In Tiger Drive, Carrie is seventeen years old and desperate to go to college but needs financial aid. She turns to her English teacher, Mr. Hill, to proofread her scholarship essay. He is an honest and candid man, and while Carrie doesn’t fully open up to him, she trusts him. Mr. Hill believes in her, and this makes all the difference to Carrie.
In reality, Mr. Hill was inspired by my ninth grade English teacher, Mr. Tobey, at Carson Junior High School. While Carrie’s story is not my story, writing creates an opportunity to recognize people who have made a difference even when writing fiction. Mr. Tobey is one of those people. But in the past thirty-two years, I’ve never reached out to thank him. In a recent exchange with my hometown high school librarian, I said it was because of people like her that there are adults like me. She made a meme of that comment and put it on her computer to remind herself that she makes a difference. She so does. Our exchange inspired me to reach out to Mr. Tobey, finally, to thank him. To tell him how the following three interactions with him have stuck with me always.
I was in the ninth grade in 1985-86. I was a respectful and quiet student. Like Carrie, I liked rules and structure. I prided myself on being unlike some of my older siblings who most of my teachers remembered, seldom favorably. So one day in October 1985 when Mr. Tobey shouted my name in class and said I had detention, I was shocked. I was having a particularly horrible morning and overwhelmed by anxiety about my younger siblings. My family was in a bad place. Our dysfunction was at an all-time high. Getting detention was something that would happen to my older siblings, not me.
When I got to his classroom that afternoon, he asked me to sit in front of his desk while he closed the classroom door. He sat across from me and said, “I gave you detention to give you privacy and to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to you.” And then he said these words that bring me to tears still today. He said, “I come from a family of alcoholism too.”
I use this scene in Tiger Drive. I’ve always wondered how Mr. Tobey could tell I came from a family of alcoholics. Did I act differently than other students? I wondered if in the future I would recognize or intuit when someone loved an alcoholic (I can). Or did he somehow find out about my family? I’ll never know. But from that moment on, I knew that he understood. I didn’t have to say anything. I was no longer alone.
In February 1986, Mr. Tobey would instruct my class on how to write our first research paper, using a bibliography and everything. The title of my first ever report was, “Alcoholism: A Family Problem.”
I poured my time and heart into this paper. The report was the only therapy I’d had to date. I got a 93% on the paper with a note from Mr. Tobey written on my Conclusion page. Note my conclusion started with, “Alcoholism can cause a great deal of pain, a pain that may never be forgotten.” And it ended with, “Most important is that the child’s life does not have to remain in the painful situation; it can get better.”
Teri, on a strictly academic basis, this paper is in need of far better substantiation. On a personal level, I know that what you present here is largely true, and I know the turmoil you had to fight through to write it.
I think I’ll give it a better grade than it deserves because you have demonstrated basic understanding of the format and because I really can’t do otherwise! Please keep this to yourself.
Until now, I have never told anyone about my grade. I loved that Mr. Tobey expected me to do better while also validating I knew what I was talking about. It was an amazing moment for me. And when my dad would die only three months after writing this paper, and I would walk into Mr. Tobey’s class and he would look me in the eye and simply say, “I’m sorry.” That was enough. I knew he knew how I felt. I was reminded that I wasn’t alone.
Three years later when I’d walk across the community center stage to accept a Rotary Scholarship that would help me begin college the following year, Mr. Tobey was in the audience. His daughter was in my class. Mr. Tobey would get a message to me: “You are a wonderful lady and will go far. I am proud.”
I made some calls last week to locate Mr. Tobey and tell him what a positive influence he’s been in my life, and to tell him about Mr. Hill in Tiger Drive. It had not escaped me that the above paper was written in February 1986 and now in February 2018, my debut novel is releasing. Sadly, I learned that Mr. Tobey passed away two years ago. My message and gratitude are being passed onto his wife by one of her close friends who assured me, “This will mean so much to her.”
Mr. Tobey, thank you for being you.
Who has made a positive influence in your life? What can you do to let them know? There is no time like the present.
Until next time, thank you for being you. And if you’d like to read Part Two of Granted: My Close Encounter with a Possible Pedophile, click here.
Tiger Drive is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and Ingram. A portion of the proceeds will help fund the Tiger Drive Scholarship. And if you read Tiger Drive, please consider leaving a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads. Your opinion will help readers decided if Tiger Drive is right for them. Also, please tell your friends about Tiger Drive. Word of mouth is everything.