the teacher

I was 13 when the scandal broke. I had achy little boobs, greasy bangs, plastic glasses frames, and silver braces with rubber bands the colors of Halloween in October and America in July. My favorite song was Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman.” Yes, imagine the girl I just described, singing Twain’s sexy lady anthem into a toothbrush microphone in front of the full-length mirror that bore the ghostly silhouette of a peeled-off My Little Pony sticker, and weep for her.

My dad took me to TCBY one night after dinner and Monica Lewinsky’s name was all over the AM radio station he favored. I wanted to play my Shania tape but I was also curious about this woman with the distinctive name.

When I was a girl, the story of Monica Lewinsky unfolded less like a narrative and more like a game of solitaire. I collected and laid out bits of information like cards, each one distinct and seemingly random: The Starr report, a blue dress, the intern, impeachment, a beret, that woman, a stain, shame, Linda Tripp, a cigar.

Over time I would be able to pick up one card and lay it on another:

The intern is that woman.
The intern, that woman, wore a beret.
The intern, that woman who wore a beret, had a blue dress.
The intern, that woman who wore a beret, had a stained blue dress.
Now where does this cigar go?

When I was 13 I wasn’t sure what could have stained Monica’s dress in such a gleeful, embarrassing way, and it seemed unbelievable that the thing I guessed could possibly be right. (It was.)

It’s only now, looking back, that I realize that I never even considered that Bill Clinton’s name deserved to be on the scandal even more than Monica Lewinsky’s. At the time, the story was that woman. She was smiling up at him from under that beret, surrounded by people who wanted him to smile back. I laughed at her along with everyone else. What a joke.

It’s only now, looking back, when I imagine being questioned about what I did or didn’t do, what I wanted or didn’t want, what I said or didn’t say when I was a girl alone in a room with a man I admired, that my heart breaks for Monica Lewinsky. She must have wanted to crawl in a hole and die. It was a feeling my 13-year-old self knew intimately; a feeling I would not feel as I sat in the room with him, unsure what would happen next; a feeling that I would come to feel only when I looked back on girlish things with the eyes of a grown woman. It was a sliver of experience I didn’t know I shared with that woman.

I first saw The Teacher in the open-air hallway between the academic theater building and the theater proper. The cool kids, the ones who had the shine of talent and confidence on them, gathered there on stone benches and sang RENT and Wicked, and talked shit about rehearsals, professors, and students who didn’t have that shine.

I wasn’t confident. I had no shine. I was a skittish 18-year-old college student who’d gathered enough courage to audition for a senior-led one-act festival, but not enough to audition for the mainstage shows. I’d enrolled in the Fundamentals of Acting class that semester, a course referred to by the cool kids as “Fundies,” in a way that made “fundies” sound like the worst thing a person, place, or thing could be called.

After the one-act show, The Teacher stopped me as I tried to slip through the breezeway in a fake hurry, only slightly more terrified of being acknowledged than of being ignored.

“People are curious about you,” he said. Everyone else quieted down.
“You were in David’s show.”
“Yeah, I was.”

He nodded a little frown, a not-bad frown, and said, “So why aren’t you in the department?”

“I… am?” I gestured to the door to the theater building, aware that I was, at that moment, performing something.

“We’ll see,” he said, and smiled at me the way my favorite older men do, with grudging curiosity and an amused sort of challenge. We’ll see what you’re made of.

I liked him a lot. I liked his face. I liked his smile; when he’d finally cracked a real one, it transformed his face from inscrutable to magnetic. His resting expression was a smile, but not a warm one. He sat and wore a Puckish half-smile you’d flash at your enemies, or you’d sink into when reading about their deaths.

I liked the way he talked, with that particular Boston-Southern Louisiana accent that made everything he said sound like a dirty joke.

Despite The Teacher’s not-bad-frown and “atta girl” smile in the breezeway that day, I was terrified when I took his class. I slunk in and pretended to be very busy setting up my desk. Two-thirds of the class was made up of the breezeway people, the ones who had gravitas and American Theater subscriptions to their college mailboxes. They threw their legs over the seats on the far the side of the room and argued with The Teacher, asking thoughtful questions and making nuanced observations. I did not want to be called on, ever. Between The Teacher’s rapid-fire lecture style and the obvious confidence of the cool kids, I spent about 10% of my energy learning and about 90% of my energy trying to sink into invisibility by looking exactly as engaged as the people around me.

The Teacher was really into eye contact in a way that always felt like a test. Whenever he looked at me, I would hold his gaze and remember the way he’d smiled when I’d lifted my chin, when he’d said, in so many words, “We’ll see what you’re made of.”

Most often, he’d look away without calling on me. When he did, I felt like I’d failed. On the rare occasions he did ask me a question, he’d say something like, “Show us what you’ve got.”

The spring of my junior year, he cast me in a mainstage show. I played an Asian character. This was years before I developed the instincts to sense racial profanity when it unrolled in front of my eyes, much less heard the term “yellowface,” and I threw myself into the role. I felt crushed under the responsibility to do portray this Japanese character respectfully. I also felt crushed under the burden of proving myself and proving The Teacher had good instincts when it came to, well, me. The department belonged to The Teacher, a young and charismatic PhD, and he’d vouched for me by casting me in the most difficult role in the show.

Early on in rehearsals, I was walking across the stage in tabi socks and a sorority tee-shirt, the back of which read, “If found drunk, please return to” and gave the address of my sorority house. I was freshly off-book for this scene and mentally juggling the newly-memorized words, the still-unnatural gestures, the blocking, the culturally specific footwork, and the need to create a sense of dread in this particular scene.

The Teacher stopped me. This isn’t gonna be good, I thought as he walked up to me in front of the waiting cast. He put both his hands on my shoulders, and made that unblinking eye contact. Everyone was looking.

“Katie, nobody else in this room thinks you can do this. I went to bat for you. I am the only one who said you could do it. Nobody else. They all think I made a mistake. Okay?”

There wasn’t enough time for me to feel anything but humiliated and angry. Humiliated wasn’t a new feeling; anyone who spends any period of time in performance in front of strangers sometimes finds themselves accidentally viewing themselves through the eyes of people who aren’t feeling it, and that is a bone-deep humiliation that you never, ever forget.

But I was also furious at those other people, the ones who didn’t believe in me, unlike The Teacher. I raised my chin. Let’s see what you’re made of. The Teacher walked me through the scene, layering the elements into my performance. He told me to start with the footwork, then we added the text. Then we went back, with footwork and text, and added the herky-jerky head movements and arm gestures that made me look like a broken wind-up doll. By the end of the rehearsal, people were looking at me differently. The Teacher winked at me.

“Good work,” he said. “We showed ‘em.”

You have to understand, I already suspected I was a joke, so when The Teacher confirmed that I had no allies but him, I didn’t feel suspicious of his motives. I felt grateful for his honesty. I also recognized and respected his tactic as a director. He’d put me down, and then helped me rebuild myself within the role. The part demanded a rebuild.

I was cool with it, I decided that night.

One afternoon, The Teacher sat down next to me in the house seats while another scene rehearsed on the stage. He put his arm around me and ran his fingers over the skin of my shoulder. He looked into my eyes and smiled.

Quietly, he asked, “Why aren’t we together?”

I was not immediately repulsed by the question, but I was immediately alarmed by his focused attention. He asked, “Is it because you’re a Republican? I think that’s the only reason we’re not together.”

My parents are Republicans and I, like many young people, adopted their affiliation until I began to explore my own values. Early in college, I said I was a Republican without fully understanding if I agreed with them.

“Yeah,” I laughed. “That’s why.”

The first day that we got into our costumes, I tried on my fighter pilot jumpsuit and walked out onto the stage, presenting myself to The Teacher for approval. “Damn,” he said.

“What?” I asked, looking down.

“It’s perfect,” he said. “You always want the audience to be thinking about sex, no matter what the play’s about.”

His fiancée was visiting that day. The Teacher introduced her to me and I went into good-girl mode. I smiled like a church greeter, shook her hand, and told her that I loved working with The Teacher. At the end of the rehearsal, The Teacher found me and said that his fiancée liked me.

“She really liked you,” he said, leaning in with unmistakable thickness of voice. “She liked that jumpsuit, too.” He looked like he was about to laugh but he didn’t. This is one of the snapshots in my head that I always see when I think of The Teacher: Him, just standing there in the stage lights, leaned in close with his hands in his front pants pockets, a half-smile poised to bloom on his lips. He looks like he’s expecting something, as if he’s waiting for me to deliver the punchline that he set up.

“She seemed great!” I chirped. I pretended the innuendo had sailed over my head.

Sure, I thought about fucking The Teacher.

There was something interestingly dirty and unapologetic about him, like a tickle, that made me roll the idea around in my head the way you taste every part of a word you’ve just learned in a new language.

I knew there were things about The Teacher that nobody discussed. I’d heard casual mention of him fucking former students, but the way everyone talked about it, it was okay because it was never anyone who was in his class. The other professors seemed to like him.

People joked about seeing him “in action.” If it were really wrong he wouldn’t just do it out loud, in front of people, right? Besides, we’re all adults here, right? I found the confirmation of his widespread lasciviousness to be comforting. And insulting.

I admit it. I was miffed. I didn’t like when his attention became sexual, but I also didn’t want to share that attention. It’s hard to explain. I didn’t want to be the only one, but I also didn’t want to be one of everyone. I didn’t want to be singled out; I didn’t want to be just another host of fuckable orifices.

I wanted his respect. He was so smart.

I wanted him to think I was a good actor. He knew so many.

I wanted him to call me talented and interesting. I was starving to be those things. I felt stupid and lost, and when he, king of the breezeway, looked at me and wanted what he saw, it made me feel found. When he told me that he alone believed in me, I felt found. Pinned by a spotlight, paralyzed, not yet off-book, but found. Now we can see what I’m made of.

I wanted to believe that The Teacher wouldn’t act like he wanted to fuck me if he didn’t respect me. I wanted to be welcome in the world that he seemed to roll around in the palm of his cigarette hand. I didn’t know how to experience his behavior without making myself an accessory to it, or how to have the courage to object without losing the thin connection I had to a place that I desperately wanted to call home. I was young.

As I unearthed my recollections of The Teacher to write this piece, more than a decade after college, I asked a friend, “Was there anyone he didn’t try to bang?” As soon as I asked I regretted it. I didn’t know what I wanted the answer to be.

One day The Teacher brought his brother to the green room for a cast party. The shitty old couch was packed with students: one layer sat on the cushions, and another layer sat on the laps of the first. Everyone whispered and chattered and hollered and belted. You have to understand how heady that kind of room can be; it’s a place that’s full of people who have a hard time believing they fit in anywhere else.

In the joyful ruckus, The Teacher appeared with a guy who looked like him but better. He had more hair. He was taller, broader, less seedy and more bright. He smelled like soap and cologne instead of cigarettes. “This is my brother,” The Teacher said. I smiled. I went into good-girl mode. I might have been showing him to his table or welcoming him to the church. “This is the student I was telling you about.” They exchanged a quick look and I saw the family resemblance.

“Nice to meet you” I said, just as a roar of laughter rolled through the room.

The brother blinked and said, “What? I’m sorry, it’s so loud in here... “ then he leaned in, put his hand on the small of my back, and pulled me into a languid, full-body hug. He pulled back enough to look down at me, and then looked at The Teacher with a half-smile.

“Okay, okay,” The Teacher laughed as he clapped his brother hard on the back and pulled him away. “Easy.” I was still smiling as I slipped out of his arms.

“Be careful,” The Teacher told me later that night, when it was just the two of us in the night-surrounded breezeway.

“He likes you. And he wouldn’t follow the rules like I do.”

“Thank you,” I said. I meant it. I knew The Teacher would protect me.

You have to understand, I trusted him. He believed in me, and he told me that nobody else did. If he sometimes alarmed or confused me, I believed it was because of my inexperience, not his inappropriateness. It was probably because my parents were Republicans. It was because I was a kid. It was because I wasn’t sophisticated enough to want to be reminded that he wanted to have sex. That was my problem, not his. And you have to understand, The Teacher didn’t try to hide anything from anyone.

Besides, he wasn’t my French or Econ professor. He was my theatre professor. He instructed me in self-expression and vulnerability. He coached me in the best way to communicate primal human experiences like love and death and sex and violence. It was natural that we’d discuss these things. It was natural that he’d tell me to go farther, get dirtier, be realer, be everything he wanted me to be. He was my director, of course he sculpted my performance, my body, my voice. Of course we’d talk about sex. It was natural that he’d touch my skin, tease me about my shirt. We were artists.

And I liked the idea of feeling desired by someone I respected, so I felt like I should want the experience of The Teacher’s desire the way I wanted the experience of David’s, the senior for whom I thirsted.

For a full year, I hoped that David would appear by my side at parties, a cold Coors Light in his hand for me. He always drank whatever was in the keg, so that bottle in his hand was intoxicating proof that he’d been thinking of me as I’d been thinking of him, that he’d planned to appear, as I’d planned what I’d do if he did.

One afternoon I arrived at a party at dusk and David jogged out of the house to meet me, my Coors Light in his hand, and he hugged me so hungrily that my whole body walked backward with him, step after step. David gave me long hugs that were questions. I returned them, long and tight, but unanswered. I had a boyfriend.

I’d had to pull myself back from David, whom I’d hunted like a housecat would, with flicks of my hair and passing rubs and long over-the-shoulder blinks; I presented myself to The Teacher like the meal he might send back.

I didn’t like the way The Teacher would sometimes appear when I was on my own, early to class or staying late after rehearsal. I did not like walking by his office because I knew I would lean in the doorway to say hello. I wanted him to look at me, talk to me. He’d look into my eyes and see my eagerness fighting wariness, and then say something perfectly innocent. I’d relax a little, and then he’d do something: a little squeeze around my waist, a long look from my head to my toes, a jump of his eyebrows with a guttural “Mm.”

Silly girl, nothing about him was really innocent. Silly rabbit, you relaxed and look what happened. Now you’re lunch.

He asked me into his office so we could practice how I pronounce my t’s. He closed the door. “Tap your tongue on the ridge in roof of your mouth, not at the tooth line,” he’d say. “Try again.” I could smell his zip-up track jacket, the new cigarettes layered over old cigarettes. “Tuh, tuh, tuh,” I’d say, focusing on my tongue. He sat across from me in the small office, our knees touching, and watched my mouth open and close.

Did he intend for those coaching sessions to be sexually loaded? He was a great teacher; he was on the prowl. I needed work; I wasn’t 20 yet.

Chekhov said, “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.” When you reveal that you possess a weapon, we don’t forget that you have it. When you make a promise, we wait for you to keep it.

By then I knew what was on the wall with The Teacher. I was alone with him, which meant I was waiting for him to say or do something suggestive, which meant I was wondering what I’d have to say or do in response, which meant, ultimately, that I was sitting in that office thinking about fucking or not fucking The Teacher. He’d hung his gun on the wall and whenever he was around I couldn’t think about anything else. I was always waiting for the click or the bang.

You have to understand, I loved him. I really, really did, as much as a teenager can love her professor. I did.

He came to watch a rehearsal for a show my senior year. After I worked a scene, he came up to me and said, with the warmth of an uncle or a very old friend, “What a strange journey you’ve had.” I smiled. He respected me. He was proud of me. Without him, I wouldn’t have gotten this role. He was the only one who believed in me. That spring, he gave me the theater department award before I graduated. I hugged him in front of my mother and an auditorium full of people.

He hummed, “Mmmm,” in my ear. It might have been affectionate. Oh, Teacher.

I thought of everything The Teacher did as a cultural shibboleth of a creative community.

Time passed. Then I began to think of everything The Teacher did as a relationship to which I consented with my silence.

Then I began to think of what The Teacher did as evidence of his sadness, his loneliness, his need to be saved.

Then I stopped thinking about it.

We remained Facebook friends for years. I thought of him fondly, the way you think about your greatest teachers.

But I also thought of him with the warmth that colors the memory of a Homecoming date who was almost more than a friend. On that one night, dressed up and in the dark, you both entertained the idea of maybe, maybe…

But then the sun came up and you came back to your senses.

It’s not always easy to tell when shit’s fucked up. Sometimes he is smart and funny. Sometimes you love him. Sometimes you have imagined what it would be like to be together, and your pretend participation makes you feel like an accessory to what he did. Sometimes you remind yourself of all the things that didn’t happen, as if the undone things could make up a person’s character. Sometimes the sun doesn’t come up for years.

When Harvey Weinstein got his comeuppance, I found my thoughts traveling to The Teacher. I knew that if #metoo made its way to Louisiana, he’d get his. I started checking in with him on Facebook more and more often. His eyes were still so blue. I commented on a couple of his posts and found myself waiting for his like, his love, maybe even a comment in return.

One afternoon, about a year ago, I sat down to write about The Teacher. I had a hot cup of coffee in my hand and nostalgia in my head. I felt the way I had the last time I was home and my mom asked me to go through the shoeboxes in my childhood closet.

As I recollected all of the moments with The Teacher, I suddenly felt a sense of giggling wonder, the way I might if I looked back and realized, in a flash, that my aunt and her “roommate” were partners. My whole adult life, I had all the information. I knew all the facts. Then I looked at those familiar memories with adult eyes, and I discovered the truth that I’ve always known, and my first reaction was laughter. “Holy shit, of course,” I wanted to say, laughing affectionately at my naive younger self.

But as I wrote, I also became aware of the long spaces of time in which I had to stop writing. I wasn’t overcome; I was waiting out the impulse to lie. Not outright. Just with omissions. Just with more generous adjectives than were technically accurate.

Did he keep his office door open or close it?

I don't have to mention the door.



Tell the truth. This story belongs to you, too.

He closed the door.

Even when I was alone in a room with a computer and only the memory of The Teacher, I protected him. I protected him from me. I protected him from my memories of him. I protected The Teacher from what The Teacher did, as if that was my job. I wanted to lie to protect him, and I wanted to do it without thinking. It took work to tell the truth. The impulse to make yourself a liar to protect someone you loved who conducted himself like a dirtbag (because he did) is an unsettling one.

I had the impulse to tell this story in such a way that he’d be as compelling and magnetic as he was to me when I was an 18, 19-year-old kid. I could tell it in such a way that there’d be two sides a person could reasonably take - was it harassment, or just theater? Was it predatory grooming, or tough love? Was he a phony manipulator or a flawed mentor?

Perhaps I felt like I wouldn’t be such a cliche, pitiable figure if I could make you understand how charismatic and kind he could be. Perhaps, also, I felt a lingering sense of loyalty to him.

Perhaps most of all, I was unwilling to recolor the college experiences I treasure. I was afraid of telling not just a moment, not just a snapshot or a spoken word, but the entire story of a time that was clearly, in hindsight, unhealthy and embarrassing. Perhaps all of those things. Perhaps I still care about him more than I care about whatever he did in the past and can’t be changed now and hasn’t impacted my happy life very much.

Is that true?



Yes. That’s true.

The last time I was home my mother asked me to go through the stack of shoeboxes that lived on the shelf in the top of my closet. These were the shoeboxes of my high school boyfriends, each one a little cardboard coffin for a boy who had broken my heart with my full consent, or whose heart I’d broken with his. It’s hard to end a high school relationship with anything less than full devastation, at least in my experience. I don’t know if that’s because high schoolers need the clarity of a collapse or because we’re so clumsy with each other that a step backward turns into a tumble off a cliff. Either way, say what you will about the end of young love, it hurts like a motherfucker but it’s usually about as subtle as a crater.

A black Steve Madden box held a faded, velvety soft men’s t-shirt with the BMW logo on the chest. Cards in familiar handwriting made me smile. He’d been my best friend for a year before I finally confessed, one late night on the phone the summer before our senior year, that I wanted more. We were happy for 2 and a half of our three years together, until things soured and we’d gotten old enough that ending it wasn’t as simple as jumping off a cliff anymore.

As I sat on the floor in my old bedroom, I remembered the whole story: The friendship, the love, the first time, the change, the red flags, the fights, the scares, the sleepless nights. The forgiveness became a lie, and then we broke, and then I met Ryan, and that was that.

It used to be painful but as I unfolded a wrinkled piece of notebook paper, I felt proud that I could read a love note, remember everything that came after, and still smile. Say what you will about young love, it’s intoxicating as hell, even if it does teach you how to lie, effortlessly, about the person you love. To make him more lovable, to make yourself less pathetic. Because you know that no matter how terribly he loved you, if he did love you, he’s already forgiven.

Here’s a thought that makes me want to cry like a child: what if he was just fucking with me the whole time? What if I’ve fallen down this terrible rabbit hole of feeling strange and angry and sad and affectionate, and angry at my affection, and sad at my anger, and the whole time he was just fucking with me and he never thought about it or me again?

I’ve been asking around. I need other people to tell me that my memories can be trusted. Because believe it or not, it feels worse to wonder if I was a joke than to wonder if I was sexually harassed by a college professor who still likes pictures of my kids on Facebook.

I imagined the letter I might get from him if I did ever share this story publicly. I imagined the worst thing he could say: “I was just being nice to you.” The most hurtful thing he could say would be to confirm that I can’t trust my own mind.

Actually, that’s not true. The worst thing he could say would be, “I wasn’t the only person who believed in you. Lots of people believed in you. I lied about that. But as a result, you’ve spent the last 15 years waiting to be found out as a fraud and kicked out of the talented club because I convinced you that I was the only one who supported you and you actually bought it. I undid your young lifetime of self-esteem just by telling you that I believed in you, unlike everyone else. It was easy, kid.”

That would be the worst thing he could say. I’d hoped that if I finally said it myself, pointed at all the ripples on the pond that emanated from that single dropped stone --“I’m the only one who believes in you” -- I would feel less foolish. I’m sorry to report it did not work.

I heard The Teacher got fired for fucking students. Oh, Teacher. I thought. Sadly. Amused. Of course you did.

Maybe because every year there was a new crop of us and we were always the same age, The Teacher seemed to forget that we would one day grow up.

He forgot that the girls and boys whom he convinced to be grateful for his attention would one day reexamine what he did with adult eyes and recognize him, not as the quirky, friendly prof, but as the guy we’ve met a hundred times since him. He forgot, or maybe he never understood, that we would all one day come to see him as the first one who taught us to mistrust ourselves.

The Teacher, the man who did not know how to relate to people outside of his lecture, his direction, his captivity, forgot that we would outgrow him. He thought of us as perpetual pupils, but disregarded the possibility that some of us would learn more from him than he meant to teach.

He forgot that he taught us to go to the text, to remember that the truth of the story lives in the lines that the characters speak, that their intentions are unmistakable if the play’s written well.

“Show us what you’ve got.”

“Nobody believes in you but me.”

“We showed ‘em.”

“Why aren’t we together?”

“You always want the audience to be thinking about sex.”

“She really liked you.”

“Be careful. He doesn’t follow the rules like I do.”

He did close the door.

As time passes, my feelings about The Teacher don't change so much as they are buried by new feelings about The Teacher; if they could take a shape, they'd be a tree whose cross-section could mark all the chapters of its life that still exist, alive and distinct, within a single body.

Even as I've grown angry and embarrassed, I remain affectionate, even protective. There is still a slender band of me that wants his respect and fears his power. That slender, tender band is why I can’t imagine writing his real name in this piece. The rings that have grown over it are why I imagine writing his real name in the title.

You have to understand how much I have hated writing this.

The Teacher wasn’t a wound that I was aware of until I started thinking about it. It wasn’t the kind of assault that hobbled me, like a flat tire or a shattered windshield. It was more like a busted windshield wiper, or a burned-out brake light, something that broke somewhere along the line, but only failed when I reached for it.

The thing that bothers me the most is the unanswerable question: was The Teacher the reason that I didn’t listen to myself in the years that followed? Was he the person who helped me get used to discomfort, who first and repeatedly translated my fear and discomfort into something less shrill: into butterflies, into flattery, maybe even the potential for desire?

I can’t blame The Teacher for the things other people did, later. But I can’t help but wonder what I would have thought I deserved if he’d been himself, exactly as magnetic and shrewd and powerful, except for one amendment.

I wonder if I would have thought I deserved to feel safe if he’d been the kind of teacher who said to someone else, “Hey, cut that shit out and be a professional,” instead of the kind of man who said, “Why aren’t we together.”

What do I feel about this?

I just feel quiet.

I just keep thinking, “Oh.”

Just the sound of air leaving.

Just the sound of my mind wandering back to check, again and again, the memories that I used to think I knew by heart. I keep finding new quiet spaces there, under rings and rings of evolving perspective on complicity, coercion, power and sex and the business of making art.

I keep getting further away from that girl, the one I used to be, uncomfortably, the one I no longer am, but love.

That was something I discovered in all the empty space where uncomplicated love used to live: I still love her. I love her for trusting The Teacher. I love her for feeling lost and auditioning anyway. I love her for getting furious that day The Teacher told her that nobody else believed in her. She’s a tough customer, that girl. Look how she survived.

It hurts because maybe The Teacher loved her, too. If he did, then he’s already forgiven. And that would mean that the year I spent quietly hurting and trying to write this essay was a wasted spelunking into unanswerable questions that brought me back, for no reason at all, to the TCBY where I listened to angry men sputter about that woman and learned to label dirty sex with her name and not his; to the shoeboxes in the top of my closet that taught me how to lie about the people I loved; to try to remember that I love the spineless mooning girl I was, singing Shania Twain in the mirror before she knew what could stain a blue dress, sitting in an office with the door, yes, closed and deciding, later, that it was fine.

But for all that, maybe I am already forgiven, too.

Maybe that is the sliver of experience that I didn’t know I shared with him.

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Thank you for being here. I know that was a long one.