I search for something appropriate in the face of Sarah’s emotion. “The assumption was that school is a safe place, right?” I say.
Peter helps me out. “Like church is a safe place,” he says.
Their Teachers Kissed Them
Thirty years ago, on an eighth-grade graduation excursion to Disneyland, Gloria Stevenson took the Monsanto ride with her middle-school English teacher. She was 13. They strapped themselves into the same car, and, when the ride, at its zenith, took them into a dark tunnel, Mr. Taylor betrayed her and his teacher’s trust.
In Taylor’s class at the Orange County school, “He had been showing me a lot more attention than usual. I think it had been building up. Then he was one of the escorts for the trip. When we went on the ride together, he took advantage of me,” says Gloria, laughing. “You want details?”
I speak with Gloria, who will turn 43 this year, at her apartment in Clairemont, 15 minutes away from the Pacific Bell office where she works. She serves me mint tea, and we sit at her circular dining room table with the sounds of rain outside the window. Her lone daughter, Tara, 14, sings softly as she moves in and out of rooms in the back. Gloria herself, growing up, was a middle child in a family of ten kids. She is a tall woman with thick auburn curls above her lively and expressive eyes. Over the next several hours, I discover that she is quick to laugh and quick to cry about the events I’ve come to hear described.
“On the old Monsanto — they don’t have it at Disneyland anymore — the narrative started,” says Gloria, “and you went moving up a ramp, and, at the end of the ramp, you could see a reflection of yourself. I probably thought that it was cool to see myself sitting next to him, feeling close and special, I’m sure, and the minute it got into a darker place, that’s when it started. It wasn’t much. We kissed, and he fondled my breasts, and that was it.”
“Did he try to unbutton you?” I ask.
“No.” Gloria laughs. “It was a short ride.”
“Did he kiss you on the mouth?”
“Yes. Open mouth. I was kissing him back and I enjoyed it. But I knew it wasn’t right. I don’t know what led up to it, if there was any conversation or anything. But then the ride came to a part where you could see into the car next to you if you leaned forward. And school friends were in the next car and, of course, leaning forward and looking in.”
Mr. Taylor, the middle-school English teacher, kissed Gloria’s twin sister, Sherrie, that day too. Sherrie provoked him and planned the whole thing, claims Gloria. “She wanted it to happen. She wanted to have a little thing with him, because he was great-looking, he was fun, he gave us attention. Yeah, everybody had a schoolgirl crush on him. He was popular, in his mid-30s, and had been at the school for quite some time. He had a lot to lose.”
When they got back to their campus that evening, both Gloria and her sister confided the incidents to a female teacher, one of the excursion’s other chaperons. The following Monday Mr. Taylor left his teaching assignment and the school. The details of his departure remained mysterious. But the situation was not unlike stories some teachers tell of the public school districts they work for hushing up potentially dangerous scandals.
The story of the fired teacher and the twin girls spread like wildfire through the student population, and Gloria Stevenson, if not her more rambunctious sister, Sherrie, became embarrassed over it to the point of withdrawal.
“School had a week or two left,” says Gloria, “and it was stupid the way they handled it. The principal called our house, and my mom immediately said, ‘What did you girls do now?’ The school thought they should send someone over, and Sherrie and I wanted to run away, because we felt we had done something wrong. So the vice principal, or someone, came over — I don’t know who it was — and my dad, who had been out of town, had come home that evening. My mother is crying hysterically over what we had ‘done now,’ and, of course, with that kind of response, we didn’t tell her a thing. We didn’t say anything.
“At school, there was a lot of scuttlebutt. My sister loved it, because it got so much attention. I hated it. But at least we never had to testify in court.”
Gloria seemed to have dodged a more serious bullet than the single brief incident at Disneyland. And another teacher had come to her rescue. She could hardly have guessed the far greater betrayal awaiting her.
Allison Marsh first kissed her physics teacher after a football game in early October ten years ago. She was 16. David Mead, who doubled as a coach at the western San Bernardino County high school, had invited her to watch the game from the sidelines as he worked with the team that night. Allison hates football. She hated it then too. She didn’t have her eye on any of the jocks that evening either. Instead, she was watching every move of Mr. Mead, on whom she had a powerful schoolgirl’s crush.
When the game ended, Allison and Mead walked away from the field together. The teacher said he had something to fetch from his classroom/lab and asked Allison to come inside to wait for the crowded parking lot to empty. Then, at the moment Allison was leaving, they kissed, she says. Today, she doesn’t recall her teacher retrieving anything from his classroom.
After a long embrace, Mead told Allison that they shouldn’t do that again. Nevertheless, he kept up a romantic relationship with her over the next four months.
Allison and I are having breakfast at the Denny’s off 70th Street in the College Area. I listen hard to catch her soft musical voice between the clinking of silverware and coffee cups. Off and on, she flips wisps of blond hair from her eyes. She faces me squarely and speaks with a cheerful no-nonsense directness, determined, it is apparent, to clear the air about a scoundrel from her past.