Who Made You?

I don’t mean in the biological sense. I mean, who are the people in your life that have shaped you, for better or for worse?

I just got finished reading a few archives, trolling for ideas (mostly), and I came across a line that I wrote in High School Stories We Still Tell. It was about how my senior English teacher, Dr. Hudel Steed, made me into a writer. That led down the mind worm of who else holds that title.

  • Ms. Protheroe
    • One of my language arts teachers at Clifton. I was a little bit in love with her, but only because I wanted to look like her. My favorite memory is walking into her class for the first time and seeing her little glasses, preppy clothes, and short hair. My mentor looked a lot like her, style-wise. I never told her, but I thought of her as “home away from home.” I am sure that whether or not she was actually a lesbian is negligible. Even if she was actually straight as an arrow, it didn’t matter to me. She just looked the part, and it was comforting in a world where I had trouble seeing what I thought of as myself.
  • Mr. Garvin
    • We never said a word about it, but we knew. He opened my mind to Will Durant and the great philosophers contained in his wonderful work. I read Kant and Nietzsche, James and Skinner. We watched My Dinner with Andre, which is really all I need to say about that because if you’re familiar with the movie, you know it probably bombed the hell out of my brain and turned it inside out and upside down. My Dinner with Andre is the first movie in which I knew the effects of hallucinogens, because even if those guys were completely sober, they so were not. The entire conversation sounds like a mandala made of mushrooms, seeds, and stems. Louis Malle is the movies’ best Mad Hatter. My Dinner with Andre is so frenetically weird that it is as if they are traveling in a TARDIS no one else can see.
  • Mrs. Forrest
    • She was my fourth grade teacher, and I was in love with her a little bit. Yes, Gaby. Emma, Topper, Jimmy, Paul, Daniel, Doug, Shane, Derrick, et al. I was gay even back then and you were right and I was wrong. Here’s the five dollars I know you bet as to the exact date and time at which I would say so.
  • Ms. Meracle
    • Seriously the meanest dyke I have ever met in my life, and I would say this regardless of whether she’s actually a lesbian, because honestly, I don’t know or care. The only inkling I have to go on is that she seemed mad at me all the time, and at one point, I just flat out wondered if she was jealous. Here I was, this outrageously out lesbian in Sugar Land, Texas, where she herself would have been fired for saying the same thing. If she’s straight and I’m wrong, I sincerely apologize. It’s not like I’m old enough that saying this online won’t get to her somehow, and I am not cruel enough to judge anyone. I can only tell you how I felt. How she feels has never been up to me. I couldn’t empathize with her, though, because her anger was too pointed. When I was in marching band practice one day, she was trying to get me to inhale all the way down to my diaphragm… so she started pushing the end of a baseball bat into my abdomen so I’d have some resistance to push against. That was fine in and of itself, but I felt she was mad… and you don’t let momma brush your hair when she’s mad.
  • Doc Morgan
    • Doc Morgan is the only instructor I had in the entirety of my grade school education who gave me the gift of feeling humbled in his presence. Doc Morgan didn’t give me an education, he gave me the world on a silver platter and an engraved invitation to carry it. He believed in all of my talent and my potential even when I myself could not bear the thought of my own performance ability. To know the depth and breadth of my love for Doc, you have to know that he taught students like Everett Harp, Jason Moran, Eric Harland, Brandon Lee… he has taught the greatest jazz minds of our generation, and he also taught me. It was amazing to me that his pedagogy was so fine, he knew how to reach the brilliant and the barely-hanging-on. When I was in ninth grade, he picked me to have a solo tune in our first concert. It wasn’t high or difficult, just these lazy B’s slinking across chords… maybe you know it? It was called “Come Rain or Come Shine.” Doc Morgan gave me a gift in that solo. He taught me what I could look for in my playing that was admirable. What I found was that I wasn’t very mathematically quick, so the calculations of what notes would fit in the given key- the foundation of soloing- was often beyond me. What I did have, though, was the lazy, rich, fat sound of one of those old guys who can hold you in the palm of his hand because the notes coming toward you are so thick, you could use ’em to sop up gravy. In a lot of ways, High School for Performing and Visual Arts was damaging for me, because my life was slowly coming apart at the seams due to the reception of the news that I liked girls. The woman I loved had just moved away, and I was dying inside trying to deal with my grief. My grades were so bad that I was on academic probation nearly the entire time I was there. And then there was Doc… the brightest light I’ve ever seen before or since. It is fitting that he wears his hair curly and wild, a bit like Einstein, because when the light shines on his curls just right, the halo appears.

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