Len had a lazy eye and was balding, our English teacher. He wrote on the chalkboard and directed us to copy the lines into our notebooks:
Behind the hatred there lies a murderous desire for love
He didn’t quote the source, but I knew it: Morrissey, The Smiths. He wanted us to start a story with that line, and then he posted a painting, and said the story had to take place in the same house as shown on the painting (one by Cézanne).
We were to keep journals, too. Every couple months or so he’d collect all the journals, read them, and make remarks. It was this act of journal writing for someone else’s viewing pleasure that cemented my love of writing.
Len lived alone in a row home near the CVS pharmacy where I worked. He came in about once a week, bought a carton of Winstons, and left. I chided him about the smoking but he just shook his head at me and said, “I really don’t care what you think. And one day you’ll understand, and it just won’t matter to you.”
We were leading up to my senior prom, and had a problem: I wanted my date to spend the night at our house, but my parents refused. Instead, it would be okay if we slept outside, but I didn’t own a tent and didn’t have the money to get one.
Len came through. We staked the tent to the farthest corner of the backyard, and got to spend the night together, on the ground.
Len told me later that he invited another English teacher friend over to laugh at some of my journal entries. He said I was one of those students who gave him a reason to teach. He taught me to write, by caring enough to read.