The part of the story that I don’t like telling people is how flattering it was at the beginning. I tend to get a lot more horrified looks and sympathetic nods when I say that my eleventh grade English teacher told me he was in love with me if I omit the part where I was proud to have so much control over a grown man. I guess in retrospect it wasn’t control. Everyone but me could have seen it then, but until it spiraled out of my grasp, I really did think that I was the one pulling the strings. Someone could have warned me, if I had spoken up sooner.
When I emailed him asking if he would mind being interviewed for a newspaper article he responded with, “It’s a date.”
It was a brisk autumn day as we sat outside for the interview. He dodged my questions, and instead talked about lower case r- romantic poetry and how he would love to give me a book of poems to read. I liked that he was flirting with me. It made me feel powerful and beautiful, two things I didn’t tend to feel. He told me I was brilliant, the best English student he ever had. He couldn’t wait to ask me to sign the great American novel I was destined to write in a few years.
His hands brushed against my knee, rubbing the black nylon of my tights. He blushed as I jerked it away. It was a line I thought he wouldn’t cross, a physical barrier that I had trusted him to respect. I thanked him for the interview, and my friends asked me why I was so pale for the rest of the day. I said it was a migraine.
I drove home from school with my hands shaking, but by the time I had reached my freeway exit I had regained my composure. I had done nothing wrong, I can’t control other people’s feelings, and it was not my fault that my 45-year-old English teacher had a crush on me. I didn’t mention it when my parents asked me how my day was. I didn’t mention it once over the next three months.
I stopped sleeping at night. If I ever did fall asleep I would wake up in the middle of the night wracked with guilt or sweating from nightmares. The power was slipping away from me, and I knew what he was doing was wrong, but I was in too deep and it was my fault. He told me that. He said he was attracted to me because my short uniform skirt and tight polo shirt were too alluring. He said that if I hadn’t wanted his attention I wouldn’t have asked to interview him in the first place. He called me a temptress and a tease and told me that I was lucky to have gotten an A on my last paper because if it weren’t for my pretty eyes I wouldn’t have.
When he asked me to meet him after school, I cracked. I went home crying and confided in my brother, begging him not to tell my parents. They would be so disappointed in me, I thought. I had tempted a grown man with children to fall in love with me, and I hadn’t put a stop to it.
He said that I hadn’t tempted anyone, that this man was sick and needed to be locked up, and that he needed to tell mom and dad. He printed out every email my teacher had sent me and explained it to my parents so I didn’t have to. My parents were furious, not at me, but at the world. They wanted to call the school and threaten to sue. I told them to hold off. I still felt guilty and confused. I didn’t want his kids, especially his daughter who was just three years younger than me, to find out.
A week or so later, I changed my mind, and tried to demand action from the school. You might think that he got slammed with a sexual harassment suit, or at the very least immediately got fired and left ignominiously with a marred reputation.
None of that happened. He was not fired. His only punishment was counseling. He’s still everyone’s favorite English teacher, and until the day I graduated he stared at me. Then he left to teach at another school. This is the first time I’ve told this story publicly, and I’m sorry there’s not a more satisfying ending. Some things just leave you feeling empty.