I mentioned Eva Milbauer in my blog yesterday. She taught chemistry (and God knows what else) at Henry C. Conrad High School in Woodcrest, Delaware during my high school years (1963-1966).
I didn't actually take any classes with Mrs. Milbauer, but somehow or other we connected and we started talking to each other, outside of class.
I used to hide out in her chem lab storeroom with her during our lunch hour and we would talk about all kinds of things. I had a feeling there was one thing about me that if I could only work up the nerve to mention, she wouldn't think ill of me for it. That, of course, was the fact that I was... er... different.
Looking back there were probably lots of gay teachers at Conrad. God knows the lady gym teachers were all candidates for the Sisterhood of Lesbos and there were several English teachers (male) who were highly suspect. But even though my fledgling "gaydar" was picking up those blips on my adolescent screens, it was only Eva whom I thought, if I could only work up the nerve, would embrace me and tell me, "There, there. It's perfectly all right. You are not a freak of nature."
That woman really knew how to pay it forward.
In the years after high school I oftened wondered how she was doing. I never felt that way towards any other teacher I'd ever met. None of my catholic school teachers had ever encouraged me to "think." They had only encouraged me to memorize and regurgitate facts upon demand. Facts as determined by the Holy See, of course.
But Eva encouraged me to think for myself. It made me feel giddy, as though I were almost being heretical, by questioning things which had previously been unquestionable.
Looking back on it, she might well have gotten fired for her subversive activities with a few, select, students whom she'd taken a shine to, including me.
But I knew how to keep my mouth shut about such things. Hell, by the time I was sixteen, I was an expert at keeping secrets. Everybody else's and most especially mine.
By sixteen, in order to keep secrets and NOT be held in contempt of the sacraments, I had simply foregone the sacraments. The church and I had parted company sometime around the time of my confirmation. Within a year of that event I was no longer a participant in the rites of Holy Mother Church.
What I lost in terms of "salvation" via Rome, I gained in salvation in terms of my ability to think for myself. However, it would be many, many years before the groundwork that Eva laid, starting in 1965, would bear fruit in my sober years. But it was absolutely worth the wait.
So here's to you, Eva Milbauer, wherever you are! Thank you for caring when no one else did!