But what I surfaced to write about was something that happened at work yesterday. It was the end of a rush at the book fair, and I'd just shepherded a cluster of parents and kids out the door, when I looked up and saw a young woman standing amid all the picture books. I didn't recognize her, so I figured she was a new preschool parent. (They look really young to me these days, some of those preschool parents.)
"You probably don't remember me," she said. "I'm Z."
I blinked and saw the face that went with that name suddenly superimposed on this grownup person in front of me. Z had been one of my students, in elementary school when I started this job eight years ago. She'd been sporty and straightforward and cheerful when I knew her, a great kid, if not one I felt particularly close to. Later, in middle school, she'd seemed withdrawn and miserable, and I'd heard she was having a hard time. Then she'd graduated and gone off, and I'd honestly forgotten all about her.
She told me about some of that hard time, which had continued and which she's now pulling out of. "But what I wanted to say was...um, this is kind of hard..." I waited, wondering if some confrontation was coming: had I been harsh to her in a way I'd forgotten, but that she was still upset about? She took a breath and went on "...well, I'm gay, and I just wanted to tell you that I always felt like the library was a safe place for me. So, well, thank you."
We talked a little more. Some of what she's been through blew me away, as did her directness and clarity. She must be about sixteen or seventeen, maybe, but she seemed like an adult. We talked a little more, about books and other things, and I gave her my card, with my home email written on the back, and she said she had to go.
I've never had anything like that happen before. I've been there long enough to see kids come back and visit, but mostly they just say hi and share a few pleasantries. In middle school they tend to drift away from the library--I think they see it as a place from their childhood--so usually by the time they graduate from 8th grade I don't feel like I know them very well, even if I used to.
And it's funny-- I don't think of myself as being particularly out at work, at least not among the kids. I'm kind of a vague, background figure in their school lives, compared with their classroom teachers, so they don't generally clamor for details about my life. It's not a particularly liberal/alternative/groovy school, and I don't set out to deliberately confront whatever version of "normal" their parents have set out. I don't hide my life either, though, and try to give honest answers when questions do come my way.
Anyway, it was a nice thing. The kind of compliment that doesn't happen that often in a teaching life, at least not in mine. I'm glad Z's doing okay now, and glad that my not-being-not-out has helped someone besides me.