As a child I would attach myself to any adult woman who would stay still long enough. Dog walkers, police officers, sales representatives, just about anyone. Our teacher that year, Mrs Reed, was no exception. She was young, with dark brown hair, and exuded a terrible smell I would, years later, recognise as coal-tar shampoo. I used to hold her hand whenever she would let me.
One time we found an old fox skull in the earth down the bottom of the playground. When she had her back turned someone put it on her desk, right on her notepad. She turned around and stopped, looking at the skull, and then up at us — with the look of someone who just realised they’re about to get mugged.
She started shouting for whoever it was to own up. No one said anything. Again. And again with a quiver in her voice, then tears in her eyes, and then her head in her hands. This would happen once every few weeks.
When Mrs Reed came back she spoke quietly. She pleaded with us to be quiet, behave better — she doesn’t enjoy shouting at us, she doesn’t want to do it. As young as we were, we knew something sad and terrible was happening to Mrs Reed.
When I was ten my friend touched me sexually for the first time. It was wrong of him, but it didn’t traumatise me. Down by the lake late at night, my two friends were…, and then one of them… and I stayed very still. Then I thought for a while, and something clicked.
A few weeks later I started telling my friends I was gay, but not to tell anyone else. One time my friend said to me ‘hey gay boy’, and Mrs. Reed overheard.
She took me aside and asked me, sternly, “How many people have you told?”
“Really?” She stared at me.
“Well I told a few people…”
“Oh, so you told a few people,” angrily.
She paced around a bit, and then she shouted at me. That’s not the sort of thing you tell people, Steven. I stayed quiet, and she said a few other things, and I stayed quiet, and she left. I felt horrible.
She kept the skull on her desk for the rest of the year, and maybe even longer. I’m not sure what she meant by that.