Friday, May 27, 2011

Material for a Bad Memoir

I spent a night at The Women's Center when I was 16.

I wasn't a member of the WLF (Women's Liberation Front), but I knew about it. A friend's mother was a member of a collective--we babysat for their kids during consciousness-raising group meetings--and recommended Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. We favored equal pay for equal work, legal abortion, and free day-care on demand.  Several of us volunteered at a co-op day-care center founded by university students.   A lesbian collective lived on the top floor of the day-care center, and, though we thought they were eccentric--the gay kids at our school weren't out--we tolerated them.

I didn't know where to go.  My parents were getting divorced, and on the day of the divorce the parent I lived with moved into a lover's house in a tiny town.

"You can come, too, if you want."

There was no real enthusiasm.  My step-parent-to-be had double-locked me out of OUR house over the lunch hour so they could have sex. I wasn't enthusiastic about their menage.  The town where the step-p-to-be lived was so tiny that boys drove their tractors past the houses of girls they liked.

So I announced at the day-care co-op that I was looking for a place to live. There were so many kind, altruistic people in the '70s that a couple of families, and even the collective, invited me to live with them.  

After living for awhile with an extremely nice family, I moved in with a teacher.  Of course this was a fatal move, because he said he "loved" me--something I found both embarrassing and flattering--obviously so he could have sex with me.  This wasn't an uncommon situation for teenagers living without their parents.  Nobody shouted statutory rape, and indeed my friends and I didn't know what that was.  Unscrupulous "hippies" of this era--and most I met had scruples, so don't get the wrong picture --of course were allowed to do anything they wanted, and it was all about love and freedom.  One of my friends, also on her own after her parents' divorce (she rented a room in an old house), ended up having sex with the sex education teacher.

"Humbert Humbert," as I will call the unstable pedophile, was a shifty junior high teacher who not only seduced/statutory raped me but also taught me to "rip off stuff" (i.e., shoplift).  We were, I believe, "putting it to the man" when we stole Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book or an embroidered Mexican shirt.  This didn't make much sense to me, because I believed stealing is wrong, and am grateful that my middle-class common sense returned and I ceased to accompany him on "shopping" trips. He wasn't really a political person, though the leftists tolerated him, because they couldn't really reject anyone, however nerdy, who claimed to be a leftist and a feminist, etc..  He had been demoted from the high school where he taught to the junior high after the principal became aware that he had seduced one of his students.  (Her situation was similar to mine:  she moved in with him when her parents moved away so she could finish her year of high school.  She moved out shortly thereafter.)

I guess he and his friends thought this was some cool, hip arrangement:  a 33-year-old man living with a teenager. Yet it didn't take a genius to figure out I wasn't happy.  I had a yeast infection, I ceased to do ANY school work (thank God I went to college, because I discovered I really liked learning), he seldom gave me a chance to read, my favorite thing, or see my friends, because he was so insanely jealous, and I had a crush on a boy at school but my living situation was in the way--and I couldn't figure out to get out of it because I had nowhere to go.  (Or so I thought:  I'm sure I could have gone back to that nice family.)  I only told my closest friends about the relationship, because I was embarrassed. 

Actually, it was a very sad story. 

So one night I stayed at The Women's Center.  The center was sponsored by the university, and sometimes there were poetry readings there.  I vaguely knew the volunteer--did she live in the collective above the day-care center?   Anyway, she was as kind as she could be, and let me stay in the attic.

I didn't figure things out.  I was 16.  But I knew one thing.  I wasn't going to stay with "Humbert" forever.  As soon as possible, I would move out.

And I did. 


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. I also had some not-so-great experiences with a man while I was in high school and eventually got through it due mostly to the kindness of strangers and, indeed, my education. As someone told me: you can't change the past, only how you choose to respond to it.

Frisbee said...

What a kind response! These experiences are common, aren't they? Life goes on, but there's always a kind of numbness or dizzying feeling of "What happened to my life during that time?" when one looks back. It's there lurking in the memory.

I may decide to delete this post, so don't be surprised if it disappears.