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(Node your homework for English Composition 2: Write a descriptive essay about a person that changed your life.)

"Minor Epiphany"

When I was in the fourth grade, for the first time in my life, I had a male teacher. The novelty of this was not the only thing that affected me: for the first time I felt validated as a boy who wanted to learn. Not just to learn but to pursue knowledge as more than just an "interest" or "hobby". This teacher's name was Lee Redmond.

Mr. Redmond was a rather short man in hindsight -- at the time he seemed tall enough. He was Italian in descent with a short, well-groomed beard, dark hair and an open demeanor. He did have the capacity for discipline and even anger as we pupils would find out from chattering. In our elementary school the homeroom teacher taught us for most subjects, but I had a more advanced math teacher (as usual, a woman) and a "gifted" teacher (a Ms. Shirkey). He would remain my only male teacher until junior high.

Due to my exposure to this man in fourth grade I chose to become a TOT (a school volunteer position for Teachers of Tomorrow) rather than a "Patrol" (a crossing guard). I was chastised for this as it violated gender roles in our elementary school. It was weird for a girl to want to be a patrol, but it was unheard of for a boy to be a TOT. Even the insignia were clearly biased with a hard hat, reflective belt and white uniform for patrols and a green cloth sash with "T O T" embroidered across the front for TOTs. I defied the taunts and unabashedly wore that green sash every afternoon because Mr. Redmond had shown that it was okay. I thought that since I was already ostracized for being a nerd this extra embarrassment wouldn't alter my social standing. In the end I could always rationalize that hanging around indoors with the girls was better than standing outside in the heat or rain.

In the fifth grade as a TOT I was assigned to Mr. Redmond to help out his class in the afternoons. For the last twenty minutes of the school day, and for half an hour after school we (TOTs) would function as teachers' aides. I would help pass out papers and help the younger children with homework questions or tutor them. After school let out and the other kids went home I would stay after with Mr. Redmond and help grade papers, straighten up the desks and supplies and wash the blackboards and erasers. We used to talk to each other about the day or extra study (like what I'd seen on Nova or in a magazine), or sometimes about his search for his roots. I found that I really looked forward to the end of the day and especially helping the younger children with their school work. I still think I might want to be a teacher today.

I found out a few years later, after moving on to highschool, that Mr. Redmond had found a brother (or half brother) that he didn't know he had. After their reunification and some more combined research they had found out that neither of them were really "Redmonds" -- that this was a last name conferred upon their ancestry at Ellis Island. Both he and his brother changed their last name to Palazzio as their family had been known in Italy.

Despite this he will always be Mr. Redmond to me, a man that showed me it was possible and acceptable to choose for myself what I could become. While my father showed me it was okay to be smart, Mr. Redmond showed me it was okay to break the mold. With this minor epiphany I went on through school to embrace my nerdy pursuits (science fairs, Scholar Bowl, computer club, programming, science-fiction and the like). I think it has helped me to be more progressive, more open-minded, more curious, more literate and informed, and more critical of my, and other's, role in society and our shared culture.

(Epilogue: I don't mean to sound snobbish at all. Also, in this age of 'sexual awareness' I have come to believe that Mr. Redmond may have been gay.)

(Originally written in class on September 23, 2004. With the caveat that this was a 'cold writing', I did receive an A on the pre-Evertything2 version of this essay.)

It has been an interesting day. Tomorrow the 17th Context Science Fiction Convention begins. Traditionally the night before the con, we hold the committee dinner with the Guest of Honor. This year we had two guests, Hugo and Nebula award winners Connie Willis and Nancy Kress. I got to sit next to Ms. Kress, who remains a beautiful and thoughtful woman. Connie Willis is hilarious. She made us realize that Columbus suffers from a kitsch gap. We just don’t have many tourist spots sufficiently tacky or silly, with the possible exception of the concrete cornfield. This con is going to be fun.

On a more serious note, I headed downtown for a political rally/debate party headlined by Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards. I wanted to go because I wanted to see Edwards speak in person, and I have to say he looked like the real deal to me.

More pleasing was the debate. I have been watching political debates for some time. Never have I seen a more one-sided debate. At the end of the night, George W. Bush might has well as covered himself with barbeque sauce, because he was roasted. The sound bytes won't give the true flavor of how poorly the President performed. We were laughing at him! No matter how you feel, a president should do better. Bush could not. Kerry held the offensive the entire night. Bush was often left speechless, and when he recovered he simply repeated the same old platitudes.

Yet when I watched the CNN coverage after the event I was stunned. Simply put, those who claim a liberal bias in the media are liars. I watched their ‘'experts’', it was as if we watched completely different events. They spent the entire night trying to spin this Bush’s way, criticizing Kerry, yet Bush went practically unchallenged. Those of you who have read my writeups know the topic of security is one with which I have more than a passing familiarity. The simple fact is John Kerry had Bush dangling from a string practically the entire night. Bush appeared the lame, incompetent whiner he is. But to listen to CNN and you would have thought this a draw.

If Europeans want to understand why Americans might re-elect someone so arrogantly incompetent as the President, here is why. The major networks are reasonably fair, but local television, newspapers, talk radio and all the cable “news”' networks offer little more than thinly disguised Republican propaganda. Our largest news sources are not concerned with fairness, or maintaining proper journalistic standards. Simply put, if the average American wants the truth, he will have to work for it.

Democracy demands a debate centered on reality. Unpleasant news is how we keep our leaders honest, and ensure the best possible leadership. A strong opposition keeps the ruling party honest, forces them to face reality and protects us from ideological extremism. The society that best prospers is the society that faces reality squarely, pleasant or otherwise. A media that distorts the truth in favor of one view of another subverts this vital democratic process, and inevitably will lead to bad government, and decline.

Just after dusk in Delhi, traffic appears to be coming towards me through mist. It's barely gone 6.30pm, and I'm wandering about in a sort of daze - the type of mood that fits this half light I find myself in. All the while, some inner voice is screaming at me, trying to pull me back to wakefullness - Delhi is not the sort of place to be meandering about in a daze.

It's not mist or fog of course - it's pollution, and it's choking this city. Flying in from Kathmandu this afternoon, I happened to look out the window, and assume that we were still in the cloud above the city during our descent. Then I saw a road, and realised that we were very close to the ground. The pollution is thick enough that until the final minutes before landing, the ground is invisible - regardless of how free the sky is of cloud. Every afternoon, the sun sets in shades of orange and red, as though pulled directly out of a travel brochure for some exotic island location. It's strange that such beauty could be the result of such neglect.

I find myself in Delhi, and I'm alone. The last 5 weeks I've spent with a couple of friends from back home - right now, they're in Delhi's international airport, waiting for the connecting flight that will take them back home. Me - I've got a day to kill, before a flight to Bangkok. It feels strange - having never travelled on my own, I'm suddenly the master of my own destiny. I can do what I want, when I want, where I want...and nobody can stop me.

That is, unless what I want is some company in the hotel room late at night, when even the sound of someone else breathing is a small comfort. Unless when I want requires a push - someone else to take a lead, and not allow me to linger when movement is what I need. This won't help me when where I want is simply to be next to someone I know, and care about, watching the same scene, for the very first time. Speechless for a moment, everything said by the tear in your eye.

Standing in the middle of a road suddenly quiet, watching the approaching headlights of rickshaws approach, I realise that everything's changed. When everything you've relied on up until now is suddenly gone, the world you're exploring for the very first time suddenly seems a much larger place. And I feel a whole lot further away from home. I'm relying on myself alone - and I'm not sure why that scares me like it does.

It's not all doom and gloom though. While typing this, I've been keeping half an eye on a gecko, hunting a small insect on the floor of this cypercafe. Coming down from the wall, tracking its progress across the floor, before finally making its move, and pouncing. Meanwhile back home, cybercafes are doing their best to erradicate every single lifeform that's not human. Things are simpler here. Sometimes, this world spins me around and around.

"Your uncle died yesterday."

It was October 2nd. It was a Saturday, and it was warm, and I was going to Manhattan. Of course he was too old to be my uncle. I took the newspaper from my adopted mother and read the obituary, no expression on my face. An old Jewish man. A photographer. I'd never known him. In high school, I would run searches on my name, desperate to know my real family — he always came up. But I had always dismissed him because how could I possibly be related to Richard Avedon?

But I took the obituary with me, and I bought a copy of the New York Times at the ferry terminal, carried it in my messenger bag until it got too heavy and I had to throw it out.

Yes, this man was family. I knew because they mentioned that his sister went crazy. I had been taken from my family because my mother was crazy, and my grandmother had been crazy as well. Very often they told me that I'd go crazy too.

Or that I was already.

I used to cry in school all the time.

My adopted mother found it an embarassment more than anything. I felt pretty embarassed, too.

And also, I was tomboyish growing up — or not really tomboyish, I just hated wearing dresses, and I'd rather read or play video games or Ninja Turtles than mess around with Barbie. This was also not normal. Here I was, 20 years old, and I didn't even wear makeup.

So I was crazy, too. Maybe. Probably.

I was quiet in school, though with a nasty sense of humor, and often I'd be reading or drawing during recess instead of playing with the other kids. I used to draw on my desk. I'd draw and write during lessons after finishing my work early. I found school very boring. The other kids called me a nerd and a dyke and stuck up and my nickname throughout middle and high school was "Daria".

But at least I was saner than the rest of my adopted family. After 7th grade, I'd finally managed to get ahold of my emotions, and sure that made me seem a little wooden, but at least it left me calm enough to protect my adopted family from each other — from the suicides and the homocides they threatened. I was the one uninvolved, the one to call the police, for while I was short and thin and not strong enough to stop things, at least I was quick on my feet and in my head.

It never ended. The fighting was constant. It made me so angry. I wanted to have a normal life, to date and go to college and have a nice job, but my adopted mother never really fixed anything. However many times her daughter Therese went wild, and beat her, or threatened me and my younger, adopted sister Emily with knives, she always dropped charges and brought her home. And if there was a lull in the action, she'd start in on me and Emily. Emily was an alcoholic, delinquent spic, according to her. She drove Emily to living on the streets to get away.

And every time I'd get angry at my adopted mother, for this or that humiliation, and every time she was upset with me for not being normal enough, she'd say, "Fine. Go back to your mother! Go back to the one who shit you out! Go back to that wackjob! You're just like her!"

Richard Avedon.

Richard Avedon was my family.

And I had never known it.

Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.

Yeah, they sent me to Catholic school.

I had been ashamed to be an Avedon. I had grown up wanting to be Italian. I was proud to be Italian. My family trees were not my own.

They sent me to Catholic school, the greasy, filthy, nerdy Jew with the coke bottle glasses and the borrowed last name.

Actually, I didn't have one in my first 4 years there. I came home one day with a test paper written "Avedon", and my adopted mother was so upset, she called the school and told them I shouldn't write that. That it wasn't really my name.

So I had no name. Just my first name.

Those motherfuckers. Those lying, malevolent coprophages. After all those years of being called scum, of having my family called scum, of being taken from my family and being beaten and having my little sister beaten and being told that I was abnormal to be angry at know that I was not scum, not genetically diseased, not a carrier of bad blood...

They were the scum. They deserved to be beaten. They deserved my anger, and it was normal.

February 14th, 2005.

I had been calling around to find legal aid and homeless shelters. Earlier in the day, my adopted sister had been at it again, and rather than call the police I left to call my sister. My real sister. I wanted to leave, but she didn't answer the phone and I came back.

I fought back.

As she strangled me I tore at her clothes and beat her with my fists. She was twice my size but I wasn't afraid anymore. I ran to my neighbor's apartment to call the police, because she had broken the phone in ours. I managed to keep cool for most of the call, but by the time the police arrived, I was sobbing.

"You filthy Jew!" she said to me, and she spat on me, and my adopted mother threatened to kick me out if I pressed charges against her daughter. Her daughter, not my sister. I was never her sister. I was never part of that family.

I packed my bags and called a cab after her daughter was arrested and she was asleep in bed. I left her a note, as a courtesy. I had gone to live with my mother. My real mother. My real mother had a degree in English and worked as a counselor at a mental hospital. She was bipolar, but on meds.

And with that, I went home.

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