October 19, 2017
I was twelve when I recognized my power to attract grown men. That’s when Mr. M, a science teacher in my junior high school, smelled the vulnerability on me, and groomed me for his sexual conquest.
He trusted, for some reason I didn’t understand at the time, that I would never tell, that I’d never even hint at our dalliances with my girlfriends. I’d been taught to keep private business to myself, being the product of an alcoholic household, though he couldn’t have known that back then.
Tucked away in a utility closet among the textbooks and a replica of a skeleton, we would regularly grope each other and kiss after school.
I swooned with the attention, with his desire, with my desire. Under his gaze I was Marilyn Monroe and Nabokov’s Lolita.
On the weekends, I would sit on my front steps waiting for the phone to ring, for my mother to hang up because someone had, once again, dialed the wrong number. When I could intercept his calls to the house, we’d talk for an hour, always listening for the sound of someone else picking up on the extension, overhearing us.
Sometimes he would drive his Chevy Blazer past my house in hopes of another liaison. When I spotted him, I’d jump in, and we’d drive to a secluded spot to grope some more. I loved that car, the way back that we could stretch out on.
Even then I knew, intellectually, that there had to be something terribly wrong with a 34-year-old man who wanted a child that way. I figured he’d developed a taste for small, young females while in Vietnam, where he’d served as a paramedic during the war. His taste for jail-bait, I postulated, was probably the result of all that battle-related trauma and sex with child prostitutes, as if I knew the first thing about any of those.
But I also knew that something was wrong with me, too.
From the time I could walk, I craved male attention. I would do whatever it took to get it; didn’t matter who got hurt. For someone who had difficulty expressing feelings, talking about needs and wants, and sometimes even carrying on general conversation, the arrangement I had with Mr. M was perfect for me. Because here was someone who could make me feel wanted without possessing the slightest interest in knowing the real me. After all, what is there to know about a preteen?
Never once, not once, did I feel like his victim. Instead, I felt like we enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. We both got from each other what we’d needed, what we’d wanted. Even as an adult, when I listened to others share their stories of sexual abuse in writing workshops, it never occurred to me that I’d been party to the same. (Though I would have shanked anybody who lured my child in that way.)
One day, as I stood beside Mr. M at the entrance to his classroom, I caught sight of another girl walking past in the crowded hall. She held her books to her full chest while gabbing with her compadres, then cast Mr. M a provocative, knowing look. It occurred to me then, that she too was involved with him, or that she’d be his next conquest.
I’d heard rumors of other girls before me—slight girls, feisty numbers, curvy sorts, there was no one type—so I knew I wasn’t the only recipient of his attentions. I suspected I was, in fact, one in a very long line. It wasn’t jealousy that took me over at that moment, seeing that girl give him the nod, but the recognition that I could suddenly see with the eyes of a predator. I could pick vulnerable girls, available girls, needy girls, whatever you’d call girls like me, out of a lineup.
I had myself a new super power; and I still posses it.
But I didn’t just spot girls like me in the crowd, the ones ripe for the picking, I began to notice the men out there who would welcome a relationship, if you could call it that, with an underage girl.
At some point, it was I who lied in wait for them.
I lost my virginity at the age of 15 in the front seat of a Lincoln Towncar. I’d set out that hot summer evening with this intention in mind. Eager for another shot of attention, for that heady sense of being desired by a grown man, I seduced the 32-year-old, married coach of my friend’s softball team. Once the prey, I was now the predator. There was nothing sweet about the transaction. Beyond a star-burst of pain, I felt nothing.
Before it dawned on me that a man could serve to rescue me, I saw sex as a challenging sport. I saw such men as a notch in my belt, a conquest.
The relationships that followed were classic Ann. The husband of a lonely Indian woman who lived in the neighborhood, whom my mother had encouraged me to befriend because I was interested in other cultures. The head of the church youth group I was obliged to participate in, who had just broken up with his nineteen-year-old girlfriend because she’d wanted to study in Mexico. A fifty-eight-year-old veteran of the Chiang Kai-Shek rebellion, who’d been more than happy to adopt me as his lover despite some serious language issues and a forty-two-year age difference.
And I could go on.
But why bother?
From very early on, I’d seen sex as a curiosity; an impersonal act that, while potentially arousing, had no real meaning or emotional impact. At ten, I’d tripped over my father’s collection of 8mm porn flicks and glossy pictures of couples screwing, gang bangs, and blow jobs stuffed into a drawer he’d constructed of laminated wood. Standing in his basement workroom, I’d been both horrified and titillated by the secreted images. But after my secret relationship with Mr. M, that’s when my sexual hard-wiring took form; that’s when the real disconnect kicked in, that inability to relate, to feel.
It took until I was nearly forty years old to learn how to handle intimacy. Therein lies Mr. M’s crime, I suppose.
A year or so ago, I googled Mr. M. I learned that he’d been dead for years, that he had only lived until 62; that he’d left behind two daughters. I remembered what he’d said about his girls back then, how much he looked forward to them bringing home their pretty little friends.
I don’t know why, but I cried and cried.