My reaction to the recent reports of the university professor who accused a Supreme Court nominee of decades-ago sexual assault: You can do that?
My next thought: How come I never thought of that?
But why dredge up the past? Except that current events are churning the still waters in many a woman’s memories. Now that Christine Blasey Ford, Ph.D., has named Brett Kavanaugh as the young man who tried to rape her when she was 15, the high school drama in the news has revived my own high school drama.
My favorite high school teacher told me I was special, because as a 30-something-year-old, he wouldn’t normally notice a 16-year-old in that way. And I wanted to be special to him. I wanted a man whom I worshipped to call me mature beyond my years, to find me irresistible, to pursue me as forbidden fruit. My sexual experience to that point had consisted of French-kissing one boy. When my teacher had dry and uncomfortable sex with me, outdoors on the ground on a school lake trip, I felt like I was watching us from outside my body. Sex seemed clinical rather than romantic.
I didn’t understand for many years how wrong this was.
In retrospect, I’m sure I was neither the first nor the last special student who lost her virginity to this predatory teacher. At the time, however, I just didn’t want my parents to find out. I would rather have died than have told the police or any other adult authority.
The sex on the dirty ground happened on the last day of school. I lost contact with this teacher, because my family moved 3,000 miles west to California that summer. I was relieved when my period arrived on time and I wasn’t pregnant. I made up my mind that sex with a teacher was kind of a cool ‘first-time’ story. Even though I never told it.
Until I told the man I married.
You see the parallels with Ford: You don’t want your parents to know. You don’t have deep conversations about sexual violations that happened to you in high school until you are lucky enough to have an intimate partner whom you trust completely, and then things spill out. And you never escape the memory, which can haunt you, popping up and slapping you when you aren’t ready for it.
The memory next attacked me forcefully when I had daughters, and I pictured what had happened to me happening to any one of them. Then I felt murderous. But I was also glad I had protected my parents from learning what had happened to their daughter on their watch. My parents, God rest them, no longer need my protection.
I tell my high school story because a brave woman has told her high school story. I understand that the years fall away and the memory is brutal when prompted by an outside event. If my teacher appeared in the public spotlight and was about to be honored with a lifetime appointment to something, would I be brave enough to speak up? To name him? To invite publicity and scrutiny and shame and worse onto my family and myself?
I hope I never find out. I suspect that many grown women still cringe at the thought of the high school indignities and outright assaults they suffered, that stories like Ford’s bring us right back to the harrowing scene we thought we’d buried, that we still carry that adolescent scar on our menopausal psyches. We may struggle with intimacy as a result of something other people think we should have gotten over a long time ago. We may find healing in therapy. Or we may not.
This may be of small comfort, Ford, but I believe you. Those of us who’ve been there believe you. We too haven’t made this crap up. We too feel the pain you’ve carried. We too recognize your trepidation and appreciate your bravery. In this cleansing #MeToo era, we stand with you.
Valerie Schultz writes a twice-monthly column for the Bakersfield Californian.