Lessons Learned
Outside of School

Chapter 6

I stewed about my problem of being a gay teacher over the weekend and into the next week. By Thursday, I finally made a decision and placed a call to make an appointment for after school on Friday.

During the day on Friday, I was, as my sainted mother would have said, ‘nervous as a cat’. I was irritable and I scolded children when I really knew better. They looked at me as though I was possessed.

Just before afternoon dismissal, I said to them, “I’m sorry about my grumpiness today. It wasn’t your fault. I’m just very nervous about something I have to do after school. I’m sure I’ll be back to normal by Monday.”

As was our custom, they stood in line and shook my hand before leaving through the door. Kirk stopped in front of me, took my hand, and said, “It’s okay, Mr. Travis. Whatever it is that’s upsetting you, I hope it works out well.” Without waiting for an answer, he walked out of the room. Out of the mouths of babes, I thought.

While I was driving to my four o’clock appointment, my phone rang. Since I could work my phone without using my hands, I answered and heard Jamal ask, “Tonight?”

“I’m not sure I’ll be in any condition to be good company tonight,” I answered. “Can I call you around five?”

He assured me I could and asked me if I was okay. I said I’d let him know.

Leaving my car in the parking lot, I walked into the old brick school administration building and told the receptionist I had a meeting scheduled with the superintendent of schools. She made a call and told me he’d be right out.

I’d had a knot in my stomach which I’d been carrying ever since I’d decided to talk to the superintendent. As I waited, I could feel the knot tighten and grow.

When the superintendent emerged from his office, he walked towards me, his hand extended.

Shaking my hand, he said, “Ben, how good to see you.”

I thanked him and we went into his office. After sitting and exchanging pleasantries, he asked, “How can I help you?”

“Well, sir,” I began, “I have something to tell you that may or may not affect whether I’m able to continue here.” By then the knot was so huge I was afraid I’d vomit.

He looked surprised for a moment before recovering, saying, “Okay, what’s going on?”

“To put it succinctly, I’m gay.”

“Is there a problem with that?”

“I don’t know. I‘ve never come out to anybody until the last few weeks. I’m now out to a gay man who lives alone with his son, a former student of mine. The son knows as well, but I’ve asked them both not to say anything to anyone until I had a chance to talk with you.”

“Why would this be a problem?” he asked.

“Well, I’m not sure how parents will react when they hear their child is being taught by a gay man.”

He nodded. “I’m sorry but I guess I have to ask you this. Have you ever targeted a student or touched a student inappropriately?”


“Are you interested sexually in the boys you teach?”

“No sir.”

“Then I don’t see that we have a problem. We teach our students right from the beginning to be understanding and tolerant. I know the message doesn’t get through to all of them, but I think we’re pretty successful. If we want the students to be accepting, we should also expect the parents to be. If they have a problem with it, they can come to me, but I have no problem with it and I would hate to lose an excellent teacher over this. This is, after all, the twenty-first century, and people need to act like it.”

As he spoke, the knot in my stomach slowly loosened before disappearing altogether. There were a few tears in my eyes when I replied, “Thank you so much.”

“The only thing I’d ask you to do is pass the word to your principal, so she isn’t blindsided by someone.”

I agreed to do that, rose, shook his hand, and floated out of his office.

Back in my car, I called Jamal and asked, “Is the invitation still good?”

“Of course,” he said. “Do you have something to tell us when you get here?”

“Yup,” I replied. “I’ll bring a bottle this time.”

As I pulled up in front of the Midanis’ house, I could feel my heart beating faster and for some reason, I shivered.

Once again, Akram met me at the front door. We walked into the living room where Jamal was seated on the couch, two empty glasses before him. I handed him the bottle, which he took into the kitchen to open. Returning, he poured some wine into both glasses. Gratefully, I took a swallow before either of us said anything.

“Well,” Jamal asked, “what’s the news?”

I took a deep breath, but before I could say anything, Jamal asked, “Is it okay for Akram to hear it?”

“Yes,” I replied. Then I went on to tell them about how I’d worried for a week that if I came out, I might not have a job, a job that I loved. I told them about my visit with the superintendent and how that went.

Jamal smiled, reached over, and hugged me tightly before giving me a kiss.

Akram asked, “Is it okay for me to tell Kirk now?”

“Yes,” I said, “but only if he promises not to tell anyone else except his moms. I do still want to keep my private life private.”

“Okay,” he said, and quickly left the room.

“Where’s he going?” I asked Jamal.

“To call Kirk of course,” Jamal said, smiling. “After all, this is really pretty big news.”

“But I still have a problem,” I answered.

“What would that be?”

“Jamal, please don’t take this wrong. I really like you and I hope we can be friends for a long time, but I don’t know if I love you or not. I don’t really know what love feels like because I’ve never thought about it or felt it before. I don’t know if I love you or just like you.

“You told me that you loved me. Can you explain how you know?”

He thought a minute before answering. “Ben, I’ve thought I was in love a couple of times before. And then the feeling always vanished. But what’s different this time is the physical sensations I have. When I know you’re coming here, I get excited, I feel my heart pumping. While you’re here, I feel so close to you. Sometimes I know what you’re going to say before you speak. Sometimes when I see you, I break out in a cold sweat. And then, when you leave, I feel like a part of me is leaving. I want to hold on to you, to keep you with me. Then I have trouble sleeping. I can honestly say I’ve never felt like this before.”

I nodded but said nothing. Did I have these feelings, I wondered? I recalled the excitement I’d felt when I drove up to the house. I remembered the shivers I had walking up to the front door. I recalled having difficulty sleeping. Was that what love felt like? Then maybe, just maybe, I was falling in love.

I told Jamal about my recent feelings but that I needed more time before I’d truly know.

“That’s fine,” he said. “I don’t want to rush you, and I’m glad you’re taking your time because it’s an important decision.”

Akram came bounding down the stairs at that point. He burst into the living room and said, “Kirk says to tell you he’s very happy for you. He also says he wants to talk with you because he has some questions about how to deal with being gay.”

“That’s fine,” I replied. “I’ll be happy to talk with him, although I’m not sure I can tell him anything his moms can’t.”

“Now,” Akram continued, “Are you two in love?”

Jamal and I both burst out laughing.

“We haven’t decided yet,” Jamal said, grinning.

“Well, when will you decide?”

“Akram,” I said, “you can’t put a deadline on knowing something like this. The thought of being in love is still very new for me. I’ve never been in love and I’m thinking about how I’m feeling now. I can’t really answer your question yet.”

“Oh,” he said, looking disappointed. “I was hoping you two would fall in love and get married and we could all live together.”

“Including Kirk?” Jamal asked, still smiling.

“Sure. Why not?”

“Akram, don’t rush things,” Jamal said, laughing. “If you believe you’re in love with Kirk, fine, but I suspect that what you’re feeling is more a crush than true, deep love.”

Looking abashed, Akram blurted out, “No, we’re in love and we want to be together forever.”

“Fine,” I put in, “but take it slowly. Enjoy what you’re feeling and perhaps those feelings will continue to grow. Just remember that you both have full, busy lives to live and don’t restrict yourselves too much.”

“Okay, I’ll try.”

Conversation moved on and, as usual, dinner was a feast. It seemed as though, when our dinners ended, Akram always gave us something to think about. This time he said, “Dad and… what should I call you?” he asked. “Mr. Travis is just too formal, and I don’t call adults by their first names.”

“Well, perhaps you could call me Uncle Ben. When I was young, my mother had a very good friend whom we called Aunt Judy, even though we weren’t really related. Of course, when you’re around my students, I would still be Mr. Travis.”

“Okay, Uncle Ben. As I was saying, I have an idea. Next Thursday is Thanksgiving, and we have no school on Thursday or Friday. We always celebrate Thanksgiving here, so why don’t you join us? Then you could spend a few nights here and I could go be with Kirk.”

Jamal looked at me and I looked back, grinning. “He really is a little schemer, isn’t he?” I asked.

“Yup,” Jamal answered. “I will tell you that Akram’s mother will be here for Thanksgiving dinner. Do you think you could come too? Then you could stay for a couple of days. What do you think?”

“I think it sounds great,” I said, smiling at both of them. “Let’s do it.”

After we cleared the table, Akram once again disappeared upstairs while Jamal and I sat on the couch. Again we made out comfortably, going as far but no farther than we had gone the last time.

When we were standing at the door exchanging good-night kisses, I said, “Akram didn’t spy on us tonight. Did you say something to him?”

“Sure, and he promised he wouldn’t do it again, even if he really wanted to.”

I laughed, we kissed once more, and I drove home.