My latest novel, SISTERS, SECRETS, AND THE JUNIOR PROM, is set in high school in 1969, which, by sheer coincidence, is where I happened to be in 1969.
The book is fiction. Untrue. Made up. Has no basis in reality. Except, of course, like all fiction, pieces of my life weave in and out of the story.
How could they not? If I need to describe my protagonist’s favorite outfit, well, I had a favorite outfit in 1969. And a favorite TV show. And a smart little brother. And nice parents. And two wonderful sisters that I could easily merge into the best sister ever.
Even in fiction, you write what you know.
Although the major storyline is invented, it also has some basis in reality. A favorite teacher is sexually inappropriate with his pretty female students. This did not happen to me or my sisters, but it happened in my school.
Oh, we heard rumors. I think everyone in every school hears those rumors. And we don’t want to believe them. That teacher is amazing. We all adore him. We don’t want to know.
But gradually, reality insists.
My graduating class has a Facebook page. We reminisce and share photos. We keep in touch with our friends, celebrating their successes and, especially now that we are older, grieving their losses.
Recently, a classmate posted a memory about a favorite teacher, and asked people to add their own anecdotes of their beloved teachers. Among the responses, one guy posted his fond memories of a teacher – the same teacher who was sexually involved with several of the girls, over a period that spanned many years.
And one of our female classmates responded to the post.
She told our classmate that this teacher had pursued her relentlessly. He called her; he came to her house. And that she was not the only one. Only one of the many who had refused his advances. And that there were several who did not refuse. Years later, this man’s behavior was finally revealed, and he was fired.
Why did the girls not come forward at the time? I can tell you why they kept quiet in 1969. I was eighteen then. Girls were supposed to be flattered by sexual attention. Almost anything that men did was the girl’s fault -you were just too pretty, or immodest, or you teased them. You needed to ‘control yourself’ – and also to appreciate any male advances – at the same time.
Confusing? Contradictory? Of course.
But I know there are still the remnants of this attitude today.
As for the man who wrote the flattering post about the despicable teacher, and got the true story: To his credit, he said that he did not know this was happening. (And I believe him – we girls kept our secrets well). And he said he was so sorry for the woman and for other women that they had to experience something so terrible. He said he was wrong about the teacher.
I think of this now as I see how hard it is for people to admit they were wrong.
No one ever wants to admit they were duped. That they believed lies. Someone (some say Mark Twain) said, “It’s easier to fool people than convince them that they have been fooled.”
That’s why con men so often get away with it. Because it seems to be human nature to feel shame that you were cheated. Instead of being angry at the liar, you are ashamed to have believed the lie.
For some, it means that the lie cannot be admitted. In the face of overwhelming evidence, some will still choose to believe the lie. It hurts too much to admit one was wrong.
And so I come back around to women who keep their terrible secrets.
It’s shame that keeps people silent.
Maybe the hardest thing for humans to say is, “I was wrong.”
And whether the lies come from a teacher, an advertiser, or a politician – we need to learn how.
Click here for the Amazon link to SISTERS, SECRETS, AND THE JUNIOR PROM.
- Posted in: Advice ♦ Memories
- Tagged: admitting you were wrong, fiction, High school, Lies, sexual harassment
Sounds interesting, I dodn’t think about my high school days
This blog really hit home for me. I will re-read it again several times. I admire the classmate who said he didn’t know and admitted he was wrong. You are so right about someone believing the liar and not the messenger. Thank you for writing this and sharing it.
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Thanks for this. It brought back memories of a class in my major that I was struggling with. I mentioned to a classmate that I was going to see the prof and ask for help. She immediately said, “No! Don’t! He will tell you how you can improve your grade. It has nothing to do with learning.” I am ever grateful to my acquaintance for warning me. I didn’t go. I earned my C. (This was in 1966. I was a naive 19. 35 years later that no-longer-young prof was made Department Chair. Made me ill.)
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I loved your book and while I don’t recall any rumors about any of my own high school teachers (I was in high school in the late 60s as well) I do recall a semi-attractive professor who, during the mid-seventies, actively pursued the young secretaries who worked at the college where I was employed. He would invite us to join him for a coffee or lunch. He’d leer (there was no other word for it) as us when we walked down the hall or merely sat at our desks. When I began teaching night school classes at a secondary campus (in 1981), there he was – bringing me a coffee at breaktime, and showing up at the doorway of my classroom at 10:00 pm with an offer to walk me to my car (I enlisted the help of another male teacher [one I trusted implicitly] to wait for me from then on). Over the years, many young women discussed his behaviour amongst themselves (he wore this horrible blue and white striped seer-sucker suit a LOT, so we took to calling him “Mr. Seer-Sucker”). At the time, I suppose it didn’t occur to us to report him to our bosses or to human resources – but we should have. He was a married man, probably 10 – 15 years older than most of us, and his behaviour was totally inappropriate. By the time I accepted a teaching position in the same department as him, he’d stopped harrassing the staff (so far as I know), but I heard rumors that he’d set his sights on various students over the years. I mentioned it once to my boss’s secretary, who said the boss had known about it for year, but had done nothing about it. Mr. Seer-Sucker retired about ten years before I did and, so far as I know, was never held to account for his behaviour. So sad.
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Once this kind of thing started coming out, it chilled me to the bone. I knew that in my own high school days, I had no one I could have confided in without being blamed. So I’m lucky in that it never happened, but sad for everyone who had to struggle with this along with everything else that goes with being that age. Just wrong!
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That must have been really hard for your classmate after all these years to dredge up those memories and share the truth to the group. I applaud her. Many would still just let it go. The gentleman who admired the teacher would wonder why no one else jumped on the band wagon. Years of secrets are sometimes hard to reveal. As you say, it still happens today.
There is another reason why young girls in 1969 kept quiet about adult misbehavior. Back then it was a tacit understanding that you did not disrespect an adult, especially if it was a teacher. We never dared to tell our parents or another adult about things we should have because it would bring shame on us, and we knew it! It would have embarrassed our parents, too. Besides, who was going to believe YOU, a young girl with a wild imagination, or an accomplished, respected, authoritative adult, who was probably a deacon at church? That’s why young Catholic boys kept silent for so long. It’s why we kept silent when our teacher would physically slap students hard on the back or paddle them for not doing their work or making a bad grade. Back then the principal would have sided with the teacher. There was nothing we could do but hope it didn’t happen to us.
I just want to point out that recently Justin Timberlake publicly apologized to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson for his part in being disrespectful to them years ago. I thought it was very humble of him to admit that he was wrong and then make amends. He didn’t have to do it publicly, but he did. What a great example he is setting! I have new respect and admiration for him as a decent human being.
Also, I am with you all the way on the politics! I still live among people who have no intention of ever admitting their mistakes or that they were mislead. They’d rather believe lies.
I enjoyed your post.
Happy belated birthday!