I was sick of the little red asterisk at the bottom of my page, discernible even from the farthest end of our Harkness table. Scrawled in bleeding marker lay the phrase I had become far too familiar with:
"This coordinating conjunction is not joining independent clauses: no comma here."
I listened for my classmates' footsteps to dissolve into the hallway. Finally, it was silent.
"Mr. Magee, I am at odds with the comma. Why another asterisk?"
"You have two dependent clauses, Charlotte. There's no need to separate them.
"I thought an essential use for the comma is to indicate a significant pause."
"You're right, but that was not a significant pause."
I could feel the passion brewing within me.
"It was to me! I wanted my reader to stop there; that moment meant something to me. Is that not the essence of artistic license?"
Remnants of this conversation lingered in my ear long after I had left the classroom. The storyteller's ability to capture a moment through grammar fascinated me. In recognizing the role of the comma, I suddenly felt apart of something bigger. Punctuation isn't something the reader is meant to notice. A writer's inflection can transform a sea of indistinguishable characters into spells of both pain and pleasure. The navigating hand of punctuation steers me to experience a moment just as it was intended to feel. Sometimes I see parentheses and hear the words whispering to me, as if disclosing information so tender that the fragmented brackets must cradle it. The semicolon winks as it connects two isolated phrases, two incomplete moments. These seemingly innocent dots and dashes had opened my eyes to the power of language.
On a storm-ridden afternoon, I rest my head in Stuart's hands. My usual nerve pain feels prickly as I fidget on the examination table. Stuart can sense my discomfort:
“What’s it feel like today? Pounding or dull?”
My mouth goes dry. His generalized symptoms resonate just as a foreign language does: these words do not belong to me.
“I could tell you in the form of a poem; the way I’ve been able to understand my pain. Central Nervous System is at a cocktail party, and is very nervous,” I say.
The arachnid gang waltzes in uninvited
But – by all means – make yourself at home.
I feel the mingling crowd grow rowdy, shimmying to the music as my wrists throb with numbness. That arrogant spider is fighting with his spouse again
(in my left brachial plexus)
His rude words send her in a tizzy and tensions run high, gnawing at each other until She storms away. Down my left shoulder.
He crawls after her lazily
under my shoulder blade.
lights grow dim, all guests file out
that medicine I took won’t kick out the arguing couple, but it’ll quiet them down
(for a moment)
They grab their coats, walk home in silence
I can tell tonight they’re sleeping in different beds because both hands throb with equally distributed soreness.
The female spider doesn’t get a wink of sleep.
I suppose she’ll be giving her husband a talking-to sometime soon
Because the right hand has begun to tingle
I can feel Stuart’s hands grow tender at my words, which convey what medical language could not. Punctuation was my imaginative agent, the tool that led me to discover a voice: one with artistic purpose, and a useful application. My ability to communicate creatively empowers me to find purpose in the classroom and newsroom alike. This gift of expression was not just a heightened awareness to composition but also a ‘significant pause’ within myself.
"Alright, you've got me," Mr. Magee said. He chuckled softly and threw his hands up, as if to surrender. “You win."
We exited the classroom together and parted ways. Then, from the end of the hallway, he chimed:
"Forget Editor-in-Chief. You should be a lawyer, Klein."