It didn’t start out weird. I was enticed with compliments and promises that my talents were extraordinary. Maybe they weren’t, but he promised that he knew people who would admit me to a great college program. I spent more time with him than I did with my family. I often stayed after school to work on his projects. He was there to tell me how great I was.
I got ample praise and promises. He liked that I liked the attention. I liked his attention. I think he thought he was saving me from something by taking me under his care. I think I thought he was saving me from something. First, just a smile and a hand on the shoulder.
One night when I was the only student left at the school, he asked me for help deleting files from his computer. This was before drag and drop (the 1990s), and he thought he had to delete them one at a time. I could move multiple files at once. I thought that was what was important. At least that is what he said. Like teenagers walking into a dark alley in a horror movie, it may now seem obvious that something bad was going to happen.
Then a hug. I loved hugs. I still do.
Then the hugs became extended embraces. At one point, he had me walk with him all the way to the copier room in order to give me his adorations and affection so no one else would see anything. This is the scene where the monster is reaching for the now suspecting characters with saliva about to drip on their head, but it is too late. That is not what I thought at the time. I’ll never forget staring at that pasty wall wishing he would let go, but also thinking that this was maybe normal.
Next came the kissing. Quick peck on the lips. I didn’t want this to go the way of the hugs. The long uncomfortable hugs. It made my insides recoil, but I couldn’t quit yet. A lot of people were relying on what we were doing. I was relying on what I was doing.
When I first asked him to stop he said, “But I haven’t done anything with you that I haven’t done with my own son.”
I am the one over-reacting.
Even now I sometimes think, Well, I kiss my son. I kiss my dad. I get it. But this was not the same.
This was not the same.
I could tell he was angry that I was withdrawing. He was so angry that he slapped me in front of dozens of other students.
I should pause to explain that this teacher was my drama director. The same night I asked him to back off, we were rehearsing a musical during which the leading lady slaps the leading man (me). It hadn’t been a scene we were supposed to rehearse that night, but it was announced to the cast that it was now a priority.
The slaps were not fake or staged. It had to look real. He instructed my counterpart to make actual contact. She hesitated, as well she should, but I encouraged her that it was ok. I was scared. But it was just a little slap. Not a big deal. She gave an effortless swat at my face. The director decided to demonstrate. Again. Again. Again. That is how you fake a real slap.
I pretended it didn’t hurt and later cried alone in the dressing room. Someone asked me why I was crying and I shut the door.
This story quickly digresses into a poorly conceived attempt to extricate myself from his molestation without others finding out. I told someone else, and then they told the administration, but there were no witnesses, so I was forced to simply avoid seeing him in the hall for another year…
In this tale, I want to highlight the power differential between my drama teacher and myself, the inherent naiveté of youth, and the subtle, insidious way in which this master manipulator worked.
People often think that when others in situations like mine demonstrate ambiguity in their actions this means that victims like me actually wanted what happened to happen and then later changed their mind or regretted their complicity. This line of reasoning is used frequently against women who claim assault or harassment. She wanted it. She was joking with us too.
I was there letting him hug me. I should have known!
There were a number of reasons that I was incapable of consenting to what was happening to me.
- My inexperience: I didn’t know what was happening and didn’t know what had happened until long after it happened.
- The power differential: If I had rejected the small moves he was making, it could have resulted in bad consequences for me.
- The promises: He seemed sincerely to care like a parent cares. He seemed to clearly wanted to help me succeed, even if for his own selfish reasons.
- His mastery of manipulation: He knew how to set me at ease, draw me in slowly, create incentives for my cooperation, and slowly sink his fangs.
- I cared for him: I didn’t want anything bad to happen to him. I wanted to believe he had the best intentions.
I google him every few years and I did again just before writing this paragraph. He is successful, has taught at universities, and served as director of academic affairs in a state board of regents… even after I told my high school administration what had happened to me (because I was forced to after a friend told them what I had confided in them). I can’t blame the board of education for doing nothing. There were, in fact, no material witnesses. Everytime I type his name, I tell myself I will be dispassionate, but as I write these words my thoughts struggle to maintain coherency and my heart is pounding in my chest. I guess I haven’t recovered yet.
I write this story just to add to the millions of other stories similar to this in the world. I hope by seeing me share this others feel less alone, more likely to seek help, and maybe even are able to understand that what has happened to them is not their fault. It’s not your fault!