Navigating Senior Year with Mr. Y

by Taite Pauley

As a high school senior, I found myself in a new city, a new school, and living outside my parents’ home for the first time in my life. As an independent 16-year-old, I thought I knew it all. In my beat-up light blue Datsun Maxima, I could navigate interstate highways and new city streets long before we all had GPS or smartphones. I could cook and clean. I had my own bank account and was responsible for paying bills. 

The parents of the other students at my new school were wary of their children becoming friends with me. Who was this kid who didn’t live with her parents, rather an older brother – a college student – nonetheless? My new friends, well, they thought it was cool. At first, I didn’t have a difficult adjustment. I fit in just fine, even in a private school of about thirty-five students in the senior class, which many of them attended together since kindergarten.

Then, the novelty wore off. I was lonely, at times depressed. I missed my mom and my other brother. I desperately missed my hometown friends. I didn’t feel particularly close to anyone in my new school, and I was hours away (and a long-distance phone call) from my childhood friends. 

Along with reading standard novels and short stories, my English literature teacher, Mr. Youngblood, assigned us to keep a personal journal. He told us we could write about anything, and it would remain confidential. 

Anything? Yes, anything. 

At first, I rebelled against this assignment. I didn’t want to open up. I didn’t feel comfortable exposing my feelings to an adult. After a couple of months of rather dull entries, my journal slowly became an outlet for my real feelings. I turned it in each Friday and Mr. Youngblood read it over the weekend. I looked forward to getting it back on Monday, excited to read the notes he wrote in the margins. He always offered considerate advice and posed thoughtful questions in return, which I would answer to shape my subsequent journal entries. 

Week by week, he helped me navigate my senior year and all the ordeals I was experiencing as a teenager. In this written exchange, he became a sounding board and a trusted counselor during an exciting, albeit lonesome, senior year. He helped me understand that my feelings were normal and discover ways to cope as I continued on my journey to adulthood. 

I can still picture his curly, yet tall and narrow handwriting, his notes back to me always signed, “Kindly, Mr. Y.”