Freshman year of high school, we had to take Health Education with Mr. V., whose wire-rimmed glasses and khaki pants I can still see as clearly as if they’d been worth remembering. I dreaded Mondays because sometimes at the start of class, he would tell everyone that he and I had seen each other over the weekend, on purpose.
”Go on, Sara,” he’d say. “Tell everyone about our date.” Or: “Sara and I had a romantic weekend.” And then he’d watch me.
I don’t think I worried my classmates would believe him, though no one ever said whether they did nor didn’t. No one said anything at all. It didn’t matter whether anyone believed him or not. What he succeeded at was putting an image of us in their heads, a false embrace. Wasn’t that why he said it in front of an audience? As we’ve come to understand, fakes, when presented often enough, can become their own kind of facts. Even I couldn’t help but see us together, and for some reason we were always drinking milkshakes together at a diner in town, his arm too heavy and starchy around my shoulders.
While he smiled at the front of the classroom, my body filled with prickly heat, a particular kind of silent claustrophobia all women know. I can’t forget hating his smugness. He always waited for what felt like an eternity before getting on with the rest of class.
I don’t recall a single thing he taught us. Except that even our teachers weren’t safe. There’s always a teacher for that lesson though.
He was even worse with another girl, and I can’t remember what he said or did to her, probably because the image had been planted in her body, not mine. Whatever it was, it was bad enough that a friend and I decided we had to do something about it. This was around the time Anita Hill was testifying in Congress. At home our televisions were always on, and suddenly we had new language. That language felt like a path we could walk on.
My friend and I walked down that path to the principal’s office — or maybe it was the vice principal? We said the words we’d just learned to say, and I wish I could remember what those words were exactly, and who listened to us say them. I…