Monday, February 28, 2011

What sort of title goes with lesbian teachers and big abstract flowers?

When I was in 7th grade there was an art class that everyone had to take. The class was taught by a female teacher who was heavily rumored to be a lesbian. At the time, I'm not even sure I was entirely aware of what a lesbian was, but I knew it was different and I knew Ms. R was a little less feminine than my other teachers.

I sat with a group of girls in one corner of the room and we gossiped and giggled a lot as we worked on our projects. Ms. R wasn't overly fond of us. I'm sure she thought we were frivolous and silly and Ms. R had no use for frivolous and silly. She would often be stern with us and tell us to quiet down or knock it off or focus.

She probably didn't know it, but she was making an impact on me. She taught us about Georgia O'Keefe and let us use oil paints to create our own bold, colorful flower paintings to mimic Georgia's style. She showed us paintings by Edgar Degas and I fell in love with the dancers and the horses, begging my parents to buy me a set of prints so I could hang them on the walls of my bedroom.

For a short period of time, I thought I would follow in Georgia O'Keefe's footsteps and paint. My mother even bought me a set of acrylic paints and some little canvas boards and brushes. I filled them all with abstract, colorful, Hibiscus flowers and my dad kept one of them in his bureau declaring it brilliant. (Notice it wasn't hung on the wall, though!)

Anyway, I would have never admitted to my girly-girl, giggling friends in Ms. R's class that I looked forward to the class every day. I liked the gossiping and the silliness, too.

And one day, I can't remember how the conversation started, but we all started talking about what we believed would happen after we died. Most of the girls had pretty firm ideas, probably handed down to them from parents or church or whatever. They knew there was a heaven and they knew what it took to get in. I didn't really have any solid ideas but one thought just came out of my mouth.

"Maybe if you're a really good person and you live your life like you believe is right, you get to go to whatever you believe heaven is and it's different for everyone."

Ms. R heard me. I didn't know she had been listening or that she ever listened to the silliness that we spouted off about in her class. (Goodness, what else must she have heard over the course of that 7th grade year??)

"That is probably the smartest thing I've ever heard come out of your mouth, Beth."

I was floored. I was thrilled that it seemed like Ms. R maybe didn't think I was just one of those silly, frivolous girls and at the same time I was horrified that my silly, frivolous girl friends might think I was not like them.

But mostly I was thrilled.

Later, when I became more heavily involved in horseback riding, I would see Ms. R at certain events with her horses and her girlfriend. She looked different outside of school, happy and relaxed. She always smiled and winked at me and a couple of times complimented me on the horse I was riding or how well I had done in a class.

And I would always be thrilled.

I still love Georgia O'Keefe and Degas and maybe some day I'll even paint some horrible flowers again. Maybe they'll even make it to a wall... somewhere hidden... perhaps a closet.