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.