Monday, July 2, 2012

Don’t Stand So Close to Me

Dear Honest Reader,
Lorie here. What you’re about to read is a cautionary tale that’s not easy for me to share. But I hope telling my story may save you or someone you love from a similar fate.  

The summer before my sophomore year, I did something naive and incredibly stupid. I’d signed up for an 8-week gym class so I wouldn’t have to take P.E. during the school year—this wasn’t the stupid part. Why go to class soaked in sweat when I could earn that credit over the summer?

The stupid part involves my reaction to the gym teacher/assistant football coach, Mr. B. He was tall, blond, athletic, and fresh out of college. From day one, Mr. B paid attention to me…a lot of attention. As a shy teen who’d just gotten her braces off, I was dumbfounded. What could this gorgeous, older guy, who all the girls twittered about in the locker room, see in skinny, awkward me?

The first week of class, Mr. B singled me out by yelling at me every chance he got. “Get it moving, Luneke! Is that the best you can do?!” (Yes, Luneke was my maiden name and I caught a ton of grief for it.) Finally, after several consecutive days of this treatment, I’d had enough. “Yes!” I yelled back, “As a matter of fact, it is!” He grinned, apparently getting the reaction he’d been seeking. But my assertiveness didn’t defuse the situation. Instead, his taunts became more aggressive and personal, until one day I marched up to him—my teacher—and yelled right in his face.

I’ll never forget the admiring look he gave me in that moment, or the excitement in his eyes. For the first time in my life, I became aware of my power as a woman. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at once.

I began experimenting with my newfound power by catching his eye and smiling at him across the field, or making excuses to go talk to him and standing a little too close. He’d give me his dimpled grin and I went all gooey inside. The other students noticed, because one morning a few of them asked me to talk Mr. B out of making us do our morning calisthenics routine, and it worked! Instead, Mr. B and I chatted and teased for the whole twenty minutes. Suddenly, getting up at the crack-of-dawn all summer didn’t seem so bad.

Soon, Mr. B was using any excuse to touch my arm or adjust my posture during exercises, or lean over to whisper some inane comment in my ear. My internal alarm—that intuitive spirit inside us all—began to sound. At first, it was a weak buzzing. Flirting with my young, good-looking teacher seemed harmless, not to mention, for the first time in my life, I felt wanted. Every morning his face would light up when he saw me, and I knew I made the sweltering days of never-ending gym class bearable for him too.

But when we started a swimming rotation things changed. Mr. B became almost possessive. He would walk along the side of the pool as I was swimming, and stand in front of the pool ladder when I was trying to climb out. The alarm in my head grew to a steady wail.

Then one day I got out of the pool and Mr. B wrapped a towel around my shoulders and began to dry me off. I freaked. I told him to get away and pushed at his arms, but he laughed. When I finally slipped away from him, I ran to the bathroom and locked myself in a stall. Disgust, embarrassment and fear battled inside me. The flirtation no longer felt harmless.

The next week I became nauseous during class and ran to the girl’s locker room. Mr. B followed me. Honestly, I don’t remember the exact words of that confrontation, but I do know when he tried to make his move I shut him down and told him never to touch me again.

The taunts and touching stopped; he couldn’t even seem to meet my eyes. But I was ashamed. I worried that it was my fault for encouraging him, and enjoying his attention.

On the last day of summer school, Mr. B handed out the grade cards. When I walked up to get mine, he yanked it back and said loud enough for everyone to hear, “I wonder how you got that grade?” And then he threw the grade card at me. It was an A-.

Looking back, I now realize it was wrong of Mr. B to touch me, even though I flirted with him. As a teacher, he should have ignored the attention of a naive 15-year-old student. But I wish I'd done things differently. I wish I'd gone to the principal as soon as the first alarm bell sounded in my head.

Friends, it’s a miracle my situation didn’t result in seriously devastating consequences. But later, I heard rumors of other girls who hadn’t resisted Mr. B’s charms. Maybe if I’d stepped up and reported him, I could’ve stopped it. Maybe not. But at least I would’ve done the right thing.

How about you, honest reader? Have there been any teacher’s who were more of a negative influence than a positive one?


CareyCorp said...

Wow! Thank you, Lorie, for being so brave and sharing something so personal.

Melissa Landers said...

Thanks for sharing, Lorie. When I was attending South Dade, we had a band teacher fired for this same kind of behavior. Then, many years later when I was a teacher myself, I'd heard of a colleague getting arrested for having sex with female students...who were eighth graders. :(

Lorie Langdon said...

@Carey - Thanks, my friend. And thanks for your encouragement to share this story. :)

@Melissa - That is horrible. It's so important that people keep their eyes open and watch for the signs. I think so much of this abuse could be prevented if someone stepped in and told the victim, no matter what role they think they've played in it, it is not their fault.

Loree Huebner said...

Lorie - You are so brave and strong to tell that story. I'm sending you a big hug.

Hey, when were 15 we don't realize the dangers lurking around, and 15 year old kids love attention - ANY attention. I know, I was once 15.

In a sense, I hope it will be a healing for you. We must confront some demons before we move forward...and hopefully your story will turn on a light bulb in a young girls head. I give you a standing ovation!

I remember my 8th grade science teacher - Mr. V. He was young and good looking. Every so often, one of his former students - a cute, popular, 10th grader girl would pass by, and he would make a bee line out into the hall to talk with her. Sometimes we missed the entire hour while he was chatting it up with her. I saw his face "light up" when she was around...he was married. That was one of the first times that I noticed something strange between a student and teacher.

Thanks for sharing! Not easy!

Lorie Langdon said...

Loree, thanks so much. :) Writing this blog was surprisingly painful, but therapeutic at the same time. I hadn't realized I'd suppressed so much of my memories of what happened until I started writing it down. I do feel lighter for sharing it, and hope that others will be made more aware of what's become an epidemic in our schools.
Thanks for stopping by. :o)

Gabriella Edwards said...

Wow! Great courage that took, indeed Lorie. Thank you for sharing. As you know, I'm the mother of a 7th grader and I can't imagine her having to go through anything like this. I only hope my baby will have the same strength and wisdom you did if this happens to her, God forbid.

Becke Davis said...

Lorie - I think the whole Sandusky affair is bringing memories like these to the fore. Way too many of us have similar memories. The guilt - "Was it my fault? Should I have responded differently?" seems to be a common thread. It makes me wonder if the abusers (and that's what he was, even if it didn't go that far) have the same guilt. I think they justify their reactions or don't feel any guilt at all. I'm so glad more people are coming forward, even when these things happened long in the past. I'm sorry this teacher's behavior left a stain on what should have been a wonderful time of your life. ((hugs))

Lorie Langdon said...

@Gabriella - Thank you. I think the key to protecting our kids is awareness and that's the main reason I posted this story. Your daughter has a good head on her shoulders and I know she'll listen to her mama! So just keep that communication open. :)

@Becke - I agree that the media is drawing more attention to these types of incidents now, but I wonder if they are happening more often too. Our society seems to be so desensitized to the negative influences around us! Okay, hopping off my soapbox now... ;-)
Thanks for the support, Becke!

Jessica Lemmon said...

Though I didnt go through what you went through, I feel as if I can relate. I was an awkward 15 yo and know I would've reacted the same way. Thank you for being brave enough to share. I love when you point out the moment you noticed your power as a woman. And you're right, he was the one in the wrong, not you.

Lorie Langdon said...

Hi Jessica - I guess one of the most scary aspects of writing this story was realizing how the victim gets pulled in by degrees until they feel they're just as much to blame. I understand why so many molestation cases go unreported for years.
Thanks for your support. *hugs*

Kimberly said...

What an amazing tale. And you're right. It is a cautionary tale. Just think of young girls who might not be as strong. Some who NEED that attention and are afraid to lose it if they don't follow through. With many young girls, that is the problem. They like the attention. They might not want it to go beyond that, but they are afraid of losing that attention and that feeling of new power.
The best things we can do is to tell our children and other teenage girls the stories that have happened to us and those we know. Sometimes they don't listen. Sometimes they have to experience things and go through the pain and the mistakes, but sometimes, just sometimes, they will listen to these cautionary tales (or rather true stories) and learn.
I can only hope my girls learn from them.
Thanks so much for sharing, Lorie!

Maria McKenzie said...

Lorie, thanks for sharing your story. What you went through can be a lesson to all young girls.

Lorie Langdon said...

@Kim - You are so right - I think there are very few teenage girls who wouldn't be effected by the attention. That's why open communication on this topic is so important! Thanks for the support!

@Maria - Thanks so much for stopping by! *hugs*

Unknown said...

Very brave confession and its nice to know you're not alone. I just wished kids felt more secure and reported these things earlier. Lots of heartache, but maybe as writers, we can help them find a connection to our characters who suffer through the drama and survive. Luckily my first encounter was when I was eighteen, but I was a naive eighteen. Car salesman who sold me my first car. Cute, drove a sports car, smooth talker--"octopus."

Lorie Langdon said...

Thanks Harley. Sharing past mistakes can be embarrassing but if it can help someone else, I'm okay with getting out of my comfort zone.

Why is it car salesmen tend to be creeps? I've encountered a few in my day. ;)