I’ve never been very good with people. I was shy growing up, and I have always been tentative about building relationships. Sometimes, I make snap judgments and I often come to the wrong conclusion about people’s intentions. Most of the time, these judgements are relatively small and harmless, and I’m able to carry on with nothing but my pride injured. Other times, the results can be much more damaging.
One particular event in high school forced me to realize this.
I went to a small private mid-high school for grades seven through twelve. There were no more than sixty students attending at any given time. The community there was very tight-knit and everybody knew everyone else’s name. I knew most of my classmates there from elementary school and some of the teachers.
My ninth grade year, we had a new science teacher, Mr. J. At the beginning of the year, he established himself as the ‘cool’ teacher, and his classes were generally relaxed.
I was relatively bright, but a poor student. My parents were in the middle of divorcing at the time, and as a result I was acting out at school. Mr. J recognized what was going on and tried to reach out to me. He spent extra time with me in and out of class and encouraged me to participate in extra-curriculars, many of which he was involved with. Occasionally he would drive me to or from school events when my parents weren’t available.
I have a tendency to sink into the background, so I wasn’t used to any authority figure, much less a teacher building a relationship with me. Mr. J spoke to me as though I were an equal and showed an obvious respect for and interest in my sometimes-obnoxious-teenage-child-of-liberal-parents opinions. When I spoke, he listened. In retrospect, I realize that this is what I needed at the time. At first, I liked it. I had an adult to talk to when the ones at home weren’t listening. But the fact that he was a teacher and was paying this kind of attention to me was unfamiliar and scary.
I must emphasize that Mr. J never did anything inappropriate, and I now see that his intentions were pure. But that’s not how I made sense of it.
I assumed the worst and concluded that Mr. J was a monster out to exploit me and take advantage of me. To this day, I don’t know how I jumped to this conclusion so quickly. I regret this now and I will regret it for the rest of my life.
Filled with anxiety, I mentioned my suspicions to a friend, Sarah. She told me that she had suspected something, only deepening my own fears. Being thirteen and fourteen, we made a plan, hoping to get a reaction out of Mr. J. I would drop out of the extra-curriculars he was involved with, and make a point of not seeing him outside of class.
I’m not even sure what reaction we were hoping to get out of him. Looking back, I wanted him to be angry with me or try to pressure me back into it. It would prove that I would only receive that much attention from him if he had sinister intentions. After all, I wasn’t worth it.
Sarah’s mother alerted the school of my suspicions, and accusations were made against him before our ‘plan’ even started. Of course, none of it was true. Mr. J was just a nice person who was looking out for me. He was shocked and hurt. I was afraid that he wanted to abuse my trust, so I ended up abusing his. I transferred to public school the next year.
I will never forgive myself for this. I know I was young, but I’m so aware of the pain I caused. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that none of my suspicions were true. I can’t even think of Mr. J without feeling ashamed.
Regrets aside, I learned from this. I’m much more hesitant to jump to any conclusions about anyone. The guilt has ultimately made me a more sensible person, and caused me to consider my actions more carefully.