From girlhood I did my best to cover up what felt like the betrayal of my breasts. Trying to erase the hourglass of my silhouette; I drowned my shape into a sea of cotton with oversized clothing I stole from my older brother. But both sexualized attention, harassment and aggression from everywhere seemed to reach past it all right into me. All tangled up, I began to tell myself that boys were at once a game I was playing and also the only answer to all my confusion about what pretty, skinny, smart and worthwhile was.
By junior year of high school I had learned how to live outside my own body’s orbit – how it could be abused by me or anyone else without my ever knowing. I drifted somewhere detached in the atmosphere, drugs and alcohol keeping me afloat almost all the time.
Mr. Short, like so many predators, was most likely attracted to my vulnerability more than anything else. I sat in a chair in the back of his geometry class, both invisible and in technicolor. If I felt inadequate, math made me feel worthless, and it showed. He began to address everything he taught us all, just to me, locking his gaze in my direction. When fifth period was over and everyone would stand and collect their things, he’d ask me to stay. “What was my favorite kind of music?” “What songs?” “What did my dad do for a living?” But this time he stared at my breasts when he spoke to me, not into my eyes, like he would during class. He began making me mix tapes with music he knew I liked. He’d call me at home right after school to ask what I was doing and was I listening to the songs he carefully curated for me about love and life? Like a siren, the phone ring echoed afterschool into the emptiness of my dad’s house.
Mr. Short failed me at the end of the school year and I knew I’d be forced to take his class again when I came back as a senior.
Late that summer I went on vacation with my mom, her new husband, his two daughters, my older brother and his girlfriend. The day before the trip ended I broke my ankle hiking in a canyon while singing “1999,” stoned with my brother. As soon as we returned, I moved onto my mom’s couch, keeping everything elevated above my silly heart. School started only a few days later and I’d be going back in my bright orange cast, on crutches, more broken than ever. I cut off all my long hair and draped a loose sundress over my body. My brother drove me to my first day of school. I hobbled in on crutches, still tan from the tropics, pixie cut, hoping that I had successfully hidden in plain sight.
There Mr. Short was, back corner of a full classroom – his entire body lifted in excitement at the sight of me as he began crossing over to my side of the room. His enthusiasm terrified me. His enthusiasm enraged me. I froze for only a moment before I spun around, and without even knowing it, drifted back into the parking lot hoping my brother’s car hadn’t yet left me there alone. While I waited for him to circle back, I pulled all the pieces of me in close, and quickly sorted through each moment that pushed me out the door like receipts in an envelope needing tallying. I took inventory as fast as I could. I wasn’t crazy. Things were happening that weren’t supposed to. Other kids had commented, no, teased me about his fascination with me; I hadn’t made it up. He had already suggested that he tutor me privately. I had no other choice but to save myself. I was so tired of saving myself.
I never returned as a student, but in defense of myself and whomever might have come after me, I stormed the school in pursuit of my dignity and truth a few weeks later. I was met with no support or compassion from his fellow teachers or the school’s administration. Afterall, Mr. Short was a mathematician, an innocent man with a family. And I was just a bad student looking for attention, a messy young girl with ulterior motives – failing to measure the space between us.
Author: Ali Lawrence
Author Bio: Ali believes that with the right alchemy, words have the power to make magic happen. She works as a writer, editor and Book Doula from her home in Oakland, Ca.
Link to social media or website: Instagram @alawrencewrites | www.alilawrence.com