Recently I saw a play that dealt with the difficult issue of a sexual relationship between a very young girl (12) and a much older man (40), fifteen years after their one consensual consummated evening of love. They both remember it as love. Then things go wrong, she finds herself alone in the middle of the night and goes for help, and he surrenders himself to the arms of the law and endures a prison sentence. When his sentence is completed, he changes his name, relocates, and begins a new life. She has found herself jailed by “reputation” in her home town, a sentence with no reprieve.
The performance was followed by a talk-back, with the majority of responses either believing that his offense was a one-off and he was not a predator, or that he will be a repeat offender and is a slick manipulative liar. Very little was said about the feelings and actions of the girl who was twelve years old at the time, although her adult self has been powerful and passionate in speaking of her brief heady experience of having her “crush” reciprocated.
I found myself jolted back in time. After five years in the local country elementary school (I went straight into the second grade), my parents somehow got me enrolled in the town’s junior high school, nine miles from where we lived. It was disorienting but exciting: there was actually a library (good place to hide), and different classrooms for each subject. Science was my favorite class, and at the age of twelve I developed a massive crush on the tall bony redheaded science teacher.
Massive. I was obsessed, frantic, and found really inventive ways to suggest individual projects that would require personal attention. I found out where he lived and on Sundays I skipped Sunday school and hung out in his neighborhood until I had to zip back to the church to meet my ride home. Nobody knew.
I had no girl friends who could clue me in, my (adoptive) mom was nearly fifty when I was born and wasn’t exactly a role model for beginning to understand sex. Remembering this, I am profoundly grateful that I was blessed with coke-bottle glasses, braces, and a generally homely appearance; I wanted to be a predator but just didn’t have the chops.
So I sat quietly through most of the talk-back, and then chimed in: “I could have been that girl. When I was twelve, I chased a teacher madly and wasn’t pretty enough to get anywhere, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.” I could feel the atmosphere in the theatre clabber, like dropping vinegar into milk. Nobody wanted to see a twelve-year-old girl that way, not the character in the play or the 78-year-old actress sitting in the second row. I was thanked for my candor, there were a few more comments, and then we all went home.
I still remember.