It started with a Facebook post advertising a high school reunion. We are all in our fifties now, and the poster was casting around to see if anyone else wanted to organise the next reunion, as he had arranged the last two.
There were the usual ‘Yes, well maybe’ responses as everyone hoped someone else would make a credible offer to be the facilitator. In the course of reminiscences, the conversation took a dark turn.
One of the bluff, hearty, harmless middle aged alumni asked for an opinion as to what teachers were the best, the worst, and the ‘cookiest’. I responded with the well-known fact that one of the English teachers, known for his sangfroid, if not his looks, had slept with a number of the female students.
In fact, the teacher involved would throw parties, invite good-looking vulnerable students, and then pick a year twelve girl to honour with his attentions. Year after year. We girls giggled at the thought, some in horror, others in mild envy.
He was balding, with long curly hair over his ears and a relentlessly ‘modern’ attitude. I believe he may have been a good teacher. We all knew, at the time that this was going on, and had an idea as to whom he was sleeping with at any given time.
But another story emerged not long after in the same Facebook thread. One of the male students, a vulnerable fourteen year old boy with newly divorced parents, had been groomed and enticed into a sexual relationship with a female teacher. The relationship had gone on for quite a while, and when the harm to him had become too great, he suddenly left school.
Many people had known about this relationship, including other teachers, and nobody had rescued the boy. He had felt ostracised and isolated and only now, in his fifties, was he coming to terms with what had happened to him.
What had started off almost as a joking thread had now become very real. Another woman had engaged in a relationship with a teacher, although she was reluctant to name the teacher. A further student had fought off the advances of the same teacher.
Suddenly, someone mentioned me by name- ‘You had a relationship with a teacher, didn’t you?’ I was completely thrown. Yes, I replied, but that was after school finished, and he never actually taught me. I remembered him with some fondness. I never came to any harm.
She replied, ‘He was totally grooming you.’ It threw me for a six- was he? It never felt wrong to me. I had finished school before the affair truly started and we had been drawn together by mutual friends and an interest in other activities.
I was seventeen when it started, not a virgin and not exactly a child. He was nine years older, at 26. The relationship lasted for about eight months and then we parted ways, he went back to his previous girlfriend, an ex-student at his previous school, and married her. Our relationship became an anecdote, useful to shock people at dinner parties.
Other things happened, and in time I nearly forgot about the relationship, and how miserable I was for over a year after it ended. It was as if I had lost a mentor as well as a lover, that was a fact I remembered well, and certainly I didn’t date for my first two years at university. I never really gave the relationship much attention or thought until a cheerful Facebook discussion became rowdy, and then actively unpleasant.