Melanie and Andrew
Melanie and her partner, Andrew, are visiting Portland from their home in Austin, Texas, and they made time to have breakfast with me on the last day of their break. She’s a visual artist, he’s a musician, and though they both earn their livings in business now, they both still love the arts, progressive politics, and cultural exploration. We know each other because I was one of Melanie’s teachers, during my years of teaching and admin work at a community college in Texas, after I returned from Africa and before I retired and moved to Oregon.
I don’t talk much about those years because they were so difficult. I was 55 when I came back to the USA, I had great difficulty finding employment at that age, and while I had no desire to live in Texas, I had no choice at the time. I was a horse of another color in that right-wing, socially-conservative enclave of white heterosexual privilege and conventionality; my daughters and I struggled with culture shock after our years together in South Africa, and ultimately Palesa returned to her home country, unwilling and unable to cope with the USA. Losing her was unspeakably painful, and Angel (who sent those flowers and balloons yesterday) also struggled to find her place in that environment. Still does.
Melanie says I provided refuge for students who didn’t fit the stereotypes laid on them by the culture they were born in. I encouraged the misfits, outlaws, and rebels; I gave them hope of escaping what was oppressive and restrictive to them. She was outspoken, edgy, courageous, and I delighted in her nerve, her creativity. She did escape. Austin is the most progressive city in Texas. She found Andrew there, and it’s close enough to her family that she can visit them but not be suffocated by the small-town mentality of the place where she grew up. It was marvelous to see her again and to meet Andrew, to see how well-suited they are for each other.