Growing Up (May 2005)

I wrote you a note every day in seventh grade. I kept some of them, but I threw most of them away because I didn’t think you’d be interested in hearing about how Mr. Reeve had made fun of my t-shirt with Jesus on the front and Mr. Witkov said I was one of the best creative writers in the class and Mr. Schwerak said that I was doing a lot better in Life Science. I saved the best ones for Monday or Tuesday, because there was no one at the church and I could drop them in your choir folder before practice on Wednesday.

I loved Wednesdays. Even though I knew I wouldn’t see you until 6:15, when handbells started, I usually arrived around 5:00. I would walk from my house to the church and go down the outside steps to the basement so I could get a Coke before I went up to the empty sanctuary. I claimed that I was doing my homework, but sometimes I was talking to God. Sometimes I was practicing my trumpet. I was never really doing homework. I was too excited to concentrate because I knew I would see you soon.

You usually got to the church about 15 minutes before handbells was supposed to start, and that was my favorite part of my entire week, because you would sit next to me on the floor and you’d ask me about my day and I would ask you about yours. You gave the BEST hugs because you were big and I was little and you could wrap yourself around me so that I couldn’t see anything but your hair and I’d breathe in your perfume because you smelled so good. Sometimes, you’d give me the note you’d written to me while you were at your school, but since you only had to teach the classes you liked I wondered how you had time to write to me, because I always had Algebra.

I loved that you’d laugh and joke with me during rehearsal, and I thought it was so sweet when you’d put your elbow on my shoulder and lean your head onto your hand. I felt so important because you had the best voice in the choir and you were leaning on MY shoulder. When practice ended, I would walk you out to your car just so that I could hug you again, and as I walked home, I was jealous that I wasn’t old enough to drink margaritas at the Pecos Grill.

Remember when a big group of us from church came to see you in Carousel? I never told you that I slept through most of the second half because we were so high up. Luckily, I got to see it again and I was on the 4th row. I was so close that I could tell who you were even through your costume. I couldn’t believe I knew a REAL opera singer.

I sweated over what to get you for your birthday, because I wanted it to be really cool. I always thought it would be neat to get flowers in class, so I had my mom call the florist. When my mom asked me what I wanted to order, I knew exactly:

Leslie: I want one rosebud.

Mom: One rosebud? That’s it? Why don’t you give her some carnations or something to make her room look pretty?

Leslie: No, Mom. One rosebud. She’ll love it. I have this joke that I’m going to do that will make it all make sense.

Mom: What’s your joke?

Leslie: I’m going to sign the card, “for all you do, this bud’s for you.”

Mom: You watch too much television. At least get her a balloon or something.

Just to make sure that you knew I remembered your birthday, I called 104.1 KRBE because they always announced birthdays on their morning show. I’m sorry I forgot to ask if you listened to 104.1- but it’s the thought that counts, right?

I watched you sign your name once, and in seventh and eighth grade I would practice your signature in my notebooks. I had a very good reason for this. I thought that one day you were going to be famous and you would need me to help sign your CDs because you couldn’t possibly sign all twelve million by yourself. I got really, really good at it. So good at it, in fact, that one time I got back a math test that wasn’t very good and my teacher told me that I had to get it signed by a parent or guardian. It was then that I realized that being able to sign your name might come in handy for other reasons, too.

My birthday was great that year because you gave me a book of poetry that you had written. I loved its pages and pages of handwriting that bent the wrong way and I read it all, even though I didn’t really understand it. I wanted you to think I did, though. I started my own poetry journal, and I was embarrassed when I let you read it because it didn’t occur to me until after I’d handed it over that most of them were about you. My ears turned pink and I thought I was going to cry. I think you noticed because it didn’t take you long to hand it back.

When I was in eighth grade, somebody at church asked me if you were gay and I was embarrassed when I found out what it meant because I thought that if they thought you were gay, they might think I was gay, too. But it didn’t take me very long to decide that I loved you and if being near you made people think I was gay, it was all right with me. But I asked you if you were gay, just to be on the safe side. You told me that people say all sorts of things, but that didn’t mean they were all true… and in fact, someday people might say things about me, too. You made me laugh so hard when you said, “Leslie, you don’t get to be gay by hanging out with gay people any more than you can get Indian by hanging out with Indians.” I wasn’t sure that I knew any gay people, but I knew enough Indians to know that you were right.

After that, my mom told me that she didn’t think it was right for an adult to be friends with a kid. I bit my fingernails and waited in the parking lot while she talked to you after church, because I knew that she was telling you that she didn’t want you to talk to me anymore. I had to start going to and from choir practice with my mom so that there weren’t very many more of those talks before handbells. I got sneaky about when and where I would write notes for you and how you got them, and I was really happy when you got sneaky, too.

I was proud of you when you got into graduate school, but I was so sad when I learned that you were going to move. When I went to your goodbye concert, I thought I would never see you again and I cried big, alligator tears. In fact, I cried so hard that I couldn’t see and I was embarrassed and even though my mom told me I would regret it if I didn’t go, I wished I hadn’t come.

The choir helped you pack up your boxes and load them onto the truck, and I was so excited because it was the first time I got to go to your house… but my mom and dad were running late so we got there when the house was empty and you were getting ready to leave. We stood in a circle and prayed for your safety, and then you gave me one last hug before you got into the big truck. As I watched you drive away, I wondered if I’d given you my address so that you could give me yours when you got there, because maybe I could still write to you in math.

I didn’t want to start high school without you.

The summer before ninth grade was spent waiting for the mail. I had auditioned for High School for Performing and Visual Arts, so between waiting for the results and waiting for your letters so my mom wouldn’t see them, my schedule was pretty full. My boyfriend convinced me that I could leave the mail slot long enough to spend the weekend with him and his family in Galveston. That Saturday night, I lay next to him in a beach chair, and we shared our deepest secrets. I told him that I thought I was in love with you, but it didn’t really matter because you were probably too old for me and you didn’t live in Houston, anyway.

A few weeks later, my mom and dad took my sister and me on vacation close to where you lived. I didn’t know if I’d be able to see you, but we could at least talk to each other for free. I told you that I was gay. You told me that you were gay, but not in the way I expected. You told me that your “roommate” was actually your lover. My stomach dropped to the concrete. I was mad and again, embarrassed- partly because you had kept such a big secret from me, partly because IF you were going to have a girlfriend, I was the ONLY acceptable one, and partly because deep in my heart I knew that a teacher would never marry a ninth grader.


Your stationary feels heavy in my hand, and I’m glad there are several pages to flip through. I wish you were next to me while I read your letters, because your handwriting is so unique that even after years of reading it, there are words I can’t figure out. I laugh to myself, glad that one of my strong points is context clues.

I’m glad grad school is going well. It’s fun to think of you as a student again, and kind of cool that one of the requirements of being a student is teaching younger singers. Do you have any good ones this term? Better yet, any REALLY bad ones?

HSPVA is tough shit. I’m on academic probation again because I’m in three performing groups and rarely have time to do homework… and when I do, it’s usually half-ass because I have four subjects all piling it on at once. I wish there were more hours in a day. I’ll probably be able to get back on track with English, Physical Science, and American History, but Algebra I is a wash. I’ll be lucky to get a 50 for the semester, never mind the six weeks. I think I’ll just drop it and take it again next year. My teacher is way over my head- she teaches at Rice for half a day, so I don’t think she has much experience with the mathematically illiterate. Well, maybe illiterate isn’t the right word… mathematically terrified is more like it.

Funny story- I had a HUGE trumpet solo in my last concert, and during the performance I came in a measure early. The ENTIRE band skipped that measure with me so that it wouldn’t look like I messed up. No harm was done, but Katrina looked at me like, “COUNT, YOU ASSHOLE!” Mr. Carter told the low brass that when he realized what was happening, he wanted to take them all out for a beer.

Church is so different without you.

We have a new scholarship singer, Stephanie. I wish the committee hadn’t chosen a soprano, because even though she’s good, her voice is so different from yours that it makes me a little teary-eyed, kind of like, “you’re replacing HER with THAT?” But the good part is that since Stephanie sits next to me, we’ve kind of gotten control of our sectional sound. Much less old lady vibrato. It’s not the same, but I suppose over time it’ll be tolerable.

I told my friend Amy that I’m gay today. I didn’t know she was Southern Baptist, and she dragged me into a practice room and started screaming at me. Then she ran to the bathroom. Her friend Laura told me that she was throwing up. I don’t know if I believe her or not. If I called Laura a bitch, I’m pretty sure it would insult bitches everywhere. How do you deal with all this shit? I’m so confused. I know I was wrong because I only told her that because I like her. I didn’t expect her to come down on my head over it.

The worst part is that after I told Amy, she told everyone else. I was sitting outside with my friends when Amy and her group of airheads walked up to me with their Bibles and started reading me all this crazy shit. I ran to my counselor about it, but she didn’t do a fuckin’ thing. She just asked me what I did to provoke it.


I sat next to Scott Chalupa on the bus ride up, my palms sweating with nervousness. It had been two years since we’d seen each other, and a person can change a lot in two years.

I didn’t recognize you at first, with your super long permed hair and painted nails. And not that I would ever hold it against someone for losing weight, but you hug different and I’m not sure I like it… as if these things are up to me, right?

Thanks for the compliment on the performance. I was a little nervous about the triple-tonguing section, but I think I got it out ok. At least I didn’t have to play really high and triple-tongue at the same time. It’s murder on my chops. Dude, a LOT of things have been murder on my chops lately… I was put dead last in chair tests this week. I must not be practicing enough, but it’s such a vicious cycle. If I play more, it really hurts- but the only way to get it to stop hurting is to play through the pain. Theresa, my trumpet teacher, says it’s an embouchure problem that will take weeks to correct. What a thing to say to a musician three weeks before a jury! Dan told me the same thing in eighth grade, but I didn’t listen to him then, either… it was three weeks before my ‘PVA audition. If only the world would stop spinning long enough so I could fix this thing.

Oh, and what’s up with calling jazz masturbatory? The only time I really feel lost in the music is when I get to write my own… and that’s all a solo is- taking the music in my mind and putting it out there. Maybe if I was a better player, I’d agree with you… but most of my solos sound like muddy water. That could be my jazz name. Muddy Water Lanagan. It has a ring to it.

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