He was Mr. U, my former 7th grade Texas History teacher.
It began during my first year of high school in the fall of 2000. We were both at a banquet being held in honor of student athletic accomplishments. He was there for his oldest son, who was close to my age. He was sitting at a nearby table and came over to say hello. It didn't seem strange that he remembered me; most of my former teachers did. I was always an excellent student, so I stood out. We had a brief, friendly chat. He gave me his e-mail address and encouraged me to keep in touch.
The summer passed by and I began my sophomore year. Around that time I experienced serious problems with bullies. I was heartbroken losing both my first boyfriend and longtime best friend, who both caved into peer pressure from their respective cliques. Apparently I was not good enough for either of their social circles, and they let me know this by letting their new friends bully me viciously in person and online. A totally different boy, who was bitter because I did not return his feelings, assaulted me for months with sexual harassment and even threats of violence. He spread rumors about me to anyone who would listen, and the other groups of bullies fed off of it. It was relentless. Unfortunately the adults at school were incredibly unhelpful, giving non-advice like "just ignore them" or "try not to make yourself a target". My support system at home was next to non-existent with emotionally distant parents. I had already lost all my close friends. I remember feeling so sad my entire body shut down. I became numb and lost all interest in activities and life in general. My normally stellar grades started slipping. I didn't eat much and became so withdrawn I spent all my time alone – partially to avoid receiving more abuse from people. I could go entire days without talking to anyone.
With nobody to turn to, I eventually remembered my old history teacher who gave me his e-mail some months back. He seemed to respect and care about me; surely he would have words of encouragement. I remembered from my time as his student that he was very good at talking to kids. He seemed naturally able to relate to us on our level. I recall much of our class time was approximately 30% learning about history, 70% casual chatting and fooling around. He was a bit of a lazy teacher and his class was laughably easy – something that contributed to his popularity, no doubt. He had a DJ business on the side and would organize all the school dances, pep rallies, and talent shows. Most of the kids thought he was genuinely cool and could understand them better than most adults.
I sent him a message, and he responded quickly. He was more than happy to listen to my troubles. After bottling everything up for so long, I was grateful for a sympathetic ear. I poured out my heart and exposed all my vulnerabilities. He told me everything I should have been told by the adults who should have been there for me. We began a virtual "friendship" that did not seem suspicious for a while. However, although I didn't see it at the time, boundaries of intimacy were being slowly and gradually crossed. Only years later did I learn there was a word for this – grooming. He was sizing me up to find out if I would be an easy target. Unfortunately, I was. Our communication evolved from e-mail to online chats to secret phone calls over the course of a few months. Once he felt like he had enough of a foot in the door, he began giving inappropriate details about his own personal life. He claimed he was stuck in a loveless marriage where he was taken for granted. Heartbroken after supposedly catching his wife being unfaithful twice, he lamented that he ruined his life by getting married too early. He made me feel very sorry for him, and angry that anyone would mistreat such a nice person (of course I was projecting my own feelings of betrayal and abandonment onto a situation that I knew nothing about, which he used to his advantage). He assured me that they were headed for divorce; it was only a matter of time. By the time he proposed to meet up with me in person, I completely trusted him. It is a testament to how utterly sad and broken my life was that the only time I felt "safe" was around a child molester.
We planned our meetings in advance. I would walk a few blocks away from my house to an alley or some other secret meeting place. He'd make up an alibi to get away from his wife, come pick me up in his green Eclipse, and we'd drive off somewhere we could be alone. Since this was back in the days before texting was common, we had a system where we could page each other in case plans fell through. I never had to make up many stories because my parents didn't pay much attention to me. He, on the other hand, seemed to be very good at lying.
He invented a carefully constructed fantasy world to make me think he was serious about our "relationship". He would write me lots of flattering poems and love letters, give me jewelry, and even sent flowers to my house (as a "secret admirer" so as not to tip anyone off, of course). He talked about us getting married once I was finally 18. I was a lonely and abused 15-year-old kid who ravenously devoured his attention and compliments. I became totally dependent on him for my self-esteem, and at that age it is easy to mistake such a thing for love. Of course, he didn't really love me and it wasn't going to last.
As things progressed, they quickly got less romantic and much more debased. While he had definitely been physically inappropriate with me by that point, we had very few options for privacy and couldn't spend too much time in one place. But once summer vacation had started, there was a lot more free time while his wife was at work and his kids occupied elsewhere. Mr. U started getting very pushy about sex and was taking bigger risks to try and find the opportunity. He surprised me one day when he drove us to a desolate, off-road area on the outskirts of town. This is where the worst abuse would happen over the next few months.
Since I was a virgin who was not remotely ready for any of this, the possible risks of full-blown intercourse freaked me out. I dodged the subject and suggested we try other things. He seemed willing to compromise, although he made unsettling comments about how he might not be able to help himself if he "got the chance to shove it in there". I felt tremendously uncomfortable (being in a blazing hot, sweltering, cramped car didn't help) and vulnerable stuck out in the middle of nowhere. While he was a very poor "lover" who was only interested in his own gratification, I still felt some co-dependent obligation to please him. Sometimes I would go home with soreness, bruises, scratches, or slight bleeding (when he attempted anal sex). He never used a condom, lubrication, or any other type of protection when he did these things to me.
In time it became depressingly clear I was being used. I developed anxiety problems and wrestled with intense guilt. When I tried to express my misgivings, he would tell me things like "I'd hate for YOU to get in trouble if anyone found out" or "I would feel bad if your parents disowned YOU". He kept me quiet by reinforcing my fear.
Sad as it was, I thought he was right. Even at that age I was able to pick up on the reality that victims of sex crimes are blamed for their abuser's actions. I knew I was more likely to be called a whore or a homewrecker than he was to be called a rapist or child molester. I did not trust anyone at school to help me. I was terrified of the harassment I would receive if the news spread. Everyone would undoubtedly attack ME for ruining the reputation of a "good man". I became completely paranoid and even more isolated than before. All I could do was internalize a mountain of abuse upon myself and suffer quietly.
Eventually he got careless and almost blew his cover. His wife saw the records on his cell phone bill and threatened to find out who lived at this strange number he was repeatedly calling. He dodged that bullet by concocting a lie about having a long-distance emotional affair with a woman he met on the internet and promising to cut if off. He unceremoniously dumped me before he could incriminate himself any further. I was relieved when it was over yet still hurt, demoralized, and humiliated by the entire ordeal.
Infuriatingly, that didn't stop him from trying to contact me after it all blew over. He propositioned me for sex a handful of times over the course of my last 2 years in high school and all the way up to my first year of college. Numerous rejections didn't seem to deter him. I had to change all my contact information before he finally stopped intruding into my life.
In retrospect there were many red flags that Mr. U was a closet sex offender, but of course I didn't have the experience to process them at my age. He seemed to have major issues with women, constantly making sexist comments and off-color jokes. He would casually brag that he'd get love letters from 12-year old secret admirers and gossip about the sexual exploits and relationship drama that went on at his school, as if he himself was not a grown man but a stupid horny little boy who found it titillating. One time he was invited to be the DJ for one of my high school dances, only to end up catcalling and leering at other teenage girls the entire night.
It's easy to see now that Mr. U connected with children so easily because he himself was a serious case of arrested development. He was an emotionally stunted loser with a fear of growing old. He wasn't physically attractive – he had a squeaky, effeminate voice and was prematurely gray and wrinkled even in his 30's. Despite this, he was a well-practiced sociopath who knew how to manipulate people. In reality he was egocentric, had no conscience, and did not care who might be hurt by his sick behavior, not even his own family. He was only too happy to use and abuse me sexually to validate his narcissistic fantasies about himself.
Growing up, we are constantly warned about never talking to strangers, but that is such a simplistic narrative that doesn't reflect the messy reality of child abuse. No one ever told us that upstanding adults, even popular and likable teachers, could be rapists. Nor did they warn us how easy it is to become complicit in our own abuse. It is tempting to believe that older kids should "know better" and be equipped to defend themselves against the sexual and emotional exploitation of powerful adults. It is astounding how ignorant people can be when they are in denial.
I had lost my innocence in a brutal way, and for years I struggled with severe anxiety and trust issues. I could not maintain healthy relationships with people, and was completely dysfunctional sexually. The words "I love you" could never be believed and set off a panic of possible forced entry. I began to fear that I would never find happiness or solve the mystery of why I was so unloveable. I wondered if I had deserved the abuse or brought it on myself. I experienced such severe PTSD that I could not live in the same city, much less in my parents' house that was only a few blocks away from the middle school where he was still employed. I decided to create a new life for myself by moving halfway across the country and continuing my education.
Thirteen years after my ordeal, as I had long suspected, it was confirmed that I wasn't his only victim. I caught wind via Facebook that he was caught molesting a 14-year-old girl in a movie theater parking lot, amidst predictable declarations of shock and disbelief. She was not a student, but the daughter of a couple he was friends with. Browsing the internet comments on the local news article, I saw one of his current students add that just days before being arrested he gave a lecture to the girls in his class about staying away from older men. If it wasn't obvious before that Mr. U was an evil, disgusting, unrepentant predator who knew exactly what he was doing, it's crystal clear now.
I am fortunate and grateful that there is a glimmer of hope that justice will be served. I know many people who suffered this kind of abuse don't get that chance. While nothing can take away that painful experience, and its harmful effects will echo in my life for a long time to come, I can at least find some closure and healing by speaking the truth. He won't get away with it again, not if I have anything to say about it.