifeline for me. I was a fairly nondescript high schooler. When report cards came out, I did well enough, if not nearly as well as I should have. Sports were a foreign language to me, I wasn't in band, drama, forensics, or the yearbook committee. To be honest, I really wasn't anything, which was, of course, the problem. Flying under the radar was actually my only talent and I liked it that way.
Inside, though, I was in constant turmoil. My stepfather was a raging, cruel alcoholic. The energy it took to simply survive was all my mother could manage. I had two younger brothers who were stuck in the middle of it all and I felt like I was drowning on a daily basis.
Mr. J welcomed me into his tiny office with a hug every time I showed up, which was often as those four years went on. Each time, he sat back in his chair and placed one tasseled loafer on his knee, stroking his goatee, while his very bald head shone.
Nothing was off limits in his office and he never once passed judgment, which must have been very hard indeed. Instead, he asked hard questions. Questions that made me examine my choices and potential. When it was time to apply to colleges, he scoffed at my inability to pay for school and painstakingly explained every detail of the financial aid and student loan process, both of which my parents had little knowledge. He smiled and hugged me when I tearfully thanked him after finding out that I had more options than I had ever thought possible.
I went back to Mr. J's office many times over the years. I went back as a freshman in college, when I was battling an eating disorder that was painfully obvious and for which he called me out on immediately. I went back when I broke up with my college boyfriend, thinking that my life was over. I went back before I left for a summer job in Colorado that would forever change my life. I went back when I got my first teaching job. I went back so many times simply because I was welcome.
Just as high school was ending, I went to his office on a beautiful spring day. "I can't thank you enough for your help," I said with a lump in my throat.
"You don't have to thank me," he said kindly. "Just graduate and invite me to your wedding someday."
I did both.
Thank you, Mr. J, for your guidance and help. I am forever grateful.
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.