Trifecta 84 – A Life in Letters


Mr Brownside was a lover. His passion was almost insatiable as Mrs Brownside would readily confirm. Night after night he would satisfy his lust with one classic or another. The wonder and beauty of the English language was the only mistress he required. Mrs Brownside had become used to being the other woman in his life.

The teenagers of Gainsfield High rarely shared Mr Brownside’s thirst for their mother tongue. As hard as he tried to relay the wonders of Shakespeare, Bronte and Wells the vacant looks from the assembled gum chewers told him he was onto a loser. Most who left his care at the end of the school year would sadly do so with a crude notion of how to use their own language. All except one. One face looked back with interest.

Cam Saunders seemed half the age of his classmates. However, from reading his first assignment Mr Brownside knew he had stumbled upon something special. Someone special. With his teacher’s encouragement Cam quickly became Mr Brownside’s star pupil. Local and national writing competitions were entered and won. Even outside of the school people were getting to know the name of Cam Saunders.

Why then? Why can children be so cruel? Why is it a crime to some young, twisted minds to want to be different? Why is it wrong to want to make the most of your talents? Why?

Mr Brownside had tortured himself with these questions in the years since. The heartbreaking note Cam left behind forever haunts him. Tears still fall when Cam’s desperate but beautiful final words drift through his mind. He would never truly get over it.

Each autumn the falling leaves bring with them a new class. Sometimes he thinks he sees Cam walking through his door again. He knows that won’t happen. However, one day there will be another who wants to learn. Another someone special. There has to be. Mr Brownside will never give up hope. Never give up on his children.

These 333 words are my entry into the Trifecta Week 84 writing challenge. If you want further information on school bullying and youth suicide then you could do worse than to take a look at this


34 thoughts on “Trifecta 84 – A Life in Letters

  1. misskzebra

    This piece is really touching and thought-provoking. It’s so sad that this is something that happens everyday. It’s frustrating that some people don’t have the empathy or simply don’t want to understand how much others are hurting because of their actions.

    1. paulmclem Post author

      Thanks missk. Enjoying the Trifecta challenges at the moment. Really pleased that people are getting pleasure from my work. Long may it continue! Thanks again for reading and commenting.

    1. paulmclem Post author

      My mother was a teacher so I have always been full of admiration for the job they do. It is a much under-cherished profession in my eyes. Glad you liked my story.

  2. Jo-Anne Teal (@jtvancouver)

    The news stories of teenage suicide are frequent and all so sad. There always seem to be a thread too of the child feeling different and in their eyes or, as is usually the case, in the eyes of their peers, different = wrong.

    I would suggest most of us who make it to adulthood look back on that time in school with the wish that we had been brave enough to be ourselves: to be interested in the things we really were interested, to read the books we wanted to read, to say the thoughts we were really thinking.

    A thoughtful story, Paul. One that rings so true.

  3. Tom MacInnes (@cobourgcobbie)

    One of the roles of a good writer is to illuminate the underbelly of life, where bad things happen in dark places. You have done that very well with this story. Your respect for the victim is admirable. Bullying, and the effects of peer pressure, is a highly-complex, multi-faceted problem in schools. There are no easy answers to the questions raised in this story. But, having said that, it is vitally important to keep the conversation going. You have done that in spades, sir! On behalf of the students who attend my school, I thank you for creating such important work.

  4. jannatwrites

    I usually hear people talk about the teachers that impacted their lives the most…it’s less common to hear of students who impact the teacher. It’s sad that this bright student’s life was cut short.

  5. Kwadwo

    Mr. Brownside sounds like a hero. I wish all teachers were like him – passionate about his work and never giving up hope on his students, no matter how unresponsive they are to his lessons.

  6. jwilliams057

    This is so sad, but also tells the story of a teacher who loves the learning and wants to pass that on to others. Great job.

  7. stankmeaner

    My English teachers were consistently my favorites throughout school, not only because it was the only subject I paid attention to, but because they were more free to push kids to follow their own path and write with their own voice. This was a heartbreaking tale.

    1. paulmclem Post author

      Pleasing that my story seems to have resonated with a few people. It’s good at times when a story makes you think about a time in your own life. Thanks for commenting!

  8. humanTriumphant

    ouch, my heart hurts – for Cam (and those like him) & for Mr. Brownside (who was blind-sided by the strange response of teenage-dom, where silly notions become of too great an import) 😦 very well portrayed

  9. Draug419

    ah man, that’s a punch in the heart )’: The line about hoping to see him walk in again…gah. Feels.

  10. kallanannie

    I wish we could say “only in fiction,” but what makes your story so compelling and sad is the mirror it holds up to reality. So many desperately sad teenagers out there, and way too few supports for them and their families.

  11. BCIJo (aka Joanne Edith)

    Intense, sad, beautifully wistful and thought provoking. It’s even more impactful, having been written through the eyes of the teacher. ‘Different’ is often difficult, especially for a young, emerging person.

  12. kdillmanjones

    I’m glad you wrote this. We need more stories like this to begin a larger conversation about the issue.


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