Disclaimer: Due to mature content, reader discretion advised.
Lost Ground: Looking Back
There is something from my past that has remained secret, except to those closest to me. This personal story has been the root of every failed relationship and romantic pursuit in which I have participated. Where did I go wrong? What is this shortcoming I am trying ameliorate? These are the questions I ask myself on the regular… for the past 18 years, I have been posing these questions. The answer I have finally come to is… it wasn’t me that messed up. I was there, and I was a participant– but I didn’t make the choice. I was convinced it was me, even though numerous therapists and friends reassured me that it wasn’t. The story goes like this…
The Monster in My Closet
When I was in high school in rural Minnesota, I was an overachiever. This manifested in hyper-involvement in extracurricular activities, as well as doing just enough at an adequate level to get good grades. I was on statewide advisory committees; I was the captain of a couple after school teams; I was friendly enough with everyone in order to give the illusion of popularity and give others the sense that I had a plethora of friends. In truth, I did not have popularity, nor many friends. My only true friends, looking back, were older and graduated 1 to 3 years ahead of me. No one seemed wise to this fact as I found survival in the facade of happiness… no one, save one person. There was a teacher in my school who seemed to see through my charade. Little did I know that he had been observing me for some time, picking up my patterns, my loneliness, and ultimately my unhappiness.
Frank was the choir teacher and music director who, for years, did not give me the time of day. He was that teacher and coach who befriended the popular kids, the same kids who were stars of the wrestling and football teams, both of which he served as a coach. Since I was not in choir or on either of those teams, I spent years trying to gain his favor since he was the musical director for the musicals, and of course, I was in every one of those. I was not sure why I wanted him to take note of me outside of the theater, other than he seemed to really like those boys he interacted with on a daily basis and it appeared that they liked him and shared a special connection. I guess I longed for closeness with another male desperately, and when Frank was with those boys, I saw them laugh and have a good time. I thought I could look forward to that if I ever became close to him.
Finally, when I was 16 years old and a junior in high school, I lost some of my baby weight and started to molt the skin of my awkward years, not all of it, but enough for people to notice– or at least one person noticed. It was then that Frank started to notice me. Its genesis was close to what I expected, friendly, jovial laughter, but soon there after, the interactions started to shift. Our conversations grew more quiet and insular. He invited me to his office before school. He started to ask me questions about my personal life and inquired as to whom I was dating and whom I would like to date. I told him I was dating no one and gave some generic answers, to which he responded,
“Come on. I know who you are. You can tell me the truth.”
Having mastered the art of deferring my truth as a means of self-preservation in a small town, I did not indicate that I knew where his line of questioning was leading, nor was I about to admit anything to him as I did not know his intentions. I played dumb and my responses were of the same nature. He insisted, re-doubling his efforts to get me to confess a dark secret. I disappointed him that day, leaving his office, uncertain of why he was so adamant. Our visits became more regular, and every once in a while he would ask again if I wanted to tell him anything. I didn’t, so I left and would begin my day.
Frank was also the coach of the Quiz Bowl team and I was the captain. Frank and I were often in the front seat of a school van that he drove and the rest of our team sat in the back, joking and talking loudly while Frank would have whispered conversations with with me. One day in particular, I remember him turning to me in the van, as we were speeding down a countryside highway, he said,
“I see the way you look at me. It’s different than how the other boys do.”
What was he talking about? In that moment, I began second guessing every interaction I ever had with him. In those moments, I thought, “No. I don’t. I don’t look at him differently. I have no clue what he is talking about.”
This kind of commentary continued, and soon he started inviting me to his office before school started in the morning or after school before I went home or to my practice du jour. I was never in the high school choir, but I was involved in the musical productions, of which he also worked on, so I thought it would be about the upcoming show. The odd thing was when he asked me to wear sweat shorts to this meeting. I asked why… and he just played it off. I complied the next day, and I went into his office, wearing the sweat shorts that he requested. Looking back, I am not sure why I complied with this request, but I felt under his spell– his power. I don’t know what I thought would happen if I didn’t show up, or if I didn’t wear the shorts, but it felt like I had no option.
The red, athletic shorts
Soon after arriving to his office that morning, his reasoning for my choice of attire became evident. He told me to take a seat across from his desk, in the chair against the wall. As I crossed from the door to the chair, his eyes were locked on me, watching my every step. When I reached the destination, I dropped my backpack and say in the ratty old chair: the fabric had holes and the foam in the seat was revealing itself. I didn’t realize that I would soon be in the same vulnerable position.
I sat, initially only granting eye contact to the floor. My eyes gazed over my bare knees, catching the hems of the red gym shorts on the way. Silence filled the room, until finally,
“You came,” he said calmly, with a hint of surprise in his voice.
My brow furrowed and began to dig the trench near my eyebrows that exists today. “Of course I came. You asked me to…” This felt like a trick. “Was I not supposed to come?” His response was calm and measured, if not a bit groggy from the early nature of our “appointment.”
“Why did you ask me to meet with you this morning?” I couldn’t figure out why I was there, and he gave no indication as to why we were there. He continued to stare at me, half smile plastered on his face.
“I just want to talk. I think you and I have things to talk about.” The implication was thick in his tone, but the implication of what, I didn’t know. I knew what he wanted me to say, but I dared not say it. I was not ready to declare my sexuality. But I don’t think that’s what he wanted me to say. Falling in love with him was not anywhere near the truth that I knew, and I was not about to admit a falsehood, so I played dumb, “What do you mean? What do we have to talk about?”
He looked at me through his thick eyebrows with head tilted down. It was a look of displeasure and judgment. He held his gaze on me until I turned bright red with discomfort, smiled uncomfortably, and fidgeted in my chair, eventually landing on arms and legs crossed, ankle on knee. As soon as I found this posture, he said, “Ohhhh,” indicating a pleasurable surprise. Unsure of what provoked this reaction, I asked Frank what was the matter. He didn’t say anything. He simply met my gaze, and then looked down at my legs, specifically between my legs. I quickly caught on and adjusted my pose, apologizing for my unintentional reveal.
At that moment, his reason for wanting me in his office, alone and early in the morning, became crystal clear. He was not bothered in the slightest by leg crossing; instead, to my surprise, he was… delighted.
Frank directed, “Put your leg back up. It’s ok.” I felt strange about complying, but I figured he was a director of the shows I want to be in, so I didn’t want to upset him or give him reason not to treat me as one of his favorites. I recrossed my legs. His eyes remained on my crotch until he looked me in the eyes, my breath shallow and heart racing. He asked me what lies beyond the fabric of my Hanes. No one had ever talked to me about such intimate anatomy, and as a result, I noticed a stirring in my shorts– not because I was sexually excited, but because I was a teenager and getting attention.
The Genesis of Dysfunction
That is where it started– in the choir room office, before school, with a man over 2 times my age when I was no more than 16 years old.
Frank became more brazen with his requests, asking me to meet him in different rooms throughout the school; he asked me to perform in different ways; our interactions became more involved, and all the while, I was convinced this was how I had to be– secretive, shameful and therefore silent about the encounters, and protective of this man who told me time and time again that he was doing me a favor and that he cared for me.
In retrospect, tracing the timeline from that first moment in Frank’s office to now, I would never define his intention as favorable. Knowing what I have struggled with over the past 18 years– from addiction to eating issues to dishonesty and alienation– Frank knocked over a domino of self-destruction for me. That morning nearly two decades ago set into action a trajectory of which I never dreamed. Let’s recap: going to college and getting only mediocre grades; alcoholism; drug addition; getting kicked out of nursing school; fiscal mismanagement and failure; failure to thrive with unspeakable levels of privilege; a trail of wounded hearts due to my insensitivity and calloused detachment.
I became a stranger to my family, friends, and what’s more, I became a stranger to myself. I looked in the mirror and saw someone I hated. Frank helped me get there, but he didn’t do it alone. The abandonment I felt when I went to college also contributed to it– granted it was abandonment by a predator whom convinced me I was more than just a pawn in his sick game of deception. He used me and I reacted. And I reacted. And I reacted.
Last I heard of Frank, he resigned from an education job in Southern Minnesota. I called the district to find out the terms of his resignation, they wouldn’t tell me anything. There were moments of anger, rage, revenge. I consulted a lawyer; I thought about pursuing formal charges against him. By the time I was finally ready to confront the feelings and felt I was ready to take on the beast, too much time passed and I was outside the statute of limitations. I considered finding his home, driving to him, convincing him I wanted to rekindle our relationship, and either hurting him or killing him. These thoughts actually crossed my mind. The rage one must feel to murder someone is palpable for me, but it takes follow through– and that is the tough part. I had vivid fantasies of how I would have done it– it was Dexter meets Hannibal, minus the eating of flesh and brains. These are sentiments I never dreamed possible before my coming of age was interrupted and my first sexual experience was with a morbidly obese predator. These thoughts linger, always present and never realized.
Coming face to face with Frank is something I have imagined, and unlike the fantasies I had about hurting and ending his life, I could not imagine beyond the moment of standing in front of him, shallow breath and racing heart returning. The time of seeing him in person again is absent of any emotion, a blank space in my mind that leaves room for the possibility of any outcome. For that reason, I hope to never come face to face with the monster, Frank, again.
I have many hopes for him. I hope he is suffering in his own, isolated way. I hope he is lonely. I hope the people that used to call him friend, mentor, teacher, director– I hope they know the truth; that they know him for what he really is. A predator.
But most of all, more than any of the above wishes, I hope Frank doesn’t have access to youth anymore, and that I was the last in his trail of abuse and manipulation. Sadly, I doubt that was the case.
I wish I had known better at the time– for the sake of those who followed in my path, the unknowing young minds (and bodies) that Frank would inevitably meet.