I was in the teachers' room. I was delivering a late paper to my English teacher. But the English teacher was not in the room. Instead there was the biology teacher. He was there alone. He was young and a graduate student at the University of Zimbabwe. Shawn, his name, had curly brown hair, light and dreamy brown eyes, moist red lips, and pale skin. He was thin and delicate. He was gay. My classmates laughed behind his back at every opportunity. I hid my admiration of him (his presentation of the body and its organs was intellectually stimulating) because I didn't want to be unpopular.
Shawn saw the late paper in my hand.
He had a cup of tea in his hand. I explained my reason for entering the teachers' room. He told me the English teacher was out on some errand. I turned to leave. But before exiting, the biology teacher told me something that would change the course of my life. He, a man I was not exactly warm to in class, softly explained that my English teacher had shared with him a short story I had written at the beginning of the term—the story concerned a family bakery in Greendale and was really an exercise in describing the smell of fresh bread. Shawn spent the next minute or two saying very nice and intelligent things about the composition of the story. It was the first compliment I had ever received for my writing. It was a compliment that changed everything for me. I owe who I am today to that moment alone. The moment my gay biology teacher praised something I wrote. Wisconsin, teachers are damn important.