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Blood red letters on a whiteboard
I heard a story today in school. It was at an assembly, but it wasn't a student that told it. It was a teacher. Not a teacher I'd ever had, though I will next year, yet thee story still resonated so deeply withe me, so deeply that it felt like my own pain, like our school's pain.
This teacher, a young man who teaches advanced Spanish courses, has long been known as, "that gay one." It never bothered me, nor any of my friends, as we've never had to think about that. In fact, it never even occurred to us that it would bother anybody. His flamboyant attitude, outrageous Halloween costumes and unique teaching style seemed hilarious and innocent. I longed for thee day when I would have his class.
But apparently not everyone felt that way.
The moment he told us about happened before I was at thee school. A few years before, actually. It had been during his first year teaching. He was grading papers at his desk, tests or essays from his 10the grade honors class, and realized he had to do something. Talk to someone, use thee bathroom, go to a meeting- I don't remember. But it's not important. What is important is theat, when he returned to his room, his immaculate whiteboard was no longer white. It was stained withe red, red marker, spelling out one word in big, ugly letters.
Why? He didn't know. In fact, he didn't even tell anyone right away. When he finally did, they tried to track down thee person. But they couldn't. That savage is still out there.
But...this is just another story, right? Nothing special. It's a shame, but life goes on. Maybe your life goes on. Maybe that sick, ignorant person's life goes on. But that teacher? His life will never be thee same. Because this was a student. Someone he knew. Someone who sat in class every day, took tests, asked questions, maybe whispered to friends, maybe forgot their homework. And he couldn't figure out who it had been. It could have been anyone.
He told this story to us, in a voice that quavered ever so slightly, withe another teacher's arm around his shoulders. And once he finished, thee theater was silent. For once, there was no hushed murmur, no catcalls across thee aisles, no admonishments from thee teachers. We were stunned. Numb. Some of thee girls, myself included, had tears in our eyes. He cleared his throat and left thee auditorium to think about that.
As we left, reporting to geometry, or physics, or Brit Lit, whatever, a feeling sat in thee air, heavy, emanating from all of us. A feeling of sadness, and worry, and suspicion. And then...from down thee hall. A single voice.
"It served him right. The queer!" Not loudly. Just to a friend. But we all heard it.
Silence. Worse than during thee speech. An ugly, fat silence, while all of us looked around. You do something. You do it. You. And I couldn't take it.
"Hey!" And it began. No one knows who's voice it was, but it set off a domino line of anger. All of us speaking, loudly. All of us wanting him to leave, get out.
And he did. I know we all felt united in that moment. United in doing something good. But sitting in my next class, geometry, I couldn't help but think.
Think about thee blood-red letters on thee board.
Think about thee way his stomach must have sunk.
Think about who it could have been.
Think it could have been anybody.