It started to go wrong in my senior year.
On the surface, my senior year would be another year of tutelage with David, learning yet more techniques and ways of creating art. I started working with stained glass, learning to cut glass, to solder, to finish the edges of unsoldered (but cut) glass so that they could safely be used in art. I had a private project that I was working on, one of my pieces of art for me. It involved glass, mirrors, distortions. I wanted to silver some curved pieces of glass for it. I was also hiding very mementos within this twisted glass and mirror creation. I pulled this piece out to work on only when I was all alone in the studio at school. Normally, it sat in a box that I kept in my locker.
That piece meant a lot to me. It meant a lot that nobody see it. It was for me, and only me.
Naturally, one day David came back a few hours after school, to pick something up. I was working with my headphones on and didn’t hear him or notice him until he was right in front of me, waving his hand to get my attention so he could ask about this mystery piece I was working out.
He scared the crap out of me. I jumped and screamed, while perched on a stool, tipping the stool over, tipping myself over. Thankfully, I was only working with epoxy at the moment and not solder, flux, or a soldering gun. As I fell, he grabbed me and I ended up slamming into him fairly hard.
It was an uncomfortably electric experience.
Elias (the only other person I’d really touched intimately) was a very slender person. And always tense, always stressed. Muscles always tight. He was taller than me by a good half a foot, but only slightly more muscular than my skinny self.
David was nearly a foot taller than me and broad. He had wide shoulders, a wide body. Muscled. Solid. Even though I (and the stool) plowed into his stomach pretty hard, he barely staggered. He did grab me, so that I wouldn’t bounce off of his stomach and onto the ground.
He had big, strong, scarred artist’s hands. Rough. Powerful.
And now locked on to me. One on my shoulder, one on my ribcage, arm wrapped around my back, waiting for me to get my feet clear of the stool and stand on my own.
He held me a moment longer than needed. I still remember noticing that, thinking that it was because he wasn’t sure if I’d gotten my feet under me. I said something like “Sorry, sorry, I’m good! You can let go now! Oh god, sorry!” while I took a big step back, close to my work table, trying to hide my mirror piece with my body.
Of course he noticed that. He asked what it was. He noticed me, I could feel him noting how I stumbled through the explanation, feeling horribly vulnerable and exposed. This was the one piece that I didn’t want to hear his barbed commentary about. I didn’t need guidance on this piece. It was for me. Only me. I didn’t have the courage to come out and say that. Maybe he sensed it. I don’t know.
I do know that he didn’t make any barbed comments. He asked questions about the piece, about what I was trying to do. He offered some suggestions. Then he left.
After that, things changed between us. I felt more comfortable around him. I trusted him. I still didn’t like his demeaning remarks, but I believed them to be all about shaking us students up, getting us into an unsettled place where we could look more deeply into ourselves when creating.
I worked on my mirror piece when he was around. He was around more often, staying later on days when I was the last student in the room. We slowly developed a routine. When I was the only person staying after class (or the last person staying after class), I would often pull out my mirror piece. He would ask me about it. Helped me with ideas and techniques. I would work on the piece, maybe for half an hour or an hour, but I started wrapping up earlier so the two of us could talk while I was cleaning up.
The talks got longer. I gave up the pretense of cleaning. He told me what life in New York City was like, all kinds of stories about himself, his life, what he liked about art, why he wanted to teach art. I told him about myself, about my mom, about Elias. He asked about Elias a lot. He’d correctly assumed that Elias was gay, but was confused because Elias and I spent so much time together and acted like we were dating. I didn’t tell David about what happened between Elias and me, losing our virginities, but I did tell him a lot of my fears with Elias, the pressure to be there for him, the pressure from my mom to always be doing what she wanted. David told me that I could always cite him as a reason for staying late a school. He told me that I was really talented and he wanted to show me some other techniques, for metalworking, jewelry working, things he couldn’t get the funding to teach in school, but thought I’d benefit from knowing. I was delighted and thrilled and excited and I did slowly develop a crush on him. He was only about five years older than me. And he knew so much. He was charismatic. He had amazing green eyes.
A lot of that crush was innocent schoolgirl stuff. It was the crush of someone with very little sexual experience, and very little sexual interest. I hesitate to say it, but it was a really “pure” crush. I assumed nothing could happen between us, because he was my teacher. And even though I loved spending time with him and felt like most of my classes were a slow, boring crawl until I got to his, I didn’t fantasize about anything other than talking with him and learning from him. It truly didn’t occur to me that anything could happen.
That changed one night in the spring, about two months before the end of my senior year. My mom was traveling with a friend. I couldn’t get a hold of my dad to pick me up from school. David volunteered to take me home.
When we left the school, a lightening storm was brewing. We could feel it in the air. And he told me he wanted to show me the coolest place he’d found for watching storms. He drove us out to the middle of nowhere, off the country road onto an even smaller dirt road that ended in a cliff. It was one of the tallest hills around, and we could see for miles and miles from there. We stood under a tree on a cliff in the middle of a lightening storm and watched the storm rage on the land in front of us. It didn’t occur to me what a spectacular attraction for lightening me must have been. Thankfully, we didn’t get struck by lightening.
At least, not weather lightening.
But as we stood there, side by side, getting drenched by this storm, I became aware of how close David was standing to me. I moved a little closer. Then he did. Our arms were touching. Then pressing. Then he put his arm around me. I wrapped my arm around his waist, slowly, tentatively. His arm tightened around my shoulders, pulling me closer.
After a particularly enormous fork of lightening rent the sky, he kissed me.
I was shocked, but also delighted. My handsome, fascinating, super-smart teacher was kissing me! He liked me! He liked me romantically! When he told me in the car afterwards that he’d been wanting to do that for months, I was floored. Really, to me? I just couldn’t get over the concept that this teacher, this grown-up, liked me and didn’t think I was just a dumb kid. He said he did, and that he wanted a relationship with me. But, we’d have to be careful for the next few months, until I graduated from high school, so that David didn’t get in trouble.
We were careful. We kept our relationship at school entirely student/teacher, which suited me fine. I did still want to work on my art. I didn’t want any favoritism. I wanted to keep learning from David.
We didn’t kiss at school at all. Not in the classroom, not in the parking lot in his car. He occasionally drove me home from school, and those were the days when we’d stop off at that overlook to kiss a little bit. But that was all he really went for, kissing. Really, in many ways, he was a perfect gentleman. He was less grabby than the guys I’d been badgered into dating in high school.
I still wonder, to this day, if he was biding his time, behaving himself until I graduated. I guess I’ll never know for certain either way.
My parents realized that I had a crush on someone, that I was definitely interested in someone. One they sussed out that this person was male, they generally left me alone. I think my mom’s only concern was that I wasn’t a lesbian. Otherwise…I was being happy and giddy and more compliant to her than usual, so she was happy.
I was happy because this handsome, smart, sophisticated teacher said he wanted to be in a relationship with me. We got through graduation, then I dropped the bomb to my parents. They were also thrilled that this handsome, smart, sophisticated teacher wanted to be in a relationship with me. I think they considered him safe. I considered him safe.
We were all really wrong.