A Beautiful, Terrible Conversation – Part Three: Standing

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Sitting in Bed

It’s been a month. One month since that morning, that dreadful morning sitting in my car. The morning my anxiety finally reached a breaking point after months, and I cracked. My clock tells me it’s only three in the morning, but my body is fully awake. I had a dream about that morning, sitting there in my car, covered in my own vomit, but instead of driving away in shame, I got out, went inside, and everybody just looked at me like I was a slut. I could hear whispers about what they thought I did to him, how he always seemed to want me around. I got to my room and it was filled with all my past female students, who were looking at me with pity and shame. I was barely able to keep from screaming when I woke up, and now here I am, stupid o’clock in the morning, with my dog looking at me with big watery eyes, concerned but sleepy. I thought if I could just make it to 6AM, I can make it another day. And if I can make it another day, then I can take another week.

I looked into the darkness of my bathroom, the small bottle of pills my doctor gave me calling out to me, a beckoning hand reaching out from the dark offering to pull me back down with it. I know if I take one now, I’ll be out of it until noon. It wouldn’t be the first time, but I hated it. Not only that, I feared that hand also. I knew it offered a deeper abyss, and if I took that offer, I’d be out of this situation forever. No pain, no guilt, nothing. Not for me, anyway.

A noise brought me out of my daze; my dog was fully awake now and looking at me with real worry. I realize I was standing a few feet from my bed, facing the bathroom. The clock told me it was 3:35. I started crying and collapsed back into the bed, my dog’s big head nuzzling at my hand. God, just let me make it until six.

Today, I guess technically yesterday, I met with another lawyer, my thirteenth, a baker’s dozen. The others all told me the same thing, that filing a suit was almost pointless. Several allegations were brought against the same man and the lawyers that worked for his union were happily keeping all of them tied up in court with appeals, deferments, and counter suits. It’s one of the wealthiest school districts in the country, and they could keep me out of court for years. Years I can’t afford. And he was smart. Nothing he sent me was blatantly over the line. All the texts and DMs were innuendos and inappropriate jokes. All the worst things he said to me were saved for in-person when nobody else was around. He even knew where all the cameras were, so those little unwanted touches of the arm, the small of my back, were never caught on video.

I, of course, didn’t realize any of this until it was too late, clued in by Summer. She saw that he was asking me to stay behind after meetings, she saw the little touches and asked me to meet in her office. It was she that told me about the cameras, the other allegations, and that she, too, had dealings with him. I was absolutely astounded by my ignorance and that this had been going on for so long. It made me feel more powerless than I had already. I had revealed to Summer that I was gay, that I hadn’t come out yet, but asked if maybe that would deter him. I knew the answer before she could even bark a short, humorless laugh. Some of the “jokes” he shared with me were homophobic and sexist as hell. If anything, it would anger him. We talked for a few more minutes before I left with a new sense of dread I hadn’t had before. It was about three weeks later when that terrible morning in the car happened.

The clock told me I had only another two hours to go, my dog’s light snores told me more than my own subconscious that I could do it and sleep finally, slowly pulled me back down.

Interlude 3 – Natasha

It was the start of a new year and I was looking at my roster for the first day. It didn’t look too bad. A lot of new names, a few familiar ones, and of course the names we know by reputation. One in particular: Richard A. This name rang a loud and irritating bell in my head, klaxons for the military have sounded friendlier, but I couldn’t remember why his name should cause such alarm. I tried to never judge a student by another teacher’s experience with them. Too often, it was just conflicting personalities, and the students that had problems with others were well behaved for me. But sometimes, you can’t help but to listen to the stories of those who’ve been through it. They often know what the Hell they’re talking about.

I stood up, took a minute to enjoy stretching when nobody was around and took my roster to the ladies in my department. I figured it wouldn’t take me long to find someone who had him before. He was two years older than the other students in his grade, which means he’s been bouncing around here for awhile. I got my answer on the very first try..

“Oh HELL no!” Chyna looked at it for exactly five seconds before she saw his name.

I laughed, “Is he that bad? What did he do? Bite another student?” I laughed again. I love Chyna, but she had a habit of exaggerating. However, the look on her face brought me up short and the laugh died in my throat.

Chyna crossed her arms over her chest and gave me one of those incredulous looks only Black women are capable of. “Do you remember last year there was a boy who threaten to kill another student by strangling her and then stabbing her? Said that to her face in front of a teacher? Mmmm hmmmm. That’s this boy right here, and the girl he threatened not once but a few times is right here in the same class.”

She pointed a long, beautiful brown finger down the roster toward the end and I saw her there. Natasha. She was right, it was one of the most talked about moments among the students last year. The police were called in, a PFA was filed, classes were rearranged, and Richard disappeared for about two months. We never found out where he went, only that he was suspended, but he just disappeared. Nobody had seen or heard from him or his parents for those few months and then he just showed up to class a few weeks after his suspension was lifted like nothing happened. Nobody knew what happened, but a few weeks later he threatened her again and he was done for the rest of the year. Now, they were both in my class. Just great.

“You better do something about that! It’s going to be drama from day one!” Chyna said, rather obviously.

I thanked her and got back to my classroom to send a quick email to her counselor asking for more details and what the hell was up with this situation. Then I started typing an email to her administrator. Before I had even gotten three lines in, her guidance counselor was in my door way. Her office was downstairs and on the other side of the building, but she made it here in record time.

“What the actual fuck?!” Terri said by way of introduction. I always like Terri, she looked like a polished, refined, petite southern belle with just a hint of twang in her voice, but she swore like a sailor and was not shy about her poor, white Trash upbringing. She wore it like a badge of honor.

“I have no idea what is going on here, but this cannot happen.” She let loose a string of profanity that made me blush down to the roots of my hair. “Let me talk to her admin and get this straightened out.” And with a whirlwind of blonde hair and attitude, she was gone and only a whiff of lavender remained. I had not said a single word.

By the end of the day, after a dozen emails, the end result was, “Let’s wait and see.” I was livid. This girl, whom I had never met before, is going to be thrown into a classroom with the man, no, boy who had threatened to harm and kill her. Twice! And if there was a problem, then they would move her or him. I couldn’t believe it. How many women were denied a PFA, or even given one, and the nut job they were trying to protect themselves from ending up harming or killing them? I knew over 4000 women in the US were killed by a partner since 2008, yet here we were.

An image of this girl, whom I’ve yet to meet, rose up in my mind. She was walking into my classroom, laughing at something a friend of hers in the hallway had said, and I watched as that laugh died on her lips. The look of dread in her eyes as she recognized him. You know he’d be sitting in the front, a smug smirk on his lips. This entirely imagined moment of anguish settled in the pit of my stomach, and I did something I’ve never done before. I got up and went to call the parent before I even met the kid.

My hands shook as I dialed the numbers, my knuckles white on the hand squeezing the phone, but the smug image of that boy slowly started to fade as the mother answered the phone. I heard the steel in her voice just saying hello. Maybe this will work out after all.

The next day, I was notified the boy was moved to another class, in a different hallway. One small victory, anyway.

Standing, Finally

I managed to wake up at a semi-normal time, exhausted but happy to be awake. I waited for the coffee to brew and thought about last night. About not remembering standing up to go to the bathroom, toward those pills. I shuddered and thought about what would have happened if I hadn’t come to in time. I looked at Hector and he thumped his tail once on the floor, a dog’s version of “Ahem.”

“Sorry, if I hadn’t been woken up.” I reached down and scratched him behind the ears the way he likes. He wagged his tail happily as stood up to take down his box of treats from on top of the fridge. I kept them up there because he has figured out how to get them down from everywhere else.

As I stood in my kitchen, listening to Hector happily crunching his dog treats while cheap coffee dripped into the carafe, I realized I had made a choice. I needed to take back my own life. This living hell, of being trapped in my own apartment, no job, no control, all because of him. One man. No more. I cannot let one man dictate my life anymore.

I cannot go back to teaching here, he has seen to that. I cannot get a good referral from him and he has already promised to hold back my certificate as long as he can. I could move, go to another state and teach there, but I can’t leave my family. Those I still see and talk to, anyway.

I poured myself a cup of coffee and I remembered a friend who mentioned a job, one I was qualified for that wasn’t teaching. It would pay better, but I’d be behind a desk, in an office, and not doing the one thing I believed I should be doing with my life. And for the first time, ever, I thought I may be able to do it. He hurt me, he scarred me, and even at forty-four it’s changed me forever. I thought of my students who’ve been through this and worse. It doesn’t matter if it happens if you’re fourteen or forty-four, it changes you, how you view the world. How you view yourself. For the first time, I could see myself as something else besides a strong, female teacher. I could be a strong woman.

Because of him. No. In spite of him.

I stood in my kitchen and wept. But I did not sit.

Afterward

This is the third part to these stories. You can find the other two here and here. I wish I could say this story had a happy ending, that she reclaimed her life and is now stronger for her ordeal. I wish I could say that the men and boys depicted in these accounts received the punishment they deserved, but I can’t. The fact of the matter is that millions of women and tens of thousands of men are harassed and assaulted every year in America, that most of these go unreported due to fear of retribution, due to being shamed, due to a long enforced belief that they must have done something to deserve it. We must do better.

I’m not so foolish to believe that we can “cure” people who commit sexual assault and harassment, that we can stop it completely, but I believe we can stop making it so easy for those who do it. I’m optimistic that if men start calling out those who do these things, we can change the lives of millions of people for the better. Instead of giving silence or rejection to those who suffer, give your support, your understanding.

One thought on “A Beautiful, Terrible Conversation – Part Three: Standing

  1. Tina Opines says:

    It is a painful and long journey. Seek solid, emotional support and when the time comes, you will be able to give back to those who suffer, like yourself, affirming your goodness and all that is worthwhile in life.

    Like

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