I’m From Memphis, TN.

Satellite overhead image of Tennessee from Google Earth 2022

I’m seventeen years old. I’ll be eighteen in a few days, and nobody but my closest friends know that I’m a lesbian. It’s the National Day of Silence, an event I’ve been participating in since middle school, but this year, my last year in high school, it’s been different. This year, I’ve been dating. I’ve “come out” to myself, and fallen in love with this beautiful girl, who is everything I could ever ask for. This year, when I spend the school day sitting in silence, responding to questions with printed explanations on index cards, I have a real reason. On one card, my primary one, is the default paragraph from the Day of Silence website. On another, one I’ve been keeping in my pocket all day, I’ve scrawled, “I take part in this day because I live in silence rather than living without my better half.” Taped to the back of this card is a photo of me and my girlfriend, leaning into one another, smiling at the camera. Not a care in the world. All of my friends have seen this card today, but I’ve just been handing the generic one to teachers.

It’s last class of the day, U.S. History. The teacher is a man I greatly respect and admire, but I know he’s very spiritual; he signed my yearbook last year with a Bible verse. As I’m leaving class, he notes in passing that I was very quiet today, and reflexively I hand him the little generic card. As he reads it, I suddenly feel nervous and begin to watch his face very carefully. Much to my surprise, he hands it back to me with the warmest, most sincere smile I have ever seen.
“It’s a noble thing you’re doing.” I smile back, and in that moment, without really knowing what I’m thinking, I reach into my pocket and pull out the card with the photograph. I hand it to him, giving him a searching look as he takes it and reads it, then flips it over and appraises the picture. I feel a lump in my throat until he looks up again, and what he says nearly knocks me flat:

“She’s beautiful. You’re very lucky. And you should never, ever let anyone tell you otherwise. I’m honored that you chose to share this with me, and proud to know someone so brave. You have a beautiful life; don’t ever stop cherishing it.”

With tears in my eyes, I take my card, hastily shove it back into my pocket, and try to convey to him the gratitude and affection flooding me with a last fleeting smile. I turn and run off into my afternoon, to my locker, my car, and my lover, waiting for me at the coffee shop. I can’t wait to share my story with her, and to spend the rest of the day cherishing every second and wondering at how love and empathy come from the most unexpected people, at the most uncertain times.

Looking back on this day, many years later, I still tear up a little, and I still live by my teacher’s words. I am extremely grateful for every day I’m able to live in the shelter and company of the ones I love, and I always will be.

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