I’ll still remember that day, though I don’t think I’ve spoken to her since.
Her name was Taryn, but that’s not important to the story.
You see, there was a man, once.
He was French, a glorious artist, one of the nicest people I ever met. He started my love affair with Prismacolor pencil crayons, he’d wear them down to little nubs and glue pins from craft stores onto them, tie pins and brooch pins, barettes and the like, and wear them as jewelry. He started us on conte crayon. He made me love art, and art as expression. He had a simplistic style, almost little stick people in tentlike, very kimono-ish robe. Colourful and expressionless.
I think it was his nature that touched me first, this tall, string-bean of a man, dark haired and thick-spectacled and rather arty in his nature. At the time, his penchant for putting on cafes, little plays for our parents, and teaching us art, art, art! did not really register in my mind.
You see, “gay” was not a slur until the third grade.
Did I fail to mention that I was only seven when we met?
I still remember his signature, hard-pressed into the paper, all girl-written and straight lines, so unlike any other man’s writing.
He lived homosexuality in two ways, and I would, and do, hesitate to say he suffered.
You see, he had AIDS.
He taught second grade at our little elementary school in land of the ice and snow, and I enjoyed every second of his company, he who was the sharp contrast to the dark, wizened old witch that was our afternoon teacher. I remember her ranting about how the word ‘gay’ used to be beautiful, and it had been snatched away, with these terrible connotations, and it only now occurs to me the context.
In the afternoons, you see, he would go around to other schools in the region, and teach art. I remember when I changed schools in the sixth grade and we got one beloved art class with him. I remember copying or trying to copy one of his last pieces of art, failing miserably, though I didn’t really mind. I am still transfixed by the beauty of it, even in its simplicity, and especially in my time of chastising myself about my terrible art.
Who says art has to be complicated?
I also remember the phone call, from someone who I hardly knew, someone from my ‘new’ school in sixth grade, only this was a year later.
I was thirteen, and someone was telling me for the first time that Monsier Jean Gauthier who we had made fun of for years, him the eternal bachelor, oh, maybe he loves Mme. Fannin, the third grade teacher, who knows… was gay, and had AIDS, and you see, he’d just died.
I think I cried.
There was a foundation started, in his name, in support of art education and AIDS awareness.
That’s my story.