If you ask me who my favorite teacher was, one comes to mind instantly, but another had a very dramatic impact on my life that I am forever grateful for. She gave me strength.
When I was very little, sleeping in the same room as my brother in the house I first lived in, I had a bad dream. Not even a dream, really, but a moment. I heard a growl or a roar, and I believed that it came from a model of King Kong that my brother made, which stood on the other side of the room but faced in my direction. Now that I think about it, he may very well have passed gas in his sleep and my brain interpreted the sound as something much more sinister. It may have been nothing at all, but it seemed so real, and so near. I spent the rest of the night sleeping with mom and dad.
I don’t know if it was born of that incident or not, but in our new house I had a much more terrifying dream, and this one repeated itself often. I would wake up screaming and crying, and mom came running in each time.
In the new torment, the evil that lurked just feet away from my head on the pillow was my own closet door. But in my nightmares, the door was open or gone completely, and beyond it was a dark corridor, just light enough for me to make out elaborate Gothic architecture. But at the far end of the corridor there was no light at all, only a darkness more absent of life than any blackness that exists in the awake world.
I was pulled toward that end, where it continued to get darker still. When all I saw was the dark–behind me as well as before–a set of bright white teeth with four very noticeable fangs would appear–an angry snarl without a face at all. I would later refer to them only as “The Fangs.” They didn’t make a sound like King Kong did at the old house. They didn’t have to do so. I knew they were angry with me.
It was my first grade teacher that told the class one day that there was a certain cure for recurring bad dreams, and now I wonder if the subject might have come up previously in one of those parent-teacher get-togethers. The teacher said the remedy was simply sharing with a trusted someone else the nature of your unsettling dreams. I was fascinated with this suggestion, and the next day I told my brother as we ate breakfast. I told him everything about my nightmares.
I only dreamed of The Fangs one more time, and the setting was very different.
—I was at school (though it was an unfamiliar school) in the playground during recess. I was happily swinging on a swing with some classmates beside me and with the school at my back. I heard my teacher call everyone to come inside because recess was over. My classmates quickly disembarked from their swings and ran inside, but I froze when my ride came to a stop. I saw The Fangs. Not down a dark corridor, but in front of me, just beyond the playground chain-link fence, in broad daylight. It was a sunny day, but still The Fangs had no face. Still, they snarled, and I couldn’t move.
—Again the teacher called, and I was at once being summoned to get on with the important business of living my life while at the same time being threatened not to move at all lest I lose my life altogether. Once more the teacher called, while The Fangs continued to stare.
—I finally had enough. With a bravery and strength I had never before known I possessed, I jumped off the swing and ran to join my classmates, turning my back on The Fangs that had refused so many times to let me out of their grip.
Never again did I see them.
Mrs. Hellam is more than just one of my favorite teachers.
She is my hero.
So are my mother and brother, whether they knowingly had anything to do with my victory or not.