I was not an overwhelming academic success in school. My reports, usually a parade of C’s and D’s, were littered with comments such as “must apply himself better,” “needs more confidence in his own abilities,” and “should volunteer his point of view more often.” It’s true I had a subdued classroom presence, but this was more a conscious choice than an inability to perform. I had learned early on that being unremarkable was a highly effective battle strategy in the peer war waged daily in the schoolyard. If I kept quiet and answered only questions asked directly of me, I could manage to fly under the radar and therefore avoid unwanted attention. As a young man of noted difference, I wholeheartedly believed that being invisible was much easier than embarking on a futile mission to assimilate. So well crafted was my contrived persona that many of my teachers believed I had a limited capacity to learn. The only real challenge to this assumption would come in the form of a Year Eight creative writing assignment about a cunning little fox.
The class had been asked to write about an animal, giving it human emotions that mirrored its natural behaviors. Recent experience with a fox stealing our chickens away in the night prompted me to select it as my muse. I hastily scribbled down a story about a vicious monster, driven by an insatiable desire to capture and kill. It was a reasonable effort, but by no means significantly different to the work I had submitted in the past. I put the story in my folder ready to move onto other homework, but it soon become apparent that the fox wasn’t ready to be put to rest. As I commenced algebra he appeared on my mind’s horizon, and by the time I’d reached geography he was circling my feet and nudging my legs. He was a character done poorly, and he wasn’t having a bar of it. I reviewed the story, decided I could do better and promptly tore it up. I began again, this time penning a piece that explored the fox’s true motivations. I discovered that his bloodthirsty behavior wasn’t driven by cruel intentions; they were the actions of a devoted father providing for his family. I described in detail the fear he felt entering the farmer’s property, fully aware that his hunt for food posed a serious danger to his own life. This was a matter of duty, not of desire; the fear would have to be ignored. The story culminated in a heated exchange with the angry farmer, who shot at the fox, a bullet nicking his back leg as he attempted a hasty escape. He limped back to his burrow and lay on the cold earth, the seeping injury slowly stealing his life away. The fox surveyed the worried faces of his family, and wondered how they would survive without him. This would be the final image resting on his eyes as his heart slowed and the inevitability of death claimed him. Pretty deep stuff for a 13-year-old!
I remember being nervous submitting the assignment. To me it was more than a story about a fox; it was a bold declaration. I wanted my teacher to know that under my veil of silence there was