Requiem for Rebecca

I recently found out my high school mentor passed away after a lengthy battle with breast cancer. I haven't spoken to her since I left for college in 1997. A decade had passed. Who have I become in that time? Rarely a day goes by that a part of me isn't aware of the changes. I'm overly aware of such things. It drives me a little mad . I hadn't had contact with her because on some level I wanted to wait and make her proud. With each mediocre achievement I weighed the options and waited, this isn't good enough... yet. 
Rebecca Bevacqua was one of the very few people I encountered in my hometown who believed not only that I possessed potential, but that I was even a good person. She didn't care that I was gay, she cared that I noticed the subtext between Ishmael and Quequey in Moby Dick.
She didn't accept me as a lost cause because I was so depressed I hadn't left the house in two months. she came to my house and taught me. I was taunted and tormented so badly in those days (people forget, this was a time before even Ellen  has come out) that I finally broke. The School board reluctantly put me into a hospital/homebound program. My doctor had to fight them to even allow it. I'm pretty certain they wanted me dead too, one vice principal said as much "People Like you get picked on. When I was in school people like me picked on people like you, if you can't handle it you people need to just leave." It was the way he said You People. He then asked me straight out if I had announced to a class that I was gay. Well considering my spotty attendance to a Mr. Pyle's math class I doubted the event, much less thought it warranted an announcement. And everyone knew already. A girl named Laura made sure of that in junior high. 
None of the teachers wanted to the assignment of delivering my work to my house. I mean they get paid to do it, and they still said no. Apparently as the story was told to me, Becky Bevacqua, my Junior American lit teacher heard some teachers arguing about not wanting the assignment and making some lovely and colorful remarks about me. She then demanded to be assigned my education. I know I certainly was not an easy student. I made people constantly uncomfortable. I had purple hair. I usually had a better working knowledge of the subject than the instructor, this largely due to having a lack of friends and therefor time to read. I was opinionated and frequently argumentative. I was accused of being a drug addict and a bad influence, this before I was actually doing drugs. I was heavily medicated though. 
So in this microcosm that was a southern high school I stood out. But for her I stood out in a positive way. She always encouraged me to think for myself; to live my life right by me, not by others; to embrace my differences and "otherness" it would be my strength .
She came out a few times a week, sat at my mother's kitchen table and guided me through my work. I taught myself, and she'd clarify any questions and return the completed work to the school, but she did so much more. She pushed me, and listened to what I thought, challenging me to find my voice.  I wrote and wrote, poetry, short stories, I began work on a novel. I drew, and painted and gave myself a formidable education in foreign and independent cinema. I learned to play bass, then guitar, then keyboards (up to 11 or so instruments now ). I looked within myself, even at the parts i hated, dragging them out into the light of day. 
She was one of the only adults I could talk to when my long secret affair with a popular boy came to light. He claimed I led him astray from god and all his friends forgave him, and parents were outraged, no one wanted their child around that disgusting Andy Klaus. She told me to forget them.They didn't matter. They were afraid of me because they knew they could never do the things I would do. Those are powerful words when not coming from a parent. Children always discount their parents' sage wisdom as being their obligation. They HAVE to love you.
On a few occasions after I learned to actually leave the house my mother and I would return home to find Mrs. Bevacqua sitting alone on our front porch gazing serenely across the pond as the great blue herons fed on small fish near by. She said we had the most peaceful place she knew of. I thought that was odd because my inner life was filled with so much turmoil. 
Looking back now, across time and experience, that is how I see her: Peaceful and serene, sitting in a  rocking chair with her short cropped blond hair reflecting bits of gold in the sunlight.  She had children one daughter a year younger than me was a popular girl, pretty and blonde. We never really spoke. I find myself thinking of this girl who was not a friend, but who's mother changed my life in subtle ways I still uncover. I am so sorry for your loss. I'm sorry I never got to tell her what she meant to me. I kept waiting for the right accomplishment, the writing job, the film festival, the album, the career high, none seemed worthy to show her. What she had taught me was so profound. It wasn't math or english or history . It was something deeper. A lesson between the words, between the lines. From master to student the line of knowledge tracing back thousands of years. Know thyself, and more.....
How do you thank someone who taught you how to survive? She didn't just change my life, she saved it.  

1 comment:

doodleharris said...

hey andy! i have no idea what possessed me, but i decided to google becky tonight. sometimes i miss her so much. i thought it was cool to see what a difference she made in your life. after i went to college, there were a few times i was sooooo angry with my life... but she was great -- she talked me through so much... yup -- i miss her like crazy... in other news, i hope you are well!!! it was good seeing some of your stuff! -- doodle