At my readings, people are always asking me how things began to turn, what changed, how I went from angry and violent to what I am now. A teacher, a father, a husband. And happy.
So I tell them about the three women who helped me when I was eighteen and nineteen:
Bonita Stahlberg – My English teacher at the end of high school
Dorianne Laux – My poetry professor at U of O
Pris Wilt – My second mother.
The following is an email I sent to Pris in May of 2000, eleven years ago, when I was just about to finish college at the age of 23. It’s interesting to think that I hadn’t considered writing the book yet, let alone talking publicly about what an important person Pris was in my life.
She just sent this to me last month, and it underscores her importance to me, to the change that took place. So I decided to post the email:
What can I say? Without your kindness at the end of my terrible stint in high school, I might not have gone to college. Certainly not right away. I credit you guys with helping me get my life together.
Pris, do you remember the time we talked out on the back porch at the 2460 house? It was a warm late spring evening, and we talked as you smoked. You told me how you saw my life as contrasts of black and white and that I seemed to feel that all or nothing was the only way I could live. I bring up that moment, that breath in my life, because it was one of the first times of understanding my adult self. You understood me better than I did, and had the courage to speak your mind. I really respect you for that.