Owing my career to Leo Rozema

Create: 12/01/2015 - 19:39

When I was 13 my adopted family moved to the city from the small southwestern Ontario farm where we’d lived for three years.
When I got to Grade 8 that fall I felt isolated and lonely again.
So I did what every lonely, scared kid would do in order to fit in. I did what everyone else was doing. I hung out on the corner and smoked cigarettes. I talked trash and acted hip. I paid more attention to acceptance than my grades. It wasn’t long before I was restricted in everything.
My life became a walk to school and back. Then, it was four hours in my room each night to study. Except that I didn’t study.
I wrote. I wrote stories and plays and poems about the kind of life I imagined every other kid was having, a life that wasn’t restricted to the cloister of a small room, stories of hopes, dreams, happy endings and skies boundless and impossibly blue.
And I never showed any of them.
But my teacher that year was a man named Leo Rozema. He had a big nose and gray hair, his ties were out of fashion and he smelled of cigarettes. But there was something about Mr. Rozema that I trusted, maybe something in the fact that he had to work so hard at being accepted, that he had to fight to be himself too. So I showed him my stories.
One day there was a brown envelope on my desk. When I opened it there was a letter along with my stories. Mr. Rozema wrote out in longhand a poem called High Flight. It described a pilot’s fascination with the sky.
“And while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod, the high untrespassed sanctity of space, put out my hand and touched the face of God.”
That’s how the poem went and he wrote about how my writing reminded him of that. He called me a great writer because I could make him feel things. He praised me and told me to keep going. I did.
I am a writer today because of Leo Rozema. He was the first adult in my adopted life that actually saw me, heard me, got me. From my writing he gleaned the ache I carried and he offered the salve of praise and recognition. He knew my struggle and he was wise enough to separate the kid from the report card.
We live with pieces of the sky inside us. In our cells is the very mystery of space.
We take flight when we’re shown it and the arc of our travel is wonderful to see, the trail of it incandescent, joined to an impossible blue.