I would like to begin by acknowledging that the person who is the focus of this trip down memory lane, offered much to many and was well-liked and perhaps even revered by some. My negative interaction with them did not make them a bad person but as teenage memories often do, she has grown into something big and bad and it broke my heart…for awhile.
I came across a photo on Face Book this evening, attached to the notification of a woman’s passing. Instantly I knew her and for a fleeting moment, had thoughts of karma and other unkind things. While I am mostly 36 years old and a grown woman, it was a heart broken 17 year-old girl that had those thoughts. A teenage girl that has harbored hurt and anger and helplessness whenever thoughts of this person surface. I’m trying to make this make sense by beginning with the feelings that came at the end. That won’t work. Let me try something else.
This is a story I don’t tell often. In fact, it was years after it happened that I finally told my parents what had happened. I know now if I had confided in them at the time, they would have helped approach the school to help me with the adult I had a conflict with. This is the story of how I left my private, Catholic high school halfway through my senior year and went to the local community college. It is the story of how my trust in adults with authority, especially religious ones, was damaged. This is my story, my truth of my interactions with this person that haunted me for years. (If you know who I am talking about and are feeling defensive of her, please reread the section above where I recognized that others saw her differently.)
When I was 17, I had my own car and this afforded me much freedom. However, I often exploited the freedom that my parents and my car gave me and when places with it that I didn’t belong. Yes, I did often lie to my parents about my location or plans or cohorts. Despite those transgressions, I also went to school, got passing grades, held a real job at Payless Drug Stores, was a Beaverton Peer Court officer and attended our Lutheran church regularly. Perhaps my Lutheran upbringing and studying of the reformation and indulgences in the Catholic church made me biased against it and those in its religious orders. It was hard for me to get used to the nuns that were teachers and administrators at my Catholic high school. Some I really liked and others I REALLY didn’t. The nun that passed away was one I really liked. While appropriately stern, she was kind and calm. For the most part we had few interactions with one another. The major interaction that we did have changed the course of my life.
Just before finals, at the end of the first half of my senior year, there was a boys basketball team that came to play at our school. They were from out of town (maybe out of the country…Australia?) and the different boys were hosted at various ones of my male schoolmates. I can’t remember the details well because that’s not the part of the story that I became damaged. A friend of mine and I went to the house of one of our classmates to get more hands/lips on with the handsome visiting boys. Mostly we just hung out but I did participate in a make-out session. I still can’t figure out where I told my parents I was in order to be where I was, when. Somehow, we stayed at our classmates house until nearly 3 am (if memory serves me correctly) on a school night. No one had sex. Let me repeat that. NO ONE HAD SEX. Teenagers, especially boys, like to talk about their prowess and conquests and that wasn’t the story that got back to both basketball teams and the school and flew around, apparently, like wildfire. I hadn’t heard a thing. Those of us that were there that night, knew what happened. If someone had directly asked us, I’m sure we would have all said the same thing. We were there late, we watched movies, we kissed and maybe someone got to second base. (Second base was feeling up boobs then. I have no idea what it is now.) By the time I heard what had happened from the nun I mentioned, it was like a wicked, perverted game of telephone.
It is my opinion, if you are a pious member of a religious order, a school administrator and decent human being and you want to accuse a teenage student of your school of being a horrible person and a slut, you should speak with them behind closed doors where there is privacy. Had that happened, I might have stayed. Instead, Sister _____ sat me down in the lobby of our school, just inside the front doors, at the bottom of a set of stairs, with a busy hallway that went past, in full view of the glass courtyard, next to the office and not too far away from the lunchroom. I still remember what it felt like sitting on the plastic cushions of those couch/benches. When she first started talking at me, the school was quiet and the halls empty. “Becki,” she said, “I KNOW what you and _ _ _ _ did with those boys from the basketball team at _ _ _ _’s house the other night. I have heard from people that you both had sex with multiple players. Everyone knows it’s true so don’t even deny it. We expected everyone to be good ambassadors for this visiting team and what you did is disgrace this school and yourself.” I died inside a little bit right then. Fairness has always been really important to me. It was NOT fair that she did not ask me what happened, but already believed what she had been told and didn’t give me a chance to say otherwise. At this time, I began to cry very hard and the bell rang. My school mates walked by and saw me sitting there. I’m sure I looked guilty. I was crying and probably looked ashamed. What I was instead was aghast and devastated. An adult who was supposed to be above reproach had accused me of something horrible that I had not done, in a venue that she should never have forced me to be in. I don’t remember what else was said that day or how I got home. I do remember telling (not asking) my parents that I could never go back there again. I didn’t tell them why. I did the research to find out how I could complete my diploma at the community college. I agreed to take my midterms so I would get my credit and be only one or two classes away from graduating. I lost my peers in a matter or moments as I shut the door on my high school and left for PCC. Only my nearest and dearest friends stood by me. It was a confusing time for everyone. It’s not one that I want to write any more about because the memories still hurt.
I can see how differently my life went when I decided to leave high school. I spent more time with the grown-ups I worked with at Payless. I dated a 23 year old Vietnamese man who became intimidating and abusive and took a handgun every where we went. I was exposed to the cruising scene in downtown Portland. I stayed out late, sometimes not coming home at all. My faith was almost non-existent as I questioned how one of His brides could have treated me this was with no repercussion.
I was fortunate that I did get my diploma and got my shit together, eventually. I am grateful that I found my way back to God. I still have little trust for religious leaders. I expect I will always remain guarded. This concern and unwillingness to trust has effected the relationships that I have had with clergy. It takes great effort on my part to open up and in most cases, I choose not to.
No one deserves cancer, or suffering or to die an “early” death. We all deserve dignity and compassion. In the memory of the nun who denied me both of those things, in her honor, I will continue to show it to others. I will choose the legacy that she will have that will live on in my heart and memory and it will not be dark and it will not be painful. Here is to forgiveness and peace and living in the present. Love and hugs, Rebecca