didn’t know at the time
I finally looked up the whereabouts of my high school band teacher, Miss Jackson. After being transplanted from the streets of a West Coast city to a fundamentalist Christian household in Southern Missouri to “rescue” my soul, I managed to fake my transcripts and was allowed to take four music classes every day, three of which were with her.
I didn’t know it at the time, Miss Jackson was a classical butch woman, with very short hair, undecorative clothes, and independent, tough, dependable personality. Students adored her, especially the girls, because there weren’t any other adult women like her in the rural Missouri town.
My best friend at the time was girl named Helen, who was also taking all four music classes with me. We also went to the same Southern Baptist church, which met four times a week for different activities. I didn’t know at the time that we were practically dating, so we just styled each other’s hair and copied each other’s fashion. On one occasion, we even performed a duet during a Sunday morning service, a deeply romantic ballad about Jesus’ longing for a former believer who has strayed away from the faith.
Helen and I often went to Miss Jackson’s house after school. She lived with a big dog and a housemate, the skinny emo guy, who was probably a gay man when I think about it, but I didn’t know at the time and was puzzled what their relationship was. We watched women’s college basketball on tv (“Go Lady Bears!”) while eating Hamburger Helper, which she cooked like every day.
The year after I graduated, and a year before she was to receive tenure, the school fired Miss Jackson. After some hesitation, adults at the church told me that she was fired due to a “lifestyle problem,” but I didn’t know what it meant. I thought I knew Miss Jackson well, and could not think of any devastating personal secret that could be described as a “lifestyle problem.” Later when I realized what it meant, I felt guilty because I felt like our visiting her may have triggered the firing. But, as I found out recently, she is still teaching music to very lucky middle school students in a different State.
I didn’t know what a butch woman was or even what townfolks meant by a “lifestyle problem,” but she did save my life. And it’s not just because she fed me (and Helen) Hamburger Helpers when I was not eating breakfast or dinner at “home.”
— January 2013