April 28

These are a Few of My Favorite Words

People make fun of me for the way I talk. Sometimes they are even offended by my use of big or unusual words. They think I’m trying to show off or, even worse, make them feel stupid. But the truth is much simpler (and kinder!) than that.

I’m a word nerd.

I’m a complete language freak. I love words! It’s why I learned French and Russian. It’s why I majored in English and became a language teacher. As my Writing Center colleagues and students can attest, I become positively giddy when I encounter a clever turn of phrase or a brand new word. A new word is like a newly unearthed treasure I want to pull from the ground and share with the whole world! Look at this! Isn’t it shiny and beautiful!

English is such a rich language, full of these treasures, and I don’t see why any word should be buried, relegated to the darkness. If I discover a new one, especially one that sounds funny, trips neatly off the tongue and has a perfectly specific meaning, I will incorporate it into my own vocabulary and use it as often as possible.

And I’m fortunate because I’ve been blessed with the auditory equivalent of a photographic memory. I take no credit for the ability; I didn’t earn it. It’s genetic. My sister and my kids have it too. We can just hear something and forever remember it exactly. That gift makes it pretty easy for me to absorb new words.

So when people accuse me of showing off or belittling them, I’m hurt and a little confused. In general, I don’t “dumb down” my language for anyone. To me, doing so would mean I am assuming the listener is not smart. The only creatures I “dumb down” for are animals and small children, and even then, I don’t speak differently unless I am explaining a difficult concept that a child truly needs to understand.  I talk the same way to pretty much everyone and assume that anyone I speak to is just as smart as I am or smarter. If they don’t understand a word I use, I’m delighted to explain it, and I imagine they feel the way I do when someone shares a new word with me – excited!

Now that I’m older and also since I started teaching at the university, people seem more tolerant of the way I speak. It’s so liberating!

So in the spirit of sharing and educating and getting giddy, may I present some of my favorite words?

It is a diverse list. Some of the words I love for their sound. Some of them for their surgically precise meaning. Others have happy associations with people or places. This list could be 10 or 20 times as long. Believe it or not, I whittled it down!

Entropy  - Learned during an undergrad biology class at IU. It summarizes what I see as the greatest struggle in my life: maintaining order in the face of invading chaos!

Stygian – Learned from a Pakistani chemistry student who was writing a lab report on a dark coagulate. He got tired of the word “dark,” so he pulled “Stygian” out of the thesaurus. It does mean dark, but it’s poetic, so it was completely out of context in a chemistry report. Ah, the thesaurus.

Efficient (usually used with “effective”) – I just love the meaning of these words. They got tossed around so much at the insurance company where I was a tech writer, for a while I hated them. But efficiency is vital in my struggle against entropy, so they’re back in my good graces.

Patois – Learned from one of my fellow grad students at Butler. She kept talking about the “patois” of the aristocratic Indians in Salman Rushdie’s novels. I had to look it up. You should too.

Going concern – Okay, so this one’s a phrase. And it’s kind of jargon-y. But we used it a lot at the insurance company and at Disney, and no other word or phrase in English has this meaning. I just find it an interesting concept.

Delegate – As a verb. It’s something I must do more of, but I’m a control freak.

Hermeneutics – I run across this one often when I tutor rhetoric students. I like the sound of it and the way it looks on paper.

Epistemology – Another one I see in graduate-level papers, especially social work students. I don’t really understand it well, but it’s fun to say.

Ecumenical – Learned this one from the Merriam-Webster “word of the day” app. I like the way my mouth moves when I say it.

Self-deprecating – Learned this one from my mother who used it all the time when my sister and I were adolescents.

Aplomb – The newest word on the list! I heard one of Jon Stewart’s guests use it on The Daily Show a couple weeks ago, ran to look it up, and just like everything about it.

Synergize – Disney-ese. I heard or used this word almost every day during the decade I worked for The Company.

Permutation – First encountered this as a math concept in Mrs. Hender-Bob’s advanced algebra class. I use its non-algebraic definition every chance I get.

Logistics – Another word, like entropy and efficient, that signifies my highest priorities in life.

Contrived – Learned from Simon LeBon of Duran Duran who was arguing with a reporter about whether or not the band was “contrived.” It’s just the perfect opposite of “organic” and so much more specific than “artificial” or “unnatural.”

Shiksa – Learned from my Jewish sorority sisters at IU. Yiddish has fabulous sounds. Even the rude words sound funny. (See “shmuck!”)

Bougie – French word for a fat candle. We don’t have a good word for that object in English. It’s not a taper, a pillar, a votive or a tealight. It’s fatter and squatter.

Ciao – Like “aloha” which I also love, it can mean either “hello” or “goodbye.” That appeals to me. Plus it sounds cool in every way.

Nimble – Learned from “Ghostbusters.” Enough said.

Kaibab – Learned in the Grand Canyon. I love the way it sounds and feels. Plus, it reminds me of our hike.

Cooperate – I use this word a lot when I tickle my children, so it reminds me of them. I tell them, “If you’ll cooperate, this’ll just take a second.” When I get to “cooperate,” they start giggling because they know what’s coming. So the word makes me smile now.

Walrus – Another word that reminds me of my kids. Also, Ferris Bueller (“I could be the walrus. I’d still have to bum rides off people.”), the Beatles and “Alice in Wonderland.” Whenever we have to end an activity or go somewhere, I say, “The time has come, the walrus said, and I am the walrus. Coo coo cachoo,” synthesizing John Lennon and Lewis Carroll. The kids understand. See? Told ya I was a word nerd!

March 18

Night Owls of the World – UNITE!

So we’re five days into “Daylight Savings” Time, and I’m still tired. Still fighting the urge to go back to bed as soon as I get home from taking the kids to school.

Five days! My sister says it’s psychological, but I don’t buy that. The fact is, I’m being forced to wake up at 6:30 instead of 7:30 in the morning. You can change the clocks, but you can’t change my circadian clock. That alarm clock might say 7:30, but my body knows better.

I am one of those unfortunate folks who is not only a night owl, but I also seem to need more sleep than many adults. I need eight hours MINIMUM. Ten would be better. If I get below seven, bad things happen. I am not a nice person, not a nice friend, mother or wife. It’s ugly. All that said, I’ve always seemed to have a tougher time than most with time changes, jet lag, and the like.

Needless to say, I hate “Daylight Savings” Time.

You may notice I keep putting the words in quotation marks. Yeah, that’s because the name is stupid. Like you can save daylight. Sure. Stick it in a bottle. Or I can think of some other places you can stick it.

Indiana rejected DST for a long time. We had it for a few years when I was a kid. I don’t remember it well except that my dad said it was the reason our favorite drive-in movie theater closed. Then our Hoosier lawmakers got rid of it. We flipped back and forth between Eastern time and Central time. The only time I ever really paid any attention to the Indiana time anomaly was when I worked for an insurance company that had agents on both coasts. In the summer, the California agents would complain bitterly that we closed too early. In the winter, the Maryland agents would complain bitterly that we didn’t open early enough. Or maybe it was vice versa. I don’t remember; I just remember we couldn’t make anyone else happy. But Hoosiers were fine with being unusual, and it made our lives easier.

Transplants hated our standard time, though. My New Englander husband would grouse about Monday Night Football suddenly being on at a different time when the rest of the country “fell back.” I also worked with a guy from Kansas who was an avid golfer. He complained that he didn’t have time to get in a full 18 holes after work during Indiana summers.

So a few years back, our governor, in his infinite wisdom, not only proposed DST for Indiana, but also decided we should be on EASTERN DST. Eastern! We’re on the same time as Boston (800 miles from Indianapolis) instead of Chicago (180 miles). Last night the sunset around 8:00. We’re not even to the spring equinox! By the time summer solstice rolls around, the sun will set around 11pm. Seriously!

So earlier this week, I was complaining about DST on my Facebook page, and I noticed some trends in the comments. Pro-DST folks tend to fall into three categories: Golf People, No-Kid People and Morning People.

The Time Tyranny Trifecta.

Golf people. What can I say? I don’t play golf. I love sports, but golf isn’t one of them. I don’t think it should even qualify as a sport. Any game where you can be obese and drunk and still do really well should not be considered a sport. Plus, the whole golf culture rankles me a bit. Pay a couple hundred dollars to walk around a field full of holes, sand pits and water hazards? Wear loud, mismatched clothes on purpose? Drink beer while pretending to be engaging in a sport? The whole thing smack of exclusivism and contradiction to me. It certainly doesn’t seem like a compelling reason to make everyone in the state change their clocks twice a year.

Then, there are the no-kid people. If you have no kids, maybe the time change is nice for you. I can see that. An extra hour after work to play in the yard or hang out on a patio drinking wine. It sounds lovely, although you can do still do some of that stuff after the sun goes down when it’s cooler outside.

For those of us with children, though, that extra hour of sunlight is another hour of dealing with kids. Not just our kids, but ALL the kids. For me, that’s a particularly big deal. We live in a large neighborhood with hundreds of kids, many of whom end up at my house. When the bus arrives at the corner, the countdown begins: “I have to deal with this insanity for 4 hours.” Oops. Now it’s 5 hours because we changed the danged clocks.

Some of my parent friends put their kids to bed at 8 or 9, so they’re complaining about DST too because the sun’s still up. Their kids are fighting them about going to bed when it’s still light out.

Yes, indeed, DST is not a parent’s friend. I don’t generally have that problem because my kids are night owls like I am. Thank Heaven! We go to bed at 10. I arranged my life (and theirs) to maximize our sleep schedule in this morning-person-dictated world. I take them to school so we can sleep an extra 45 minutes. I left my full-time job, in part, because the very idea of getting myself and my kids up every morning at 6am so I could haul them to daycare before rushing to my 8-5 job sounded like a complete nightmare. The flexibility of my college teaching schedule is one of the many things that appealed to me when I started at the university.

I have learned to manage in a morning-person’s world, but morning people still drive me nuts. My grandmother was a morning person. My mom tells stories of getting up to go to the bathroom at 4 or 5 in the morning, and her mother would’ve made her bed when got back to her room. Inexplicably, I married a morning person. It’s one of the biggest strains on our marriage. He’s so sweet and happy in the mornings, and I do not want to speak to anyone. And at night, when I’m bouncing around, full of energy, he wants me dead. It’s hard.

But morning people rule the world, which is, I believe, a terrible injustice. These crazy people think it’s perfectly acceptable to call me or knock on my door at 9am. And because the larks rule the roost, they feel justified. I’d like to see their reaction if I called or rang their doorbell at 11:30 at night. Hey, lazy people! Wake up! I’m still awake! What’s wrong with you losers?
Not only is it unfair for the morning folks to have the power, it’s unwise. Studies have shown that night owls are more productive AND more creative! I think it’s time for all the night owls to rise up (preferably around noon) and take control.

—Make schools start later. MUCH later! I never learned anything in a first-period class that started at 7:30 or 8 in the morning. I slept through most of them. If schools started later, the poor kids would get much more out of their classes. Teachers would be fresher too. States want to cut education budgets? Fine. Cut the school day by an hour in the morning. Let everyone get an extra hour of sleep.

—Ban morning meetings. Everyone hates them anyway.

—Move the standard “opening” time of most businesses to 10 or 11. Who really needs to go to the bank at 9am anyway?

—And while we’re at it, get rid of DST. It’s a nuisance. It’s a hardship for most parents. And contrary to popular belief, it does NOT save money any better than it “saves” time.

    Morning people can use their extra morning time any way they want. If they still want to get up at the butt-crack of dawn, let them. But if they wake me up, they’d better be prepared to get slapped.

    Category: Current Events, Family and Kids, Popular Culture | Comments Off
    March 7

    Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Education

    I have started three drafts of a blog entry on the current political environment vis-a-vis education.

    I gave up three times.

    The conversation right now is too close to me. It is too disheartening. It is even shocking.

    As the granddaughter, niece and daughter of teachers, as an educator myself who has always valued education and the myriad opportunities it brings, I guess I’ve been a little sheltered from the vitriol of the anti-school crowd. Not completely, of course.

    My mother often brought home horror stories about angry parents, aloof administrators, and indifferent students. My aunt teaches second grade at a public school in Terre Haute, the methamphetamine capital of the world. She always talks about her 7-year-old students whose parents could care less if their kids come to school. Hell, my grandfather actually had Charles Manson in class for a brief spell before he got kicked out for ditching. Even before I went to college, I knew that many people had low opinions of a formal education.

    And the further I went into my own academic career, the more first-hand experience I collected myself. The summer after I graduated with my bachelor degree, I went to a party with some old high school pals and made the mistake of enthusiastically admitting I was now a college grad. One of the guys I was talking to actually rolled his eyes, snorted and walked away. When I questioned his girlfriend about his behavior, she shrugged. “We’re not big on college snobs,” she replied. I was speechless.

    By the time I got to grad school, I realized that, sadly, there were some circles in which I needed to keep my education to myself. When certain people asked me what I was up to, I would just talk about the two jobs I was working and leave out the classes I was taking.

    Nowadays, when people ask me what I do, I try to gauge the situation, anticipate their reaction. If I’m not sure their reaction will be positive, I just say I’m a teacher. Sometimes, though, they’ll ask further, and I have to admit I teach English at a university. And then I get the “Ooooh, well, I’ll try to watch my grammar” comment. Like I’m going to correct their usage. I rarely correct even my own children; I don’t correct friends. Ever.

    Despite all these experiences, the current discussions about education and teachers and their unions still leave me speechless. What can I say? Can I even be remotely objective?

    Of course not.

    Obviously, education is important to me. And it should be important to all Americans. It’s part of what makes the American dream possible. We must have a baseline of education to succeed in life. We have to learn how to read. We have to learn how to do basic math. We have to learn enough history to understand what’s come before, so we don’t repeat the same mistakes. We have to learn the scientific method.

    At a minimum, everyone should learn these things. The U.S. has to have a literate population to maintain its democracy. Thomas Jefferson understood that: “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”

    We have to have a literate population to innovate and boost our economy. Even the most creative people will not get anywhere if they cannot articulate their great ideas.

    We have to a have a literate population to protect our nation. Our military needs soldiers and officers who know their history, know multiple languages, know good communication skills.

    Education is important to the success and stability of our nation.

    So when people want to cut funding of our schools, when people want to bash public school teachers as lazy, glorified babysitters, when people want to privatize our schools because they’re not performing as they think they should, I am flabbergasted.

    Our government needs to get its priorities straight. Get back to basics: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For me, “life” means “health” and “safety.” I want my government to provide a bottom-line, safety-net type of health system, and I want my government to keep us safe from our enemies within and without.

    “Liberty” is more complicated, but for me, its about getting to choose our leaders and those leaders’ supporting the Bill of Rights.

    And then there’s “pursuit of happiness.” Now, I know that education does not make everybody happy. My kindergartner told me just today that she hates school. I know that higher education is not for everyone. I certainly do not look down my nose at people who choose or cannot afford college. My husband left school at age 16; he’s one of the most brilliant people I know, and he also appreciates the value of a good education. You don’t need a degree to be educated, but not appreciating education makes you stupid.

    Education allows us to succeed in business. It allows us to get better jobs and make more money. Education helps us to pursue property, which is, of course, the original source of the phrase from which Jefferson co-opted his famous Declaration (John Locke).

    And the current education system, while certainly not perfect, its not in such bad shape that it needs to be completely abandoned. Are there bad schools? Oh yes. Do I know how to fix them? No, but taking away their money and marginalizing the teachers is definitely not the answer! Are there bad teachers? You bet. But I can count on one hand, the number of bad teachers I’ve had in seventeen years of education. In fact, I can think of just two. Two!

    On the other hand, I can think of a hundred really good teachers I have had the privilege to know, either as their student or as a friend. My mom won student-voted awards almost every year of her 30-year career. Even today, people who had her as a teacher come up to me and sing her praises. She worked her tail off for three decades. All those “vacations” and “breaks” people complain about teachers’ enjoying. Yeah, my mom spent most of those “days off,” locked in her room, grading endless piles of essays. I remember Thanksgivings, Easter Sundays, and Mother’s Days, when we would visit family in Terre Haute, my mom spent the two hours in the car grading and doing lesson plans.

    One of my favorite teachers of all time was a lady named Karen. She taught three preps – sophomore AP literature, junior composition, and an awesome class called humanities. I was fortunate to have her twice as a teacher. She was amazing in the classroom. But she was also one of my mom’s best friends, so I got to see behind the scenes. I saw her in tears my senior year, her first year teaching the brand-new humanities course. She was crying on my mom’s shoulder because she was working so hard, prepping all her classes, developing this new curriculum, grading and dealing with all the usual administrative crap. She felt like she was missing her sons’ childhoods. If I hadn’t walked into my mom’s classroom after school that day, I’d have had no idea she was under such stress. She was flawless in front of her students.

    And then there were my band directors. The first two years I was in band, I didn’t give much thought to how much time these three men put into their music program. My senior year, though, I was a drum major, and I spent a lot of time with them. In the summer. On Monday evenings. On Thursday evenings. On Friday evenings when we had football games. Every Saturday from August to November when we had contests. They chose the marching drill, the musical selections, the uniforms, the flags, the staff. They coordinated 350 teenagers, teaching us music, marching routines and dealing with our teenage angst. They dealt with stage parents and vengeful judges. I cannot imagine how many hours they put into that program. And, oh, yeah, they also had to teach music classes, grade papers, and all that stuff too. They earned every dollar they got paid, and I know it wasn’t as much as it could’ve been if they’d taken their degrees and put all those hours into a private business. I know for a fact that band was the only reason many kids stayed in school at all.

    Teachers are alright.

    The cuts in funding, the swipes at teachers’ unions, the pushes for privatization (vouchers and charter schools) reveal some seriously screwed-up priorities in our country.

    We’d better get our heads on straight and start investing in our future. Education is key. If we forget that, we sacrifice our future because part of our electorate has a chip on its shoulder and another part is senior voters who would rather protect their assets than educate our nation’s children.

    Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (or property if you swing that way) is the bottom line. Education is the path.

    December 21

    Christmas Lists

    For me, the holiday season started this morning. Until 1am of December 21st, I was buried under statistical reports, department meetings, esssays to be graded and a textbook manuscript to be edited. I finished the last of it in the wee hours of this morning, so I can finally turn my attention, undivided, to the Big Day.

    Not that I haven’t been thinking about Christmas or doing things here and there. My parents treated my family to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s Yuletide Celebration a couple weeks ago, which was lovely. I went to Metamora, a little town in eastern Indiana that does a “Christmas Walk” along its historic canal every year. I attended my old neighborhood’s annual Progressive Dinner and a couple of children’s parties. I have done snatches of shopping, wrapping and baking when I could fit them in.

    My friends and family often reminded me that time was running short. And I even got some reminders from unlikely sources. Such as one friend, a Muslim PhD candidate from Indonesia, who comforted me when I learned we were expecting ANOTHER snowstorm: “But Jennifer, now you will get to play your Christmas sports,” he said with a sincere smile. I guess I looked confused because he explained, “You know, your skiing, your sledding, your snowball fighting.” So cute.

    And during Hannukah, I tutored an exchange student from Israel. I was reading his paper, when I suddenly heard him humming “Jingle Bells.” Puzzled, I looked at him and asked, “Boaz, aren’t you Jewish?” He grinned and nodded. “Yeah, but your Christmas music is everywhere! It gets stuck in my head.” HA! (So much for the “war on Christmas” Fox News is always screaming about to all the retired W.A.S.P.s who actually believe it. If Jewish exchange students are singing Christmas music, I think the holiday’s safe, Bill O..)

    Anyway, now I can finally concentrate on getting into some Christmas spirit. So the following lists are really just me brainstorming for my own benefit unless you, too, are trying to cram all your favorite Christmas traditions into three or four days!

    Below are some of my favorite things about the season that I’m trying to get in before it’s over.

    Songs:

    (Remember, I’m a child of the 80’s.)

    • ·         White Christmas – Bing Crosby
    • ·         Little Drummer Boy – Bing Crosby and David Bowie
    • ·         Do They Know It’s Christmas – Duran Duran and some other people
    • ·         The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole
    • ·         Joy to the World – Julie Andrews
    • ·         Santa Claus Is Comin to Town – Bruce Springsteen
    • ·         I Saw Momma Kissing Santa Claus – John Mellencamp
    • ·         Rudolph – Gene Autry
    • ·         Mary’s Boy Child – Boney M
    • ·         Jingle Bell Rock – Bobby Helms
    • ·         I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas
    • ·         Happy Christmas – John Lennon
    • ·         Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer – Elmo and Patsy
    • ·         Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses
    • ·         All I Want for Christmas is You – Mariah Carey

    Movies:

    • ·         It’s a Wonderful Life
    • ·         The Grinch
    • ·         Rudolph
    • ·         White Christmas
    • ·         A Christmas Story
    • ·         Mickey’s Christmas Carol
    • ·         Scrooged
    • ·         National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
    • ·         Holiday Inn
    • ·         Die Hard
    • ·         Love Actually

    Books/Stories:

    • A Christmas Carol – Dickens
    • A Visit from St. Nicholas – Moore
    • Gospel of Luke

    Cookies:

    • ·         Sugar cookie cutouts
    • ·         Oatmeal craisin
    • ·         Snickerdoodles
    • ·         Jam thumbprints
    • ·         Chocolate chip
    • ·         Gingerbread

    Other Holiday Food/Drinks:

    • ·         Egg nog
    • ·         Mulled wine
    • ·         Cranberry “grog”
    • ·         Spinach dip with Hawaiian bread
    • ·         Honey ham
    • ·         Green bean casserole
    • ·         Jesus’ birthday cake

    If I spend the next five days doing nothing but cooking, eating, reading, listening to music and watching movies, I think I can get it all in. The race is on! Merry Christmas!

    Category: Current Events, Family and Kids, Popular Culture | Comments Off
    October 1

    The Gay Suicides

    Do you remember 1988?

    I do. I was a junior in high school and, well, kind of the belle of the ball. I was cute. I was skinny (was I ever really a size 4?!). I was the teachers’ pet, and I was popular. It was one of the best years of my life, so it’s imprinted on my memory very clearly.

    Ronald Reagan was on his way out as the presidential campaign between George HW Bush and Michael Dukakis was in full swing. (I was rooting for Bush!?) The Soviet Union was still a constant threat.  My beloved Duran Duran, now down to three members, released their “Big Thing” album. Bruce Willis starred in the first “Die Hard” film that year.

    We wore pegged jeans, Coca-Cola brand clothes, and high-top Converse. Our hair was BIG! Our eyeshadow was blue. And all the way up to our eyebrows.

    My mom was an English teacher at my high school, but I was lucky: she was way cool. My mom might’ve been more popular than I was! But I had a driver’s license, a car, and a reputation for being a non-judgemental goody-two-shoes, so I was everyone’s favorite designated driver. It was in that role that I experienced one of the “game-changing” moments of my life.

    It was December (I think. I know that it was VERY cold.), and I was leaving a basketball game at my school. I was in the pep band (at my school, band was actually cool!), so I had had to stay for the entire game, then go back to the band room, put away my clarinet, and socialize for a bit with my fellow band geeks before actually leaving.

    As I was walking out, one of my friends asked if he could have a ride. This friend, Ryan, would become my senior year boyfriend, but as juniors, we were just friends. I said sure, and we headed out into the cold, dark parking lot together, gossiping about this and that.

    We were almost to my car when Ryan stopped short and grabbed my arm. “What was that?”

    I’d heard it too. A terrible sound. I can hear it now. Whimpering. But almost-adult whimpering. A desperate, defeated sound that sent an instant zing up our spines and stopped us in our tracks.

    We followed the noise to the edge of the lot. Between the darkened parking lot and the even darker football stadium was a figure in the brittle grass. A human form, lying on the frozen ground.

    Ryan and I were 16 years old. We were frightened, fascinated and concerned at once. I remember the bizarrely inappropriate thrill of realizing that he was holding my hand as we approached this dark, moaning shape in the grass.

    And then we saw, in the dim light of a distant street light, that this was a fellow band geek. He was lying, face-down, on the icy ground, moaning pitifully. We knew him well. He was a fellow clarinet player, and I had been to Europe with him on a school-sponsored trip.

    I approached him cautiously and said his name. He moved a little. He recognized my voice and responded. “Price?”

    Ryan and I helped him to a sitting position. Ryan put his jacket around him. We learned that he had been “jumped,” attacked by a bunch (maybe 3 or 4 or 5?) of guys in the parking lot. They had called him a “f-ing faggot” and beat him brutally.

    Our friend was a mess, but he refused to go to an emergency room. He didn’t want anyone to know, especially his parents.

    I was confused. At a very sheltered 16, I had a limited understanding of “gay.” I didn’t even yet realize that my dear friend Ryan was gay. I didn’t see why our bruised and battered friend was so anxious about people finding out he’d been beaten up. In fact, I chalked it up to a male-pride thing: he didn’t want anyone to know he’d lost a fight.

    Ryan understood better. He ran back inside the school to use the pay phone. He told us later that he’d called his mom and our friend’s parents to ask if he could spend the night. While he was inside, he also scoped out the band hallway and determined almost everyone was gone. He came back to us, huffing and puffing. “We can use the restroom. Everybody’s gone.”  Ryan and I helped our friend back into the school where they went into the boys’ restroom. I waited in the hallway.

    While I was waiting, our band teacher saw me as he was leaving. “Jenni, what are you still doing here?”

    “Oh, I’m taking Ryan home, and he needed to use the restroom. I’m just waiting on him,” I replied.

    The band director trusted me.”Okay,” he said, “well, I’ve gotta get going, so I’m just gonna lock these doors. You can get out, but make sure you have everything because you won’t be able to get back in, alright?”

    “Yes, sir!” I nodded, absolutely panicked that Ryan might exit the boys’ room with our friend any moment.

    “See you Monday!” the band director said, and he disappeared into the darkness.

    Ryan and our friend appeared several minutes later. Our friend was no longer bloody, but he had a very swollen lip and a black eye. From the way he was limping gingerly out to my car, I’m sure he had bruises elsewhere too.

    The boys didn’t talk much as I drove them to Ryan’s home. Of course, I filled the silence with useless prattle, making assumptions to justify my perspective. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something along the lines of: “Stupid teenage boys – always looking for a reason to fight. Just because Center Grove High School lost the game, they have to beat up on one of our guys.”

    I never learned if it was kids from the rival school or kids from our own school who beat up our friend. He never said. But even then, I understood just enough to know it didn’t really have anything to do with a basketball game.

    Our friend was beaten because he was gay.

    I didn’t become a liberal right then. No, it took about 15 more years for that lesson to sink in completely. I voted Republican in the first two elections in which I participated. Then I began to split my ticket. Gradually it became more and more liberal as I recognized that the rhetoric of the G.O.P. helped inflame and justify the hate crime I had witnessed first-hand.

    Both Ryan and our friend are gone now. One died of AIDS years ago; one died of stomach cancer in 2008. Otherwise, I would not be blogging about that night. You see, I promised them both that I wouldn’t tell anyone. It was too complicated, too painful, too fraught with consequences for parents, friends and loved ones.

    But the suicides of Tyler Clementi, Raymond Chase, Billy Lucas and others have made me re-think my promise.

    The perpetrators of hate crimes WANT to keep their acts in the dark. They want their victims to remain silent.

    It certainly was easy for me to stay quiet. I finished my junior year in the top 10 of my class. I became a drum major in the marching band. I was a homecoming princess. Life was good. I didn’t want to complicate things by telling the story of having witnessed a crime on school grounds. My promise made my life easier. So I could happily justify my silence; I was just being a good friend.

    Now I’m not so sure.

    Those guys, whoever they were, got away with assault and battery on a kid they wanted to beat on because he was different. And I helped them get away with it by being quiet, passive, sweet, and loyal. What if they raise their kids to do the same thing?

    My mom loves to say that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” That night, I did nothing. And I’m sorry for that.

    If you know an LGBT person, especially a kid, do NOT do what I did. Do something. Even if it is just to say, “Hey, I’m your friend, and if you need me, I’ll listen.”

    Change starts just one person at a time.