what i learned in school today…

23 Feb

(artwork by laurie cooper)

after school today, a ninth grader i had never met came to me to talk. at the moment he introduced himself to me i had not anticipated that he would begin narrating the last 5 years of his life.  but he ended up telling me about his first girlfriend – a relationship that ended when she died two years ago while he was in the 7th grade.  (imagine.)  and then he told me about his first boyfriend – a relationship that ended abruptly last night and “not on good terms,” as he explained it.  and with all of that, he also described to me his experiences relating to others, or others’ experiences (not) relating to him.

he was surprisingly calm, and maybe it was only because he already exploded earlier that day in his last class (hence his impromptu visit to my office – his way of checking himself).  but given our conversation, i would argue he was sort of at peace with who he was.  he looked at me and said, “i know who i am, and i’ve known for a while.” he said that he had often let others constrain him – “write me, or write me off” he said.  but today, he was confident, unwavering, and not in the defensive and contrived way.  but in the ‘i just had an emotional breakdown, and i’m still struggling but i got this’ sort of way.  and i also learned that this was one of the first moments he had openly declared himself to someone other than his last romantic partner.  and he was just getting started.  i was like practice for his grandmother, who he told me he planned to go to next.  he was on a mission – an important one. he was doing that “identity thing” the courageous among us do.

i can remember being where he is. identifying who i was and who i wanted to be, and recognizing the resistance.  i suppose it took me much longer to get here – where the opposition can’t stand against my fire, like it won’t be able to take his.  and to be sure, i am still doing some of the work he apparently has already done.   it has taken me this long to vomit up all of the poison i ingested over the years – everyone else’s bile (it is as nasty as it sounds).  to tear away all of their names and designations for me, and of course to acknowledge my own weaknesses – enhanced by peer pressure and the desire to want to be included (and thus like them).  i can remember all of that, and i am proud of this student for where he is, so early – and for just being there. for some of us, this is a feat.  the world is so polluted with the word “normal,” and so caught up with preserving the scarcity of who can wear its crown or sit beside its throne, we hoard it.  and alienate people.  and if we’re not excluding others with short-sighted labels, or racism, or with our reclusive pockets of luxuries, or any xenophobia, we’re driving ourselves to hell trying to be a part of the circle.  or maybe this was never you or isn’t you, and i’m just projecting an old self.

you all can say whatever about this child.  mention his age, his presumed unawareness, or incapability to know himself so early in his life.  but i am encouraged by him.  by the firmness with which he declared himself to me, and named himself.  and with titles that didn’t sound like “Gay,” or “Bisexual,” or “Black.”  he gave me descriptions that transcended what people gave him, and what most people wanted to afford him. and though he certainly used “bisexual” and “black” at one point, he also gave me “complicated.”  and “special.”  and “not you.”  and “who i am supposed to be, where i am supposed to be.”  and “unfinished.”  in his own words, with his own definitions.  without any apology. i can’t fit him neatly into some label, and no single word can stretch enough to touch him completely on its own.  but i’m not frustrated by being unable to organize him in my head.  i am inspired.  he is already where i have just arrived.

he is yet another reminder to me that i have to answer to God only. that everyone else – while i ever so deeply desire (in the most dramatic and unnecessary way) for you to like me, or appreciate me – all of you just don’t matter.  certainly not enough to risk living a silenced existence.  open-mindedness and consideration are only constructive so much as it makes people better – some people have been not so good for me. i have enough of my own stuff to work on, and i am finally exhausted with worrying over their problems – carrying their stuff, wearing their issues.  those are the heaviest clothes, and anyway – i am beautiful naked. if you can’t stand it, don’t look.

that’s what i learned in school today.

(see also: https://pdotberry.wordpress.com/2010/05/17/what-i-learned-in-school-today-no-2/)

5 Responses to “what i learned in school today…”

  1. BP February 25, 2010 at 5:58 pm #

    “in his own words, with his own definitions. without any apology.”

    an old friend of mine was killed in december. i attended his memorial last night. as i read this piece, the young 9th grader you described reminded me of Don. its crazy..i, too was inspired by the kind of black male who does not confirm to sexual norms. he was unapologetic about who he was, who he liked, who he didnt like. the kind of confidence that i used to pray to have.. until i realized that i had a little of don in me to. i was just scared to be “naked.” until i learned that being me is so much better than trying to be someone i am not.
    I am beautifully naked, too. that nakedness, vulnerability, openness, is a powerful thing!! being me, being you is all about being naked!!

    thanks for your courage, patrice!! I am so proud ofyou, dear!!

  2. miriam okine March 18, 2010 at 4:08 pm #

    i love you, girl! this just IS.

  3. patrice berry February 1, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    Reblogged this on Revolutionary Petunia.


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    […] https://pdotberry.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/what-i-learned-in-school-today/ […]

  2. what i learned in school today, no. 2 « Revolutionary Petunia - June 25, 2010

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