With her feet on its bench, Sarah Leonard perches atop a lunch table on the grounds of the San Diego middle school where she has been teaching eighth-grade language arts for the last year and a half. School let out an hour ago, and her husband of four years, Peter Lund, has arrived and settled cross-legged on the grass. He picks dandelions and flicks them away. Sarah, 33 years old, suddenly shouts greetings to a group of boys passing by, and they laugh in embarrassment, as one of them gives a shy, halfhearted response. She is telling me about her relationships beyond the classroom with her students.
“The hardest thing for me now,” says Sarah, whose jet-black hair shines in the late-afternoon sunshine, “is letting kids make their own mistakes in life. Sometimes I want to save them from themselves. But I have to realize that some of them will do drugs, or make other mistakes, and get hurt. I made lots of mistakes and bad choices too, but here I am in a good, healthy place. I think my role now is to be a confidante, to be someone who can listen and relate to what the kids are going through without trying to control it. Many times, kids come to me with problems that they can’t talk to anyone else about, and I am honored by this. Maybe if they have someone who will listen to them, that is enough.”
Sarah, who drives to school from Pacific Beach, loves her work in the classroom too. Her enthusiasm today contrasts sharply, however, with the feelings that made her quit teaching for good, she thought, after the year of student teaching that completed her credential program in the state of Georgia. In an Atlanta school eight years ago, her supervisors begged her to stay, offering her a full-time teaching position for the following year. But the year of student teaching induced her to leave education for some of the same reasons she had decided to enter it. “I was hyperaware of how vulnerable children are,” she says. “Children always seemed to be in danger, and that feeling became a constant stress when I was teaching.”
And Sarah feared that she might do something to the children like her fifth-grade teacher did to her.
In Atlanta, however, Sarah taught seven- and eight-year-olds, not the eighth graders she teaches now in San Diego. “The children were physical with me,” she says. “They wanted to play with my hair, especially the girls. They want to know all about you. They want to be you.” Sarah says that she has grown in maturity since that time, when she was 25. And her eighth graders seem to her more like regular people, better able to fend for themselves, than the much more vulnerable younger children.
Sarah remembers sitting on her own teacher’s lap in fifth grade. She also remembers that, while she sat there, John Winston’s hands wandered her body to places it seemed they shouldn’t go.
Peter breaks in. “He ruined it for you,” he says, “so that you couldn’t be close to young human beings without having that crap in the back of your mind, like having a cop car behind you.” Also 33, Peter is wiry from racing bicycles, his favorite pastime. He designs them as well, in an attempt to build a business.
“I didn’t know if my boundaries were healthy,” says Sarah, defending her decision to leave teaching the first time. “I got quite attached to the kids, and leaving my class at the end of the year was devastating. I felt like they were mine. The situation scared me, but not because I believed I would actually do something to them.”
“You couldn’t separate what your teacher did from yourself,” says Peter.
Sarah and Peter (the names of all persons in this story have been changed) are starting on a conversation they appear to have had many times before. What comes to my mind, as I eavesdrop on this slice of their private talk, is a phenomenon that occurs with the fear of heights. “Do you remember what it’s like to be near the edge on top of a tall building?” I ask Sarah.
“And you think you’re going to run and jump off, yes,” she says.
“You know damned well you’re safe,” I say, “but, still, this feeling comes on that you’re going to throw yourself over the edge.”
“That’s exactly what it was,” says Sarah. “Like when you try to get your thoughts off a subject, which makes you think about it more. And I didn’t want to push the children away, but, at the same time, when does this become wrong? They sat on my lap during reading hour all the time, or if they were having a hard day or had gotten in a fight.”
On Her Teacher’s Lap
We get up from the table and walk around the school grounds. As we move in and out of the sunshine until dusk, Sarah unburdens herself of being molested over and over in a class full of other children and of how that has affected her since. Sarah says that teacher John Winston, in a San Francisco Bay Area school, held her daily on his lap at his desk during quiet time in the fifth-grade classroom. It began innocently, as if she were sitting on her father’s lap.
“I’ve told two people in my life the details of this story,” says Sarah. “One of them is Peter and the other is a therapist that I saw between ’92 and ’95. And the worst part of it, every time, is telling the details. They are disgusting to me, even though they don’t sound bad from the outside, since it’s not that graphic and it’s not violent and it’s not what some people think is sexual abuse. But it feels like I have this disease living in me. I have never been able to exorcise it, and I don’t know if talking about it makes it bigger or smaller. So do you want me to tell you more details?” she asks in a tone both reluctant and anticipatory.
“I remember him rubbing my breasts, though they weren’t breasts, because I was a little girl and didn’t have a body back then,” she says, chuckling, “but that’s what he was doing, trying to get some semblance of them, and that was where he concentrated, mainly. At first, it was on top of my shirt and, after a while, under my shirt and, then, it was always under my shirt.”
Sarah thinks Winston didn’t have much trouble getting into her clothes. “My shirt was usually out, like it is now,” says Sarah, whose red T-shirt sets off her black hair falling onto it. She had already changed into her after-school clothes. “I didn’t wear dresses that much. But I have a few memories of him going into my jeans too, though I don’t know what he did. I don’t think it was anything invasive, because I would have freaked out.
“I don’t know how I started sitting on his lap, but I would do math homework there. And it seemed forever, though everything’s long when you’re a kid.” Still, she believes she may have sat on her teacher’s lap for as long as an hour during quiet time each day.
“At the time, I needed 100 percent adult attention from somebody, and — this is what I tell myself — I was an affectionate person and I always sat on my dad’s lap, not in a weird way, but we were affectionate. So for my teacher to be affectionate with me was bizarre, yet nice, because I needed that. It’s what I missed most from my dad.”
Right before she began fifth grade, Sarah’s father had left the home they had shared with her mother and sister.
“We were learning long division, and I asked for my teacher’s help a lot, and, probably, he asked me to come sit on his lap. I don’t think I would have asked him. I was a shy kid. And, of course, because I was missing that part of my life, it seemed okay,” Sarah says with a quick, embarrassed laugh. “The adult was always right, that’s what I was always told, and, when my teacher started doing this to me, my physical reaction was against it, and everything felt wrong, but my mental reaction was ‘He’s my teacher, he corrects the papers and gives the grades, it can’t be wrong.’ So I sat on his lap, but I don’t remember how long it took him to start fondling me.”
Did Winston try to penetrate her? Sarah doesn’t consciously remember anything like that, though she has had dreams in which it happened. We discuss the possibility of her blocking out a disturbing memory. Though I am leery of injecting new content into her memories, I say, “It would seem that, if his hands went into your jeans, he might have gotten around to probing you.”
“And I may not have stopped him,” says Sarah, “since I was afraid. I’ve thought about that, because of the dreams about it, nightmares, where I wake up and it’s right there. But, then, there are too many people who are inventing these so-called suppressed memories, and I don’t want to be one of them either. But you may be right that, if he went down there, he wouldn’t have been satisfied fiddling around.”
Her teacher also invited Sarah home a couple of times after school, she says, but “I was smart enough to know that that would have been a big mistake.” When she was 16, six years after her own molestation, Sarah saw in the San Francisco Chronicle that John Winston had been arrested for child molestation at another school several miles from the one she had attended. Sarah recalls the article saying that, in his home, police had found photographs of children naked and in bondage. “He had gotten a lot worse,” says Sarah.
Cautious about these and some of her other memories, I went to the police station in downtown San Diego to look at the Megan’s Law sex offenders list. Sarah had described her teacher as a big man with light brown hair. With a uniformed officer standing behind me, I plugged Winston’s name into the machine, and the color photograph that came up showed a man with light brown hair staring out at me. Penal Code 288: Crimes Against Children / Lewd or Lascivious. County of conviction: Alameda. County of residence: King. Date of birth: 4/12/46. Height: 5'11". Weight: 220 lbs. My escorting officer that day went behind the counter to look up Winston’s name on another computer for more details. “I can’t give you any of the further information about his criminal record that I’m seeing here,” he said, “but I’d recommend to the victim that she pursue the matter for possible prosecution.”
When I tell Sarah about it later, she displays little interest in even going down to see the photograph. Maybe it’s because her own molestation happened in 1978 and 1979. Also, she still thinks of Winston as a good teacher gone tragically wrong, “the best teacher I had in grammar school,” she says.
Sarah doesn’t remember when she first wanted to be a teacher too. But after finishing an undergraduate degree at UC Santa Cruz in 1988, she stayed in the community for two years to work with special ed students. Then she completed a master’s degree in education at Georgia State University and earned her teaching credential at the same time. She had never worked harder in her life.
But while doing her student teaching in Atlanta, Sarah attended an unsettling event at school. The school counselors held a “No”-feeling, “Yes”-feeling workshop with the kids, “and they never mentioned teachers,” says Sarah. “They said that if a family member or a stranger is doing this to you and your body has a ‘No’ feeling…” She breaks off, tears coming to her eyes, and then goes on with difficulty. “It made me angry. They never said teachers, they never brought that up at all, and I had to leave the room. I could not stand it. I wanted to say, ‘Do you know? Do you think this ever happens?’ ”
I search for something appropriate in the face of Sarah’s emotion. “The assumption was that school is a safe place, right?” I say.
Peter helps me out. “Like church is a safe place,” he says.
Their Teachers Kissed Them
Thirty years ago, on an eighth-grade graduation excursion to Disneyland, Gloria Stevenson took the Monsanto ride with her middle-school English teacher. She was 13. They strapped themselves into the same car, and, when the ride, at its zenith, took them into a dark tunnel, Mr. Taylor betrayed her and his teacher’s trust.
In Taylor’s class at the Orange County school, “He had been showing me a lot more attention than usual. I think it had been building up. Then he was one of the escorts for the trip. When we went on the ride together, he took advantage of me,” says Gloria, laughing. “You want details?”
I speak with Gloria, who will turn 43 this year, at her apartment in Clairemont, 15 minutes away from the Pacific Bell office where she works. She serves me mint tea, and we sit at her circular dining room table with the sounds of rain outside the window. Her lone daughter, Tara, 14, sings softly as she moves in and out of rooms in the back. Gloria herself, growing up, was a middle child in a family of ten kids. She is a tall woman with thick auburn curls above her lively and expressive eyes. Over the next several hours, I discover that she is quick to laugh and quick to cry about the events I’ve come to hear described.
“On the old Monsanto — they don’t have it at Disneyland anymore — the narrative started,” says Gloria, “and you went moving up a ramp, and, at the end of the ramp, you could see a reflection of yourself. I probably thought that it was cool to see myself sitting next to him, feeling close and special, I’m sure, and the minute it got into a darker place, that’s when it started. It wasn’t much. We kissed, and he fondled my breasts, and that was it.”
“Did he try to unbutton you?” I ask.
“No.” Gloria laughs. “It was a short ride.”
“Did he kiss you on the mouth?”
“Yes. Open mouth. I was kissing him back and I enjoyed it. But I knew it wasn’t right. I don’t know what led up to it, if there was any conversation or anything. But then the ride came to a part where you could see into the car next to you if you leaned forward. And school friends were in the next car and, of course, leaning forward and looking in.”
Mr. Taylor, the middle-school English teacher, kissed Gloria’s twin sister, Sherrie, that day too. Sherrie provoked him and planned the whole thing, claims Gloria. “She wanted it to happen. She wanted to have a little thing with him, because he was great-looking, he was fun, he gave us attention. Yeah, everybody had a schoolgirl crush on him. He was popular, in his mid-30s, and had been at the school for quite some time. He had a lot to lose.”
When they got back to their campus that evening, both Gloria and her sister confided the incidents to a female teacher, one of the excursion’s other chaperons. The following Monday Mr. Taylor left his teaching assignment and the school. The details of his departure remained mysterious. But the situation was not unlike stories some teachers tell of the public school districts they work for hushing up potentially dangerous scandals.
The story of the fired teacher and the twin girls spread like wildfire through the student population, and Gloria Stevenson, if not her more rambunctious sister, Sherrie, became embarrassed over it to the point of withdrawal.
“School had a week or two left,” says Gloria, “and it was stupid the way they handled it. The principal called our house, and my mom immediately said, ‘What did you girls do now?’ The school thought they should send someone over, and Sherrie and I wanted to run away, because we felt we had done something wrong. So the vice principal, or someone, came over — I don’t know who it was — and my dad, who had been out of town, had come home that evening. My mother is crying hysterically over what we had ‘done now,’ and, of course, with that kind of response, we didn’t tell her a thing. We didn’t say anything.
“At school, there was a lot of scuttlebutt. My sister loved it, because it got so much attention. I hated it. But at least we never had to testify in court.”
Gloria seemed to have dodged a more serious bullet than the single brief incident at Disneyland. And another teacher had come to her rescue. She could hardly have guessed the far greater betrayal awaiting her.
Allison Marsh first kissed her physics teacher after a football game in early October ten years ago. She was 16. David Mead, who doubled as a coach at the western San Bernardino County high school, had invited her to watch the game from the sidelines as he worked with the team that night. Allison hates football. She hated it then too. She didn’t have her eye on any of the jocks that evening either. Instead, she was watching every move of Mr. Mead, on whom she had a powerful schoolgirl’s crush.
When the game ended, Allison and Mead walked away from the field together. The teacher said he had something to fetch from his classroom/lab and asked Allison to come inside to wait for the crowded parking lot to empty. Then, at the moment Allison was leaving, they kissed, she says. Today, she doesn’t recall her teacher retrieving anything from his classroom.
After a long embrace, Mead told Allison that they shouldn’t do that again. Nevertheless, he kept up a romantic relationship with her over the next four months.
Allison and I are having breakfast at the Denny’s off 70th Street in the College Area. I listen hard to catch her soft musical voice between the clinking of silverware and coffee cups. Off and on, she flips wisps of blond hair from her eyes. She faces me squarely and speaks with a cheerful no-nonsense directness, determined, it is apparent, to clear the air about a scoundrel from her past.
Allison, who is 26 and lives in La Mesa, teaches second grade in a South Bay school. She received her teaching credential from SDSU four years ago and her master’s of education from National University last year.
During the last trimester of her sophomore year in high school, Allison had taken one of Mr. Mead’s classes. She sensed then that her teacher was especially fond of her. “But I wasn’t sure,” she says. “I thought he was only a nice guy or, maybe, he was super friendly.” After she got to know Mead better, they agreed that she would be his assistant the following year. Allison did not see Mead over the summer, but at the start of her junior year she enrolled as a student in one of his physics classes and took on the role of his assistant in another.
I ask Allison what kind of duties she performed as Mead’s assistant.
“What did I do?”
“Was it mainly a pretext?”
“No. But looking back, I’m not sure. Whatever he needed me to do, I guess, like organize files or set up science experiments,” she says, being certain, at the least, that his job assignments began bringing the two of them together alone.
I wonder whether Allison had attended the fateful football game in the capacity of Mead’s assistant. “No,” she says, “but students, of course, would sit in the stands, and he had me come with him onto the field. That was pretty cool for a 16-year-old girl.”
When they went to his classroom after the game, says Allison, Mead “said, ‘If I turn on the lights, I’ll have a bunch of kids coming in, and I don’t want to deal with that right now. So let’s leave them off until people disperse and go home.’ And that was true,” she says. “He was a popular teacher with both the guys and the girls. So they would surely have come to his classroom that night to talk. Everybody wanted to be in his class. He was young and he was fun to be around and friendly to a lot of students. And he was choosing me out of all those people.”
I try to imagine, then, the male teacher and his female student in that darkened classroom, with other students outside laughing and shouting after the football game on campus, and the setting seems so contrived that all I can visualize is a forced, awkward kiss. But no, says Allison, “when I went for the door like I was leaving, he was standing there, and we kissed like any other two people might.
“And afterward, driving home in the car, I felt wonderful, like it had finally happened after all the tension that had been building up since the prior school year and not seeing him all summer and for that first month of school, waiting. Now there was some acknowledgment, some acceptance from him. Yet, I was thinking, too, that he said we shouldn’t be doing that. So we won’t, and that was it. But it grew from there. Still, he knew the whole time that it wasn’t right. Right from the git-go, he knew.”
“How soon did you see him again?” I ask.
“We didn’t start dating,” says Allison. “But, at school, I would play with the back of his hair, which was dark brown and long, or he would rub my shoulders, even during the day, while other students were around. Or I’d be sitting next to him at the front of the classroom, while his students were taking a test or whatever, and, because you couldn’t see under the lab tables, which were solid underneath, he would put my hand on his leg, and I would be rubbing his leg while class was going on, and nobody could see.”
A supply room that opened off the science classroom/lab soon had obvious advantages. Allison’s teaching assistance began to take her into it before and after school. Mead would come in and “we would kiss a little,” she says, “unless I went home and came back when he would still be there at five or six in the evening. And then we would make out in there. We had plans to have intercourse, supposedly. But I was a virgin. And he knew that.”
“How close did it get?” I ask.
“Once, later, I gave him oral sex in a car. He never did that to me. We mostly used our hands, explored, I guess. But he only came once, the night that I gave him oral sex, and I didn’t ever. That was the first time I had ever done anything like that. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know anything. He kept saying, ‘You’re going to make me come,’ and I’m thinking, ‘What does that mean?’ And then I figured it out,” says Allison, laughing.
Mead never did take Allison to intercourse, despite their conversations. He may have been trying to use restraint with a 16-year-old girl or he was afraid of something else. But Allison knows he could have pushed it further than he did.
“We were supposed to get a hotel room over Christmas break,” she says, “and it never happened. I don’t know why. But, once, when we were together, he was wearing a pager. This is back however many years ago, when not everybody and his brother had one. I said, ‘Why do you have a pager?’ and he said, ‘Oh, my wife’s pregnant and she’s going to page me when she goes into labor.’ I was so crushed. He didn’t wear a wedding ring. He never spoke of her, and come to find out, she is an elementary school teacher right down the road from our school.
“It must have been shortly before Christmas, because I bought him a sweater for Christmas, and he said, ‘Wow, this is a nicer sweater than my wife bought me.’ ‘What are you saying?’ I thought. But I was already too head over heels for him to let even that bother me. It was, like, ‘Well, I’m not cheating on anybody, he is.’ I tried not to think about the situation, though I knew it was wrong. But he would tell me that he loved me and would write me poems and stuff like that.”
Finally, Allison confided the affair to a friend, older by two years, who went to another high school. She is certain that her friend never told anyone else about it. But, sometime in mid-February, says Allison, “I was staying the night at that friend’s house, when, at six o’clock on Sunday morning, her mom wakes me up and says, ‘Your mom’s on the phone.’ ”
Allison’s relationship with Mead didn’t make it to Valentine’s Day.
“I knew,” she says. “I knew before I even picked up the phone that my mom had found out. Why else would she call at six o’clock in the morning on a Sunday? She must have discovered a note or a letter in my room. I think. But I’m still not sure to this day exactly how she found out.
“My mom was ballistic. On the phone, she was screaming, ‘I’m picking you up right now.’ After she came, she drove me to a park, and I’m sitting in the front seat frozen in fear, because I know that the wrath of God is about to come down on me. She turned off the car and said, ‘What teacher are you fucking?’ ” says Allison, emphasizing the word. “My mom doesn’t swear, so I knew how upset she must have been. She was convinced that we did have sex, and I was trying to convince her that we didn’t. I told her who it was and explained the whole situation. I was freaking out, scared for my life. I didn’t know what was going to happen.
“The next day we had off from school — it was a teacher in-service day — and she went there, met with him, and talked to him. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall. He convinced her that I was a dreamy high school girl who had made this up, that it was a fantasy of mine, and that it never happened. He said I was a sweet girl, but that was it. At first, I was relieved, because that might mean that we wouldn’t be in trouble. But, by Tuesday, it started unraveling.
“The last time I had seen him was the Friday before, and, again, we had made plans to meet at school the next day and to go have sex. We kept planning to have sex and we never did. And I had driven to school that Saturday, but he never showed up. The reason I was at my friend’s house Saturday night was because I was upset that it didn’t happen. He didn’t even show up, and we didn’t talk either. No explanations.
“When Tuesday rolled around, I was taken out of his classes. The administration switched my schedule around and placed me in some other classes. My mom had gone straight to the top. Then I had meetings with a counselor and everyone else. I expected that. I had told my Spanish teacher, earlier, about the situation. She was 24, near to my age, and I told her, because when she went to that high school, she had an affair with a teacher there who was still teaching. It ended and they were now colleagues. And his wife taught there and knew about them. So this Spanish teacher understood where I was coming from, and I would talk to her about it. She didn’t tell anybody, which she probably should have, looking back.
“I did think there was some overreaction when the police wanted me to call him. They had the phone tapped and were trying to get him to admit something to me over the phone. So I would be sitting in this little office at the police station, with a school psychologist, and ringing his phone at school and home, waiting for him to answer. But he wouldn’t answer. He knew better. He knew he was going to be busted.
“I never had another conversation with him. He wouldn’t; he’d always have his door shut after school. No kids were allowed to go into his room after school. There was a lot of investigation going on, I guess. But I did try to go back and talk to him a week or two later, when his door was open. I walked into his room and he turned me around and guided me out the door. He said, ‘You can’t be here.’
“I was devastated,” Allison says, “not only about the situation, but I had now lost the trust that my mom and I had had. My friends all found out, everybody at school knew by then, and I was an emotional wreck. I had never felt like that before. I was suicidal. I always told myself that if anybody found out, I would kill myself. It would be too much of a mess to deal with. I thought, ‘Everybody will hate me; they’ll think it’s my fault.’ I kept thinking all these things. Before, I kept saying, ‘Well, nobody will find out, so it won’t ever be a big deal.’ Then, when they did, that’s when I got close to the edge.”
Today, Allison’s younger sister and brother go to the same high school that Allison attended. And David Mead still teaches there. He still teaches physics and he still coaches football.
Their Teachers at Their Beds
In a Catholic grammar school in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Sister Priscilla Gordon taught the second-grade class of Jim Hampton, who lives, today, in Golden Hill. He recently turned 30. During that time, she met Jim’s mother, who worked as an administrative secretary to the principal at the school. After becoming friends, the women spent lots of time confiding in each other — and drinking heavily.
“It was always the same,” says Jim, whose sturdy torso twists as he removes the last of several documents from his desk and places them in a file cabinet. Jim and I are talking in his office at the San Diego insurance company where he works. He is a tall man, with thinning red-blond hair and a fair complexion, who loves, I’ve already observed, to tease the women in his office with a playful viciousness.
“My mom had a two-bedroom apartment, and when I came on the weekends, I would stay in the second bedroom, and I would be scared, because my parents were getting divorced. I would be lying in the bed, and Sister Priscilla would open the door — I could tell it was her — and she would come and sit on the bed and talk.”
“Was she trying to console you about the divorce?” I ask.
“Yes, and trying to tell me that my dad was a bad person and that I was safe at my mom’s house, much safer there. And I hated it when I could smell her breath,” remarks Jim, who supposes now that the odor was that of Scotch, the favorite liquor, then, of his mother and her friend. Jim’s mother has described to him that period in her life as one of desperation, as she tried to cope, through alcohol, with having left her husband, who got custody of their three children. “And, boy, did they get plowed!” Jim says.
“That’s how it started,” he goes on. “At first, there was no touching. But later, Sister Priscilla began rubbing my chest and going down to my legs and groin. And the whole time she kept reminding me that I was safe and that everything was okay. Believe it or not, I asked her if God thought it was okay. Somehow, she made it seem that it wasn’t a bad thing. I remember being uncomfortable and afraid, but she would reassure me. She said that it was our secret and God’s secret. And she said, specifically, not to tell my mom. Then it developed further, and she became focused on my penis and that whole part.”
“Did she take your clothes off?”
“She asked me to do it — I slept in a T-shirt and underwear — or she asked me if I would feel better without my underwear. In a way like that,” says Jim.
I ask Jim whether he got an erection from her touching his penis.
He answered with obvious embarrassment. “I was trying to think about that not long ago, and I can’t remember if I did or didn’t,” he says.
“Did she take any of her own clothes off?”
“No. The furthest it got was that she tried to have oral sex with me,” says Jim. “She would kiss my stomach and then go down. And that scared me. The rubbing had seemed okay, because it always started off the way my parents would rub my back or my stomach when I was sick. Then she would work it into something else. But she never got too aggressive.
“It was a small, typical apartment room, and the bed was right by the doorway. Sister Priscilla kept the lights out and the door open when she came in.”
Jim and I speculate that she was listening for the voice or footsteps down the hall of his mother, who could have been out cold in another room.
“I remember her towering over me and then sitting on the bed,” Jim says. “It was methodical, every time the same, but it seemed like she would sometimes try to push her limits by trying something new or going a step further. Like when she first tried the oral sex, and I showed resistance, she backed off. But the next time, she would try again, seeing what she could get away with, like she was breaking me into it.”
Jim thinks that Sister Priscilla frequented his mother’s apartment — and his bedside — during his third and fourth years in school, when he was 8 and 9. Several times, she even accompanied the temporarily regrouped family, including his brother and sister, on vacations to Cape May on the New Jersey shore. She got drunk on one trip, Jim recalls. “I was in the backseat,” he says, “and she was riding shotgun and she said to my mom, ‘Pull over.’ And my mom pulled over on the side of the highway, and Sister Priscilla puked down the embankment. It was creepy to see a nun throwing up.”
Chuckling at the incident, he recalls Sister Priscilla as a small woman with a slight build. “She appeared to be in her late 30s to early 40s, and she never wore makeup,” he says. “She had big teeth and mousy eyes and a thin pointy nose.” Jim knows that she dressed in casual clothes much of the time that she spent at his mother’s apartment. However, he pictures her wearing her habit, a brown tunic, in the bedroom in which she molested him, though he knows that that memory may derive from the first impression she made on him as his second-grade teacher.
“But I am sure,” he says, “that she had a long, thin silver chain with a cross on the end of it, and it would hit my face and always be around me. That goddamned necklace! If I knew, as a kid, what I know now, I would have grabbed it and stabbed her in the throat with it.”
To twins Gloria and Sherrie, Carmen McGuire was a natural confidante for the information that a fellow teacher had kissed them on the graduation excursion to Disneyland. She had been their journalism teacher for two years and had taught several of their older siblings in the same middle school they were attending. She also acted as a faculty advisor to the newspaper. Says Gloria, “Since I was on the school newspaper, I spent time after school with her. And I asked her to come to a softball game once, begged her, probably, till she couldn’t say no. It was Bobby Sox, an outside league, and we played at the school. I don’t know how soon afterward she started coaching, but, for a long time, she was also involved with the softball team.”
When McGuire got the news about Mr. Taylor, her kissing colleague, she reported him to the principal. The following week, the male teacher mysteriously disappeared. And she began to take Gloria, shell-shocked from the scandal, under her wing.
Being a middle child in a family of ten brothers and sisters, and with both her parents drinking a lot, Gloria took Carmen McGuire to be a godsend. “Carmen and I spent so much time together. She was married, and I became part of her family. She had been trying to have children. She’d take me shopping, I’d get my hair cut, she’d buy me clothes — something they call ‘grooming,’ I gather — and showered me with attention. I loved her. I loved being with her. She was a parent to me,” says Gloria, starting to cry softly.
“My mom wasn’t emotionally available at all. We were never close. After a while she became jealous of the relationship that I had with Carmen, and she accused me of being queer. That’s how she put it, in an awful way.”
McGuire remained at the middle school, while Gloria went on to high school the following year. But they were becoming closer than ever. During the summer, Gloria went on vacation with the McGuires to the Colorado River. They slept alongside each other on the ground under the stars. In the middle of the night, McGuire and Gloria experienced each other sexually.
“Yes, her husband was there, and I don’t know who else. But, the next morning, she took me aside and said that she was flattered, but…” Gloria’s quavering voice falls off before continuing. “It was ‘No’ then, and, after that trip, I don’t know what made it okay, but the physical relationship started and continued for three years.
“If we went to a game or whatever, I would sleep over at her house. They’d give me dinner, and Bob would go to bed. Then, after I went to bed, Carmen would come into the bedroom and give me a back rub. And one thing led to another. I had never been with anybody physically. I mean, I was 13.”
“Did you know what to do?” I ask.
“No. I don’t remember a lot of conversation, but I reciprocated what she did to me. I didn’t know how or what. I only did it. And she’d stay in the room for a while and, then, go to bed and her husband.”
“Could he have been clueless?” I say.
“He was at the time, though he did know we were fond of each other and that I was from a big family and got a lot of attention from her. It was what any kid would want.”
Gloria had a room at the McGuires’ house, right down the hall from their bedroom. A low table stood in the room, a detail that a visit to their home only three years ago stimulated in her memory. Because of an inlaid pattern on top of the table, Gloria thought the McGuires had purchased it during a trip to the Orient they had sometimes talked about.
“When I went to their house,” she says, “I saw the table, and it brought me shortness of breath. It’s not in the bedroom anymore; it’s down in the living room. They’re in a different house now too. But the table stirred up all kinds of memories. I was sad. I stared at it like it had this life of its own. I remembered it being next to the bed all the time, and it looked so innocent sitting there downstairs with a stereo on it. It was hard seeing it. I don’t know how to explain it.”
I ask Gloria whether she and Carmen ever got physical in places other than her bedroom in their home.
“It happened anywhere — in the car, for instance. We’d go to the drive-ins and do it there. In fact, when we went to the drive-ins, other people came with us. We’d have blankets. If Bob was driving to the river, I probably told Carmen to come into the backseat with me.”
“Did people see you kissing her?” I ask.
“No, there was only a lot of heavy petting — and orgasm. It wasn’t anything I was verbal about, however, as though enjoying lovemaking like an adult. But it happened all the time, wherever we were, and whenever I was at the house.
“Usually, there was a routine. I’d go to bed, and she’d take care of Bob.” Gloria and I both laugh. “Then she’d come into the room I was in. I understood that she would be there. We’d talk and have a nice time together, and she’d be rubbing my back or my arm, if it was sore, but it didn’t matter. I’d have pajamas on, and I’d pull my top up. I’d be lying on my stomach, and she would start giving me a full backrub and go from there. I don’t remember having any feelings about it either way. I enjoyed the physical sensations, sure. Emotionally, I don’t remember.
“But there would come a point — this is kind of hard — where, after I had an orgasm, she would want to penetrate, and I always stopped her at the same point, every time. I would put my hand on her hand and stop her. And I don’t remember the exact words, but she explained to me, one time, that there was more, that it could be better, that it shouldn’t stop there. I had no idea what she meant, but it was so automatic to stop her.”
McGuire ended the relationship in Gloria’s junior year. “I guess I had been crying and showing different emotions to her,” says Gloria. “So she told me that it should stop. And I usually get what I want. If I had wanted it, I would have gotten it, whether she wanted to give it or not. And it didn’t continue one day after that. So maybe it relieved me that I was off the hook. About then, I had gotten a boyfriend, and Carmen was adopting a child. The adoption, the end of the relationship, and the boyfriend all happened at the same time.”
“Did the decision feel good to you?”
“I’m sure it did. I don’t remember either way. I remember having the conversation, vaguely, and her suggesting that it was harming me, and I remember telling her, ‘No, it’s not. Don’t worry.’ ”
“But, deep down, you were relieved?”
“I think so.”
“But if you were relieved, then you must have been experiencing some discomfort about the relationship to begin with.”
“No, I don’t remember, then, ever feeling uncomfortable about it.”
Not until much later in her life did Sarah Leonard begin to understand what she had gone through in John Winston’s fifth-grade class. It started to dawn on her when, at 16, she read about him in the newspaper. “But I was on a lot of drugs all the way through high school,” she says, “so I pretty much ignored it.
“I started doing drugs when I was 13. You name it; I did it. My favorite was crystal meth, because I tend to be on the slower side, hardly hyperactive. And I’m not an outgoing person either, so, when I was on crystal meth, I could talk to anybody. I’d be up for three days at a time and I lost a lot of weight. It was great,” Sarah says, laughing, “but I was messed up, emotionally.
“I remember the day I picked up the San Francisco Chronicle — it was sometime in 1984 — and there was a little column that my teacher had been arrested. They found pictures of little first graders in his desk. And I remember looking at my mom. I said, ‘He did this to me.’ She said, ‘Excuse me,’ and I told her all about it, but she wouldn’t do anything, and that is weird to me. She couldn’t deal with it. She had actually dated him herself. But that was where the conversation stopped. I don’t remember ever again talking with her about it. I don’t remember her ever asking, ‘Do you think you need help, do you need counseling, how has this affected you?’ I guess she figured that what happened to me wasn’t violent, and he didn’t actually rape me.”
In an aside, then, Sarah says, “I don’t know how adults rape children, physically.”
Peter, Sarah’s husband, wants to know whether rape is what Winston was arrested for. “The article didn’t say that,” she says. “But I’m sure he got to that point. If he’s tying kids up and taking pictures of them, I’m sure he had raped them and I’m sure that if I’d gone home with him, he would have raped me too.”
“Did you follow the trial?” I ask.
“Because my mom didn’t treat it like it was a big deal, I didn’t pay any more attention to it. I went right back to getting high,” says Sarah, laughing. “Didn’t want to let anything interrupt me. And I didn’t quit until I moved out to my dad’s in Michigan, when I was 17. He’s much stricter than my mom and wouldn’t let me out of his sight. So I had to stop and I wanted to stop. I knew that I was going to kill myself. I’d been in several situations where I should have been dead but wasn’t. I don’t do anything anymore. But it’s amazing how many young kids are doing it, and their parents have no idea. My mom had no idea. I told her many years later, and she asked, ‘How did I not know?’ And I said, ‘You weren’t paying attention.’ She wasn’t.”
“Were you sexually active at that time too?”
“God, yes. I started having sex when I was 15, and I would have sex with anybody,” says Sarah. And then to Peter, “I’m sorry. I’m sure it’s the last thing you want to hear.”
Peter laughs uncomfortably. “I don’t mind,” he says.
“At times, I was safe about it,” continues Sarah, “but, in 1984, we had only started hearing about AIDS, and I was not afraid of it, because, from what we knew, it was a gay disease. I had enough wherewithal to get a diaphragm, though, so that I never got pregnant. And I never had an STD, I don’t know why. I was lucky. The drugs contributed. I don’t think I would have been having sex with that many people if I weren’t either drunk or stoned or on crystal meth. I remember precious little time, then, when I was sober.
“But when I went to my dad’s, I got a steady boyfriend, and we had a traditional dating relationship. We went to the movies — something weird for me — and I got to know him well and I got to know his family before I became physical with him, something also new for me. Most of the time, when I was younger, it was,” says Sarah, snapping her fingers, “whenever.”
I ask Sarah whether she laid down limits with that boy.
“No, he was a nice boy,” she says. “He shook my hand on our first date. He was the sweetest person I’d ever met, at the time. I’d never been treated with such respect before, and it was strange.”
In 1991, Sarah spent part of the summer in Paris. “My father was teaching there, and he took a group of students with him. I jumped on that group rate, and then I subleased my own cute little apartment in Paris. I wasn’t studying, but I wanted to keep up with my language skills. My major had been language studies, I was fluent in French, and I wanted to take that French out into the world.
“Right by my apartment, there was a little open-air market on Wednesdays, and I’d go there and buy my vegetables and bread,” says Sarah, pausing with a sigh. “One day, I met a group of young French people, boys and girls; they were a little younger than me, but not much. I was 23. We had some of the same interests, so we would hang out together, and they showed me parts of Paris that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. And I got to practice a lot of French with them and see what it was like to live there. One of them looked like Tom Cruise, quite attractive. He had dark hair and he was a kick boxer, athletic and strong and much bigger than me. We had a sexual tension going, but we never did anything about it. It was more flirtation. We kissed a couple of times and we played, but we never got any further than that. I didn’t want it to go any further than that, because I didn’t know him.
“Then came Bastille Day, French Independence, July 14, and a lot goes on that day. It’s much bigger than July 4 is here, with street dances and craziness all over Paris. The firemen have the biggest street dances; I don’t know why. So my new friends invited me to this street dance, but they were waiting for some of their other friends to come meet them and they asked me, ‘Can we come up to your apartment, because we don’t have anywhere else to wait right now.’ I was hesitant, because I didn’t know them that well. I told them, ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea,’ and they chided me, saying, ‘Nothing will happen,’ and I gave in.
“So Stefan, the good-looking one, his friend, Laurent — I guess the names aren’t important, but I’ll never forget them — and two girls came up. Stefan was not only big, but also muscular, because he did martial arts every day. They had a bottle of something with them, and we were sitting on the floor in the living room, where my bed happened to be — it was a studio — and we talked. And they asked, ‘Can we have a couple of drinks while we’re here?’ I said, ‘Well, I guess it couldn’t hurt.’
“Their other friends were coming from across the city, which took a good half hour. So we waited. I didn’t drink at the time, but it was a holiday, and I decided to have one drink. That was not a big deal to me. One drink might get me a little loopy, but that’s it. So I had one, in a small liqueur glass. And that’s the last thing I remember. I can’t prove anything, but one drink wouldn’t do that to me. What happened after that, one of the girls told me later. Apparently, all these people from across town came into my apartment, had a huge party, set off firecrackers in the elevator, and spilled wine up and down the hall. The police came, though I don’t remember this at all, and I went to the door and talked to them. I don’t know how I spoke in French when I was drunk, or drugged. Apparently, I made the police go away. The next thing I remember, I was on the floor and I didn’t have any clothes on, and Stefan was on top of me. He said, ‘You started this; you have to finish it,’ and he was acting violent. He didn’t hit me, but he was threatening to hurt me. I don’t know why I didn’t fight back. I don’t know why to this day I didn’t fight back, but I didn’t. I guess I was afraid. And I was drugged. I think I didn’t have the strength in my body to fight back. By that time, he was done, and I’m lying there naked. I don’t know how I got that way. I suppose he took my clothes off, though I don’t know if I took them off myself. I don’t remember.”
Peter, who has been sitting quietly, asks softly, “Was anyone else there?”
“A bunch of people were in the room,” says Sarah. “The apartment was quite small. A little kitchen extended off to the side, but that was it. Some of them were watching, and Laurent was doing something in the bathroom with some girl. I don’t think they were having sex in there. She was throwing up. Then he came out into the living room and saw me lying there without my clothes. He told me, ‘I’m next,’ and, by that time, I was jolted into reality. I said, ‘Oh no,’ and I had to put my legs up to block him and push him away. Then I got my clothes on and started kicking people out. It must have been three, four o’clock in the morning, and, of course, we hadn’t done any of the fun Independence Day stuff.
“Stefan, by this time, had passed out. We couldn’t wake him up, so he stayed in my apartment all night, and I sat on a chair and watched him. I kept kicking him to get up and get the hell out, but he was so drunk that he wouldn’t wake up. So I waited and kept kicking him, and, finally — it must have been seven or eight in the morning, or later — he woke up and threatened my life. He told me, ‘If you tell anybody, or if I see you around here, I’ll kill you,’ and he was dead serious. I believed him. They have those circular streets in France, where you go around the fountain. I lived on one side of the circle, and he lived on the other. He lived so close to me that he could see me coming up out of the subway, and, after that day, I was afraid to go back.
“It took a huge screaming fight to kick him out that morning. He called me terrible, terrible things, a whore and this and that. The words were horrible. The last thing he said before he went out the door was, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m infected with HIV,’ and he shut the door. And my whole body started shaking. I got into the hot shower and I scrubbed myself for half an hour, which is archetypal, trying to get the sin off your body. I packed up my backpack, because I wasn’t going to come back, though I had several weeks left to go in the apartment. And I called one of the girls. She had gone to high school with him and had known him since he was little. I was more worried about HIV than anything else, because it was exploding in Paris at the time, and I told her, ‘You have to tell me if he has AIDS.’ She said, ‘Oh, he was making that up. He’s an asshole.’ But I didn’t believe her. I didn’t believe any of them, because they had all let this happen. My dad and my stepmom were staying in an apartment across town, and I took the train to their place with all my stuff.”
In late February, not long after the blowup of her relationship with her high school physics teacher, Allison Marsh decided to “go out and have sex with somebody.” That somebody turned out to be a 24-year-old fellow worker in a Burger King, where she had recently started to fill up the time she now had on her hands.
“I did it,” says Allison, “because David and I didn’t have sex when I was a virgin, like we’d planned. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have done it. That was not my character, but I was so emotionally messed up. And I remember thinking, ‘If we’re not going to have sex, I can.’ And I did. But it was only a symbolic act and not a satisfying experience at all. I know it was mistaken, a kind of rebound retaliation. He was older than me too, by about seven years. I didn’t care about the guy.”
“Did he know of your relationship with the teacher?” I ask.
“Yes. At that point, I would tell anybody who would listen, just to get it out.”
By May, Allison had met someone her own age who would become her boyfriend for the next three years. They had sex right away, but “it took me a while to open up emotionally, to trust him,” she says. They dated throughout their senior year, and he supported her in recovering from the trauma of her relationship with Mead. He supported Allison especially through a difficult repercussion of that affair.
Allison took senior biology from Mead’s brother-in-law and colleague in the high school’s science department. “This teacher knew about the situation,” she says. “Everybody in the school seemed to know. So my senior year, he would talk to me about it, and we had a discussion about whether or not David’s wife should know about her husband’s infidelity. I was reluctant, but he said she was a teacher right down the road, and I thought that, okay, I’d go. It had been six to eight months after David and I ended, so I wasn’t still so emotionally wrecked.”
“Do you mean that Mead’s wife’s brother talked you into going to see her?” I ask Allison.
“No. We talked together,” she says. “If I wasn’t going to go, I wasn’t going to go, regardless. But he was a deacon at a church and invited me to go to that church. So I went, and we became friends. I think his motives were pure. He was concerned for his sister. It wasn’t an underhanded trick against anybody. Because of the comfort I felt with him, I knew he was being genuine in wanting his sister to know straight from me, whatever rumors were out there. So I agreed.”
“Do you think that Mead’s wife heard all those rumors?”
“She didn’t teach at our high school, so maybe not. But we went to meet her after school one day. We went to an elementary school, and her brother says, ‘Wait here; I’ll be right back.’ And he went into his sister’s classroom and came back and got me, and we went into the classroom together. We sat down — I’m sitting across from her — and she says, ‘My brother said that you have something to talk to me about. I don’t know what it is, but I’m a good listener, and I’m here for you, whatever you need to talk about.’ So she seemed to have no clue. I felt bad, because I was coming there to tell her these things about her husband, and she was so welcoming to me. She thought I was some high school girl with a problem who needed a female to talk to. Like she was going to be a counselor.
“Then, her brother says, ‘I’m going to leave you two to talk.’ He went outside. I told her, ‘Last year I was having a relationship with your husband.’ And she didn’t get hostile. She only said, ‘I think you’re mistaken.’ She was very calm. I explained that I was a student of his, that I knew where they lived, that I had their phone number. And I said, ‘I’ve gone to his softball games, which are on Tuesday nights at seven o’clock, and you were never there, and people would think I was his wife.’ She, then, would shake her head and say, ‘I know my husband loves me and would never do anything to hurt us’ — her family — ‘I know he loves us; he would never do anything to hurt us.’ And I would tell her more and more, and she would say again, ‘I know my husband loves us and would never do anything to hurt us.’ She kept repeating that over and over. Whatever I would say, that’s what she would say back, 10 or 20 times. I mean, she kept saying it over and over, as if she had to hear it to convince herself that it was true. And I told her what I needed to tell her, and then her brother and I left. It was anticlimactic. Nobody cried; it was no big scene.”
I ask Allison whether she described any of her own physical intimacy with Mead.
“Some of it,” she says. “I didn’t think she needed to know much detail, only that we had kissed and made out and that we didn’t have sex. I don’t know whether or not she believed it. I felt that she needed to be aware enough that if this happened again, and some other girl came to her, she must think, ‘Gosh, someone else came to me a year ago; here’s another girl,’ and she would see a pattern. They’ve got two daughters, at least, by now.”
I remind myself, “The second daughter was the one they were expecting when Mead broke it to you that his wife was pregnant.”
“Yes,” says Allison, reaching into her purse and pulling a snapshot from her wallet. “That’s his first daughter.” And she shows me the picture of a smiling towhead, who looks to be two or three.
After Allison finished high school, she went off to UC Santa Barbara to work on her bachelor’s degree. She came home as often as she could to keep up the relationship with her boyfriend, who stayed in town to work instead of going to college. The separation, however, undid the relationship, and “we grew apart,” says Allison, who found breaking up to be painful again. In compensation, perhaps, she began an eight-month affair with a man 20 years older than herself.
Gloria Stevenson had learned to prevent teacher Carmen McGuire from penetrating her. She thinks, today, that she learned it all too well. By the time she married her husband Jeff, the response had become automatic.
Of course, Jeff penetrated her in the physical sense. “But I never let him in, emotionally. Sex wasn’t as free as it could have been, as uninhibited. We had no real intimacy. I was always somewhere else. I think it’s because I never felt as close to anybody as I did to Carmen. Learning about sex the way I did with her, I became a silent partner all the time,” says Gloria, her voice cracking as she begins to sob softly. “So I never got comfortable in actively participating. I would feel victimized all over again. I knew Jeff wasn’t victimizing me, and I loved him dearly. But I was only doing what had to be done. Sure, I was there and I was participating, but I was not free to express myself, and I’m certain that it’s because I wasn’t initially, with Carmen.
“Besides, it was a secret to have sex, and I’m Catholic.” She laughs aloud. “That’s a good excuse, isn’t it? When I had a baby — after six years — the sex didn’t stop, exactly. But it became infrequent, let’s put it that way.”
Gloria’s marriage to Jeff ended after 15 years. A year later, Gloria sought counseling. She has been seeing therapist Ann Wilson regularly ever since.
“Supposedly, I went in to talk about my divorce, but that didn’t come up for weeks. We talked about Carmen. And I was in total denial about that for eight, nine months. I had always felt that Carmen was this love of my life. She showered me with attention, she inspired me, and she was there when I was struggling with anything. She was a mom to me,” says Gloria, starting to cry softly again. She has difficulty going on.
“Carmen was more of a mom to me than my own mom. I loved her and thought that she was this great once-in-a-lifetime love someplace special in my heart. I never said anything about this to anybody until, one day, I told a friend from work. She’s an older woman, and her dad, from an early age, had sexually molested her. I had her over for dinner, and she kept talking about incest and all this stuff. She claimed later that I kept changing the subject, which I don’t remember, and then said, ‘Boy, if I’ve ever seen somebody running from something.’ I thought she was nuts but, shortly after that, I confided in her. We were talking about relationships, and I told her that the one perfect relationship I had had was with Carmen, and this woman kept asking about her, especially how Carmen was 17 years older than me. She finally told me, ‘Well, that wasn’t anything; she was molesting you.’ And that was the first time that I’d ever heard the word ‘molest’ associated with my relationship. I didn’t react at all. It didn’t scare me, and I wasn’t resentful, but it did have a ring of truth to me. Still, I thought the woman was crazy. I still think she is, but for other reasons,” says Gloria, laughing. “She kept talking about it. I thought, ‘Shit, lady, shut up. I don’t want to go there.’ But I’m grateful to her. It opened me up.”
“Because it led you to seek counseling?” I ask.
“I had been searching for counseling for quite some time but never took the step. I’d make appointments all over town and wouldn’t show.”
When Gloria did begin weekly therapy sessions with Ann Wilson, she tried as best she could to maintain her denial. “I kept insisting to her that Carmen and I had this ideal relationship,” she says, “that the sex had been a progression of our affection for each other, that that’s where the affection led, saying, in effect, ‘Where else would it go?’ But Ann consistently questioned that view. She started drawing conclusions, and I’m sure I was a walking classic symptom to her because of the issues that I was dealing with. I guess it’s common, when you hit a catastrophe in your life, to face your issues.
“Anyway, my life started to make some sense. I mean, I abused drugs for most — well, all — of my marriage. Both my husband and I used them. And I never had any direction. I had no boundaries in relationships. I couldn’t trust anybody. But once things started to fall into place, everything made sense.”
“While you were married, did you think much about Carmen?” I ask.
“On and off,” says Gloria. “Her son was in my wedding, and I always knew where she lived. We always kept in touch, with a Christmas card or whatever. But I don’t ever remember thinking anything about her, anything negative, anyway. Never.”
“What kind of drugs were you taking?”
“We did pot and cocaine and, then, we moved to San Bernardino, the crack capital,” says Gloria, laughing. “The crystal was also easier to get there than in San Diego. And I realized, once we moved, that it became a secret. I had started using without Jeff’s knowledge. I worked late hours in a restaurant, and that whole life was conducive to it. The only reason I stopped was because I got pregnant.”
“Did you take it up later?”
“I did. The divorce had played into it. My husband traveled all the time. He was never home, and the marriage wasn’t working.”
I ask Gloria whether, at the time, she thought she was a drug addict.
“Oh, no. You never think you’re a drug addict,” she says with a loud laugh. “But I needed to stop, yes. So I sought some help from a human resource person at work. I was scared to death they were going to fire me. I was doing drugs at work. So I quit about four years ago.
“But I even used with Carmen in the house. The first day I had counseling with Ann, I called Carmen. I hadn’t talked to her in I don’t know how long, but I got the courage to ask her whether there was anything about our relationship that caused her concern. And I invited her to come down to San Diego. We went to a concert together, and she stayed half the night, and we talked about the relationship, and, when she’d be downstairs, I was upstairs doing drugs. Then I told her that I used. She asked, ‘Do we need to get you help?’ and I blew it off. But if I hadn’t said anything, she would never have known otherwise. She’s straitlaced.”
Gloria’s recent encounters with Carmen haven’t all been as cordial.
“Every time I get Carmen on the phone now,” she says, “I rip her to shreds. What I say and do expresses the anger that I feel. Ann has told me that my anger is due partly to the fact that Carmen has suffered no repercussions. It does vindicate you if some steps are taken to bring justice. When I first called her, after starting counseling, my big fear was about her not admitting that it happened. But she did say it happened, and that validated everything I felt and allowed me to go from there.
“I didn’t think I was angry with Carmen,” says Gloria with a chuckle, “but, after he found out about everything, I had an affair with her husband, a one-night thing in her house. And I don’t believe that otherwise, I, the person that I am, would ever betray somebody in such a way, especially someone I think is a great friend and a mother to me.”
I remark that Carmen’s husband could have been getting even with her too.
“Absolutely. It’s sick,” says Gloria. “He initiated it, and in their visitor’s bedroom too. It was surreal. That happened only four years ago. I was an adult and aware of everything I was doing. She was gone. Everything about it was so deceitful, and it’s disgusting to me.”
“A little piece of revenge,” I say.
“I didn’t see it that way, but I have to accept that that’s what it was. I told Carmen, ‘He used me for sex, and so did you. You’re both the same.’ It bugs me, because I have to take full responsibility for it, but he initiated it, and I think he planned it, that we would be in the house alone. Yet I haven’t been able to talk to him about it, about where he was coming from and why he needed to do that.
“Carmen never had to tell him what happened. I told him everything. I thought he should know. One of his comments was, ‘Don’t tell me it happened out at the river. Don’t tell me everyone was getting it out there except me.’ That made me angry. I felt victimized all over again, because I was telling him about it so that he would see me as suffering from it now, but I think it was voyeuristic for him. I swear, he was probably beating off while I was telling him every night for a week on the phone. Carmen was gone those nights, and, stupid me, I thought I was gaining an ally, while he took it as sex talk. And, while trying to get him to understand and validate everything, I asked, ‘What did Carmen tell you?’ He said, ‘Only that she loved you.’
“When I asked Carmen why she did it, she also said, because she loved me, which is sad, since I know that she loved me and I loved her too. But she was a teacher and she should have known better. It’s up to her — the adult — to say, ‘Look, it’s nice, but we can’t do this.’ ”
Seven months into Gloria’s therapy, Ann Wilson became obligated to report Carmen McGuire to Child Protective Services.
Says Gloria, “I developed an eating disorder over the last several years that has been a way of dealing with the stress, something common for molest victims, from what I’ve learned. I was vomiting, a type of bulimia, though I wasn’t inducing it manually. But I could get to the point where it would happen. It started when Carmen had to be reported to protective services.”
“Didn’t your therapist have to report Carmen to Child Protective Services,” I ask, “as soon as you started counseling?”
“Ann had told me, right up front, that if she knew Carmen’s last name, she would have to report her. I told her, ‘You’re not going to know her name.’ This is funny, because, growing up, I had always called Carmen by her last name, McGuire, since she was my teacher. But, in counseling, I was referring to her as ‘Carmen’ the entire time. Well, about seven months into it, I mentioned her last name.”
“Ann doesn’t think it was an accident,” says Gloria, “but it only slipped out in my telling a story. Suddenly, she knew both of Carmen’s names and she had to report her. I felt awful, because I never would have gone to counseling, if that’s where it was going to lead me. And the eating disorder started then. I didn’t know, at first, what caused it. I went through all these tests, because they had to eliminate everything else, of course — a tumor, an ulcer, or reflux. I was missing a lot of work and almost lost my job because of it. I was throwing up violently until I was empty. I could throw up at will. I’d get worked up and, once I realized I could do it and once I was agitated, I was not going to relax until I threw up.”
“The agitation was about Carmen getting discovered,” I say.
“Yes, because she’s still teaching, and she and I were trying to work through this together. She decided she would resign. When I first turned to her and asked her to fill in the memory lapses, and we were saying that we loved each other, blah blah blah, she never admitted to crossing a boundary, or any guilt, nothing, except that she spent years praying for both of us and that she had watched me continue on to college, get married, and seem happy on the outside. She didn’t know the havoc I was living every day, with the drugs completely out of control, spending, and everything else. So, now that she understood better, and once her name was revealed, she was going to resign. And I insisted that she not do it.
“But when Ann contacted Child Protective Services,” says Gloria, “they told her she would have to go to the police. Now, if Carmen’s own children were under 18, they would have taken them from her. What they want is a list of names of children who are in danger every day. Well, she’s a substitute teacher now. She’s with a different group of kids every day. No names could be given, and her kids are out of the house, which meant no danger to her, but she didn’t know that. So she wanted to meet Ann, who agreed to hear Carmen out. The day after they talked, Ann called me and said she had to report Carmen, and it was awful not knowing where it would go from there.
“But Carmen did not resign, and the only people who learned about it were Child Protective Services. I don’t even know if they took a report, since Ann couldn’t give specific names. I even called the 800 number. Ann called in Orange County, and I called down here, because I wanted to know what would happen if action were taken. I got this woman on the phone. So I’m telling her the story, and she said, ‘You need to go to the police.’ I said, ‘Oh, no.’ ‘Do you still talk to this person?’ she asked. I told her, ‘Yes, she’s like a mom.’ And I pictured her putting her hand over the receiver and yelling out to the old ladies, ‘Hey, I’ve got a live one here,’ ” says Gloria, laughing loudly. “Then she wanted to keep me on the line and get involved, but I said, ‘Okay, thanks.’ She didn’t know what she had.
“So who knows about Carmen? I told my sister and her husband,” Gloria says. “But nobody else in Carmen’s world knows. She’s suffered no repercussions, other than her guilt.”
I ask Gloria whether she thinks Carmen has suffered over what she did.
“Yes,” she says. “Now she’s holier than thou, very religious, though I’d rather not say which one.”
“Did she turn to religion after molesting you?”
“She studied her religion before that, but not to the depths she’s into it now. At one of my support groups, they laughed, because I guess molestation is common among religious fanatics and extremists.
“But what I’m most resentful about is that the relationship has wreaked havoc on me, and I have to spend the rest of my life cleaning it up, whereas, for this person, it was a done deal. When it stopped, it was over for her, and, if I hadn’t reached out to her, it would have never been discussed.
“In the second meeting with my therapist, I announced, ‘Hey, I called Carmen.’ I’m sure Ann would have discouraged it because of what Carmen might say. In fact, when we went out the first time several years ago, I asked Carmen about the orgasms, and she almost crashed her car,” says Gloria with a loud laugh, “like she’d never heard the word. I got upset about it, because here I was trying to confirm what I remembered happening, and she’s acting like she didn’t know what the word meant. So, for a moment, I thought, ‘My God, have I never had one in my life and didn’t know it?’ I’m sure that that’s what I had experienced with her. But she would not validate what I was trying to get from her.”
“Did she deny having an orgasm herself?” I ask.
“She didn’t out and out deny it; she only acted like it had never happened between us. Then, one time, she came around, and we talked about it. After that, we never spoke the big O-word again. But I dropped a lot of things. I knew how to talk to her and what I shouldn’t bring up, always a game of words. Saying the words had a lot of shock value. I wanted to see her reaction. I’ll do things to get a reaction from her. She’s different than me, and her kids are different. She’s reserved and exudes this sense of decorum.
“She looks like your basic librarian/teacher. She wears glasses and she’s small. A friend of mine referred to her as a tomboy. She’s athletic, but not how some teachers are, where you think, ‘Oh yeah, she’s a dike.’ None of that. Although she does have a sister that’s a lesbian. In fact, her husband said he worried he was married to a lesbian himself. I refrained from telling him, ‘No, only a child molester,’ ” laughs Gloria. “But, to me, she looks like a church lady.”
Jim Hampton played high school football in North Carolina — his father had moved the family from Pennsylvania several years earlier — and, during his senior year, he started drinking and experimenting with drugs. He confesses, too, that he liked to seduce the high school girls, when he could, and then “throw them away.” But he already knew that he was gay.
At 19, he sought psychotherapy for “a culmination” of issues from his childhood, primarily his parents’ divorce and his own sexuality. “The weird thing,” Jim says, “is that I had completely forgotten about Sister Priscilla. I had pushed it way back.
“My sexuality was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I realized that I needed to deal with that, and, then, once I started, we had to start peeling layers away. In that process, Sister Priscilla came out.”
“You were living in the home state of Jesse Helms,” I say. “Were you thinking, ‘I’m gay; I need to be cured’?”
“I knew that wasn’t going to happen. The question was how to deal with it and how do I still get the approval from my parents that I want. That was the main thing.”
“Did your psychotherapist try to make a connection between your being gay and what Sister Priscilla did to you?”
“Yes, we had some discussion about that,” Jim says, “but it was tangled up with a lot of intricacies. My mom was dealing with her own sexuality at the time that she and Sister Priscilla were friends. I still haven’t asked my mom if any kind of relationship was going on between the two of them. I suspect there was, but, because of what happened to me and her guilt feelings about it, anything related to Sister Priscilla is such a sensitive issue with my mom that I’ve never asked.”
Jim’s mother has been living in a relationship with another woman for the last ten years.
“Sister Priscilla came up when the therapist straight-out asked whether I was ever sexually abused, and initially I denied it. Then I got to this point where I trusted her so much. I knew that I had to talk about it, because she insisted on dealing with everything, not leaving anything unopened. That’s when it surfaced. She did an incredible job of getting me to talk about it. She was an awesome therapist.
“And getting it all out was sad,” says Jim, “not a hysterical rage. I remember starting to talk about it comfortably, then crying, but without my voice cracking. Tears were running down my face, and I told the whole story. I was numb to everything else around me, and when I came to, my therapist was even crying.
“I associate that time, the time of the therapy, and that age in my life, with being sad and scared, though I wasn’t able to express much then. The anger came, but not until I talked about the molestation to my mom, who knew nothing of it at the time that it happened. Then, seeing my mom’s guilt feelings over not having stopped it and her anger at Sister Priscilla, I got pissed off about it too.”
In his early and mid-20s, Jim increased for a while his use of alcohol and drugs, especially cocaine. Also, he indulged occasionally in bursts of unprotected sexual activity. He describes to me going on a weeklong “binge” during a vacation in Hawaii some years ago. Over the course of the week, he went through five sexual partners.
I ask Jim what ever became of Sister Priscilla.
“The last I heard was that she had kicked the habit, so to speak, left the church, and went to Philadelphia a couple of years after my experience with her. In the meantime, my mom graduated from a Ph.D. program. She got a good job and moved on in her life. I never heard anything more about Sister Priscilla. My mom had lost contact with her. I guess they parted their own ways.”
“Did you ever want to track the nun down and confront her?” I ask.
“Oh, definitely! When I told my mom, she asked my permission to find her in case we wanted to press charges. But we agreed, at last, that it would be less painful if we dealt with it by talking together, rather than by rehashing the whole thing with Sister Priscilla. That would have been too much. I knew that my life would go on and I would be okay with it. The hardest part of the whole thing was telling my mom and seeing her go through those emotions. That was tough.”
A secret burrowed through the 20 years of Gloria Stevenson’s life from the end of her high school days to the start of therapy with Ann Wilson.
“You feel so different when you’ve got this secret that’s never been dealt with. I’ve had secrets my whole life,” she says. “Everything was a secret — stupid, ridiculous things — and Carmen was the beginning. That secret was especially taboo. You run a big risk if you tell somebody. It’s implied that, if anybody knows, we can’t have this special relationship. Am I not going to see my special friend? Are they going to take her away? So you’d never want to tell. Although Carmen never threatened me or suggested that I keep anything a secret, it was understood.
“I trusted Carmen more than I trusted anybody, and she betrayed that. She could have been so positive in my life, but the sex tainted it. Trust and boundaries have been big issues for me. Though I’ve always been talkative, everything’s a joke. Bring up something serious? I would make comments. And, for a long time, my humor was always sexual innuendo. In the last three years, I’ve made a concerted effort to change that. Now I know where it all came from.”
The boundary issues that Gloria mentioned make me wonder whether, at times, she became promiscuous. Not in her case, she says. In group work she has learned, however, that victims of molestation can go either way.
“In your case, then,” I say, “the boundary has been fortified to keep people out.”
“Yes, but believing that I trusted them, that I was letting them in, and later realizing that nobody was close, that nobody knew me. I had tons of friends, but never any to the soul, because I was afraid that, if I let them know who I was and what I was about,” says Gloria, starting now into a soft sob, “they would judge me and not want to be my friends.
“I’ve been in this support group for ten weeks now, and I thought that I’d bonded with these women, right? Everyone talked, but, one day, I decided I was going to quit, that it would be the last group I was going to participate in. Then, I happened to tell, for the first time, the story about the little fling I had with Carmen’s husband, and someone said, ‘Wow, the onion’s becoming unpeeled.’ So I stayed, and they told me at the next meeting, ‘Here you’ve been sitting for ten weeks, with this grin on your face, acting like everything’s peachy keen, and you had built this wall around you.’ That was a message to me. I truly felt I had been a part of this group, but I realized, then, that I wasn’t, and my work had only begun. So I knew that I had to continue.”
Jim Hampton, too, reflects on a possible connection, in his own life, between trust and a secrecy Sister Priscilla imposed on him. “It was always supposed to be our secret,” he says. “She would bring God into it. It was our secret and God’s secret. And she told me, specifically, not to tell my mom.
“And one thing I know about myself as a child, because I heard it forever. My mom and my sister and friends and aunts and uncles have always told me that I was such a trusting kid. I have often wondered, ‘Why me, and not my brother and my sister?’ I think that it was probably because I was so trusting.
“But in my intimate relationships, today,” Jim says, “trust is an issue. I don’t know if that’s because Sister Priscilla had tried her hardest to get me to trust her, and I realized, as I got older, that that was messed up.”
Jim broke up with his lover of three years, Jerry, not long ago. He started seeing another man, but that is beginning to look shaky too.
“I often like to think that, in my relationship with Jerry, he was the one that gave me reason not to trust him. However, I think it was a catch-22, because I probably looked a little too hard to blame him for the trust problems, especially in intimacy and sex. For example, he set the scenario by not wanting to have sex. Then I had a hard time trusting him when he was actually willing to have sex. Does that make sense?”
“When he was willing, then you weren’t,” I say.
“I was standoffish,” says Jim. “What I’d say to him was, ‘You didn’t want to do anything for so long, why should I now be comfortable with this; why should I allow this to happen?’ Did he give me sufficient reason not to trust? I’m not sure that’s the truth. I think that my own trust issue there was what blocked us.”
Still, Jim is bitter about the “meanness” with which Jerry treated him. The reason, however, that his new relationship is on the rocks, he says, is that his partner is even meaner to him than Jerry was.
Could it be, also, that an inability to trust prevented Sarah Leonard from disclosing to her father and stepmother a terrible burden? On the day following her rape in Paris, she took the train across town and “told them part of it. Do you know what they kept saying? ‘It could have been worse; you could have been raped.’ That’s what they kept saying to me, over and over and over again. I can’t count the times my stepmom said that to me.” To this day, they don’t know the truth, because Sarah could not bring herself to tell them. “I spent several days at their apartment, sleeping on the floor, and I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t think of anything else.”
“What are better than secrets?” asks Allison, as we talk about the one she kept with physics teacher David Mead. “None of my friends knew. That was part of the attraction; the relationship was so secretive.” Yet, that secrecy came close to destroying the trust between Allison and her mother. “I had to lie to my mom all the time to tell her where I was going,” she says. “I couldn’t say, ‘Oh, I’m going back to school to meet him.’ I would tell her I was going to a friend’s house or the library or whatever I could think of.”
Then came the affair she had with a man 20 years her senior after breaking up with the boyfriend of her college years. “Nobody could know,” Allison says, “so it was like David and me, rehashed in different form.”
We have been talking about the teacher affair, and I say, “When, in your current life, you have a difficulty, any difficulty, do you ever say to yourself that it’s the result of what happened in that episode back then?”
“Sort of like karma?” asks Allison, breaking into a laugh. “Well, losing my virginity with the coworker from Burger King traces back to the teacher. And the guy I dated when I was 20, who was twice my age. I thought that might have some correlation. It was less like dating than another secretive situation.”
Still ignorant about the man’s identity, I ask Allison what he did for a living.
“He’s an electrician,” she says.
“So, this time, the job he had wasn’t a problem,” I say, “like being your teacher or some other authority in your life. Nevertheless, you kept it secret from other people. Did you do that only because he was older?”
“No,” a coy Allison says. “The boyfriend I went with for three years in college, it was his father. So we didn’t want him to find out, or his mother and stepfather.” Allison visited the electrician, who lived by himself, for eight months on visits back home from college in Santa Barbara. “At first, I would go talk to him about breaking up with his son. Then it sort of evolved into something else.”
Today, she goes with an older man too. He is a minister and has a church in Orange County, where Allison drives from San Diego on the weekends. He recently separated from his wife, and Allison is hopeful that, one day soon, they will marry.
Allison and I return to her affair with Mead. “It wasn’t a forced situation or against my will,” she says. “But looking back, I know that he was abusing his power. At the time, I didn’t feel that way at all. I felt that it was a mutual thing, that he was my boyfriend, which was my fantasy, partly. I suppose I didn’t separate what I wanted from what was actually happening. But being a teacher now has made me realize a lot more about the situation than I thought of at the time.”
I ask Allison what she would do if a high school girl came to her today and confided being in a similar situation, as she had done with her Spanish teacher at the time of her affair with Mead. “Let’s imagine also,” I say, “that the girl says, ‘But I’m in love with him,’ the way you were in love with Mead.”
“First, I would report it to somebody,” she says. “It sounds so cliché, but I would. And I’d say, looking at all the damage that it did me when I was in high school, that no good can come out of it. If he’s honorable enough and it’s in the stars, he would wait until she was 18, or after she was out of high school, when she was not in his class anymore.
“David’s biggest disservice to me was that he stole the innocence I had as a high school student. In all the things that I learned about the physical aspect, I had no idea what was happening. When he put his fingers inside of me, I didn’t know what it was about. I didn’t know anything, and it was so new. I was too young to be learning those things. And then, once I did, it was like a license. ‘Oh, I already know about that; I already did it, no big deal.’ And that was unfortunate. I should have waited, at least until I was 18, and learned from someone in a committed relationship, with somebody that I loved, with my boyfriend that I met in May of that year. Then I wouldn’t have had someone who had been there, done that, and was teaching me. That’s something we could have done together.”
Still, “The situation with David will always stick out in my mind,” says Allison. “It’s not something that everybody goes through. What I wouldn’t give to have an hourlong conversation with him. What actually happened? And what about those conversations that he had with my mom? What happened with his wife? Did he tell her? Did they fight about it? I want to know why he did what he did. I would never get honest answers, but I’d like to know if I was one of many or, if it was just me, then why me? What was it about me?”
Allison knows that what seduced her into the high school romance with Mead was the attention he showered on her. She was the oldest child in her family. Her dad, though he fathered her younger brother and sister, had moved away from the family when Allison was an infant. Though she remembers nothing, she suspects he was an alcoholic. She and her mother have never talked much about him.
Sarah Leonard, too, talks about how her father’s departure from her family, in the months prior to her molestation, must have left her vulnerable to enticements from her fifth-grade teacher to sit on his lap. The teacher then became the one who gave her the attention that she had become accustomed to receiving from her dad, while sitting on his lap, and that, in his absence, she missed. She even blames, in part, the rape she suffered in her early 20s on that quest for attention. She connects it to her having been sexualized by her teacher already in the fifth grade as well.
“Wasn’t the rape,” I ask, “only an unlucky event that could have happened to any woman?”
“The connection is that I was aware, yet not aware, of my sexuality, of my effect on men,” says Sarah. “I was flirtatious and I played with sexual energy a lot.”
“Were you doing it with Stefan the evening of the rape?”
“Not that evening, but I had during the earlier time we had spent together. We flirted and we held hands, and I didn’t acknowledge how powerful that can be, and how dangerous,” says Sarah, laughing softly. “I had already realized that using that effect on men or boys would get me quite far. I hate to admit it, but in high school I used it a lot with my teachers if I was getting a bad grade. Especially with the men, it worked easy,” says Sarah, snapping her fingers to show how easy. “I’d wear a miniskirt. I’d say, ‘My paper’s late,’ ” she says in an affected seductive voice. “ ‘I’m sorry.’ And they’d say, ‘That’s okay; turn it in tomorrow.’ I was amazed at how easy it was.
“And, because I hadn’t been hurt, physically, in the past, I was stupid enough to think that I could play with that and let those guys into my apartment in Paris. The attention was gratifying to me. I hadn’t had a boyfriend for a long time, and it was nice to get the attention. They were all fascinated with me as an American and wanted to know all about me, and that made me feel good about myself, because I’ve never had a good body image and I’ve never thought that I was worth anything. The biggest things I learned from it were that it’s dangerous to play with sexual energy and that, especially in another country, you don’t let anybody into your apartment that you don’t know well. Of course, I couldn’t have known that they were going to drug me and rape me, but, looking back, I say, ‘My God, what was I thinking?’ But we were only going to stay for a few minutes, and then we were going to go to this fireman’s dance to have fun, something completely innocent on my part. At the same time, I blame myself for having flirted with this guy and putting myself there at all.”
“Of course, I didn’t see you flirting with him,” I say, “but it doesn’t strike me as in any way your fault.”
“Yes, but that attention was so important to me at the time,” Sarah says. “I remember being so aware of my physical appearance. Right after I was molested, when I was ten, I started taking diet pills because, at around ten years old, things were already changing in my body. I’d always been small and I was growing, and that scared me. I started taking diet pills because I thought I needed to be smaller. I’ve had such a messed-up relationship with my body — everything from my neck down — so I think that the energy that I got from male attention was important to make me feel like I was okay, and that was part of it.
“I’ve always looked exactly the same. But I feel big and I didn’t want to be big. I have this dual desire to be noticed and not to be noticed. Even now, there are only certain times when I’ll wear revealing or tight clothes, because that attention makes me acutely uncomfortable. It makes me feel violent. I want to hit people who look at me that way. I do. I feel defensive about it, and then suddenly it’s okay. But sometimes I want to scream, ‘Don’t look at me like that and don’t have those thoughts,’ because I know what thoughts that they’re having.
“But despite all these things, I don’t have anger toward my fifth-grade teacher. I feel sorry for him, because he was such a good teacher and because he loved children. I think that that love didn’t have a boundary, and that’s why he did what he did, which is not to say that he wasn’t sick too. My anger is directed more toward the adults in my life who didn’t have any idea of what was going on. Conversations between parents and children hardly ever involve ‘What if somebody touches you in this way and your body says no?’ They should say, ‘Then get out of that situation and tell somebody.’ Nobody ever told me that. I was a cute kid, apparently, and people were always coming up to me, wanting to hug me and squeeze me and pinch my cheeks, and I hated it. I didn’t want them to touch me, but parents always say, ‘Go hug so-and-so, go and give so-and-so a kiss.’ I think that’s wrong. If your kid says, ‘No, I don’t want to hug Aunt Sally,’ don’t make them touch someone they don’t want to touch. I want people to start giving their kids permission to say no to adults, because I did not have that permission. ‘Be nice to Grandpa, even if Grandpa is fondling you,’ ” says Sarah, laughing.
I ask Sarah if she remembers her parents fighting much before their divorce.
“They had yelling fights,” says Sarah with a chuckle, as though remembering something significant she had long suppressed. “My dad had an explosive temper. And he still does. But he controls it now, because his current wife forces him to. But I remember once, when we were living at Mills college, my mom and dad got in a big fight. I don’t know what it was about, but we had a big mirror on the back of my and my sister’s bedroom door. Mom had locked the three of us in there because she was afraid of him. And because we had locked the door, it made him even madder, and he hit the door from the outside and broke the mirror. My sister and I were frozen in fear. I remember thinking, ‘Who is this person on the other side of the door?’ I was seven or eight.
“But he’s a good guy. He had a horrifying childhood himself. He was born in France, and then his mother was taken to Auschwitz. He didn’t meet her until he was five. He lived with a Catholic family out in the French countryside. Both sides of my family are Jewish, and every grandparent that I have on my dad’s side — with his stepparents, there were four — were sent out of France to German concentration camps. So that’s a huge part of my relationship with my dad, that pain that he’s holding on to and trying to let go of too.
“They all survived and were reunited after the war. His parents got divorced and they both remarried, and his mother and stepfather brought him here when he was 14. He grew up in Baldwin Park, poor, and his stepfather beat him. Emotionally, he was not in control of himself. He’s together now. But I think some things he’ll never work through,” says Sarah.
Like Sarah, Jim Hampton suffered molestation during the time that his parents were divorcing. That time marked the beginning of Sister Priscilla’s visits to the Hampton family home and, later, to his mother’s separate apartment. I speculate that the nun must have had access to his brother and sister too.
“My sister, Alice, does recall one interesting incident, the only one she can remember,” says Jim. His mother was driving the kids down to a beach house in Cape May on the New Jersey shore. Sister Priscilla came along and sat in the front seat. When Alice made a remark she doesn’t remember today, the nun turned toward her in the back “screaming hysterically,” says Jim, “ ‘You’re a liar; you’re a lying little girl.’ And it upset my sister a lot, because she was proud that she didn’t lie.”
“What about your brother?” I ask.
“There were a lot of times when Steve was around Sister Priscilla. I don’t know. It’s possible. He’s in such a bad situation now that who knows what happened then.”
The bad situation that Jim mentions is that Steve is serving a term in a North Carolina prison for hitting a woman over the head with a pipe. And that is not Steve’s first offense against a female. He was jailed earlier for molesting a 13-year-old girl.
A place that Sister Priscilla could have molested Steve was in the Hamptons’ old Pennsylvania family home. Being older and angrier with their mother for leaving them, neither Steve nor his sister Alice would visit her new apartment. But Mrs. Hampton had already started bringing the nun around before she moved. Jim’s father didn’t like it that the two women were seeing each other. Though his wife was drinking, he was no saint himself. A chain smoker and an excessive drinker too, he often beat her and abused her verbally. Jim describes his father, now in his third marriage, as a salesman persuasive to the point of con-artistry, and emotionally barren. After two heart attacks and a tumor in his lungs that doctors removed in time, Mr. Hampton has softened. But earlier, he had worked hard to rise to the position of CEO of a health-care organization and always preached to his sons the values of hard-driving business competition. Jim disappointed him with his interests in writing and social services. But Steve graduated with a degree in business from the University of North Carolina. Afterward, he worked for his father for several years.
“One of the questions that the therapist asked me,” Jim says, “was whether I had ever thought about molesting someone, and, honestly, not that I recollect. But I can’t say that if I didn’t get help for myself, it would be different. My brother never has seen a therapist in his life. He would completely deny that anything ever happened.”
“Your brother’s a little more like your dad.”
“Extremely. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”
Though he has seriously hurt several people, I can’t deny my sympathy for a man who probably hides a terrible shame in his lonely inner being. Could therapy, early enough in his life, have prevented the tragic way Steve’s life developed?
Well into her 30s, Gloria Stevenson continued to abuse drugs until she finally followed through on getting the therapy she had known for a long time that she needed. She says that the relationship with Carmen isolated her “and brought me a shame that I’ve worked hard to shake, finally, for the past couple of years. I realized that it should not be my shame, but, the relationship having to be a secret, you integrate it and say, ‘It must be so bad.’ Yet, in high school, I was going over to Carmen’s. I fought my parents hard to go over there every time I wanted to, regardless of what was going to happen. You do what you have to in exchange for what you need.”
“And you needed a mother,” I say.
“Still do,” she laughs. “But the shame was awful. Am I going to tell friends that I’m having sex with this woman? Maybe now, people might accept it a little bit more, as gays are becoming accepted, but absolutely not, then. At school, we had a PE teacher that everybody knew was gay. The girls freaked out at changing in front of her — so silly — but it made me feel different.”
Of late, Gloria has been working up the courage to talk to her parents about what happened between her and Carmen. But from the time that Carmen rescued her from the first teacher who molested her, conditions have never seemed right for it. “The way the situation was handled with the male teacher created a ‘don’t tell’ environment,” she says. “To this day, my parents don’t know about Carmen. If they did know, I feel they would blame me, and I can’t handle that. I want them to know so badly,” says Gloria, her voice breaking.