“I remember him rubbing my breasts, though they weren’t breasts, because I was a little girl and didn’t have a body back then,” she says, chuckling, “but that’s what he was doing, trying to get some semblance of them, and that was where he concentrated, mainly. At first, it was on top of my shirt and, after a while, under my shirt and, then, it was always under my shirt.”
Sarah thinks Winston didn’t have much trouble getting into her clothes. “My shirt was usually out, like it is now,” says Sarah, whose red T-shirt sets off her black hair falling onto it. She had already changed into her after-school clothes. “I didn’t wear dresses that much. But I have a few memories of him going into my jeans too, though I don’t know what he did. I don’t think it was anything invasive, because I would have freaked out.
“I don’t know how I started sitting on his lap, but I would do math homework there. And it seemed forever, though everything’s long when you’re a kid.” Still, she believes she may have sat on her teacher’s lap for as long as an hour during quiet time each day.
“At the time, I needed 100 percent adult attention from somebody, and — this is what I tell myself — I was an affectionate person and I always sat on my dad’s lap, not in a weird way, but we were affectionate. So for my teacher to be affectionate with me was bizarre, yet nice, because I needed that. It’s what I missed most from my dad.”
Right before she began fifth grade, Sarah’s father had left the home they had shared with her mother and sister.
“We were learning long division, and I asked for my teacher’s help a lot, and, probably, he asked me to come sit on his lap. I don’t think I would have asked him. I was a shy kid. And, of course, because I was missing that part of my life, it seemed okay,” Sarah says with a quick, embarrassed laugh. “The adult was always right, that’s what I was always told, and, when my teacher started doing this to me, my physical reaction was against it, and everything felt wrong, but my mental reaction was ‘He’s my teacher, he corrects the papers and gives the grades, it can’t be wrong.’ So I sat on his lap, but I don’t remember how long it took him to start fondling me.”
Did Winston try to penetrate her? Sarah doesn’t consciously remember anything like that, though she has had dreams in which it happened. We discuss the possibility of her blocking out a disturbing memory. Though I am leery of injecting new content into her memories, I say, “It would seem that, if his hands went into your jeans, he might have gotten around to probing you.”
“And I may not have stopped him,” says Sarah, “since I was afraid. I’ve thought about that, because of the dreams about it, nightmares, where I wake up and it’s right there. But, then, there are too many people who are inventing these so-called suppressed memories, and I don’t want to be one of them either. But you may be right that, if he went down there, he wouldn’t have been satisfied fiddling around.”
Her teacher also invited Sarah home a couple of times after school, she says, but “I was smart enough to know that that would have been a big mistake.” When she was 16, six years after her own molestation, Sarah saw in the San Francisco Chronicle that John Winston had been arrested for child molestation at another school several miles from the one she had attended. Sarah recalls the article saying that, in his home, police had found photographs of children naked and in bondage. “He had gotten a lot worse,” says Sarah.
Cautious about these and some of her other memories, I went to the police station in downtown San Diego to look at the Megan’s Law sex offenders list. Sarah had described her teacher as a big man with light brown hair. With a uniformed officer standing behind me, I plugged Winston’s name into the machine, and the color photograph that came up showed a man with light brown hair staring out at me. Penal Code 288: Crimes Against Children / Lewd or Lascivious. County of conviction: Alameda. County of residence: King. Date of birth: 4/12/46. Height: 5'11". Weight: 220 lbs. My escorting officer that day went behind the counter to look up Winston’s name on another computer for more details. “I can’t give you any of the further information about his criminal record that I’m seeing here,” he said, “but I’d recommend to the victim that she pursue the matter for possible prosecution.”
When I tell Sarah about it later, she displays little interest in even going down to see the photograph. Maybe it’s because her own molestation happened in 1978 and 1979. Also, she still thinks of Winston as a good teacher gone tragically wrong, “the best teacher I had in grammar school,” she says.
Sarah doesn’t remember when she first wanted to be a teacher too. But after finishing an undergraduate degree at UC Santa Cruz in 1988, she stayed in the community for two years to work with special ed students. Then she completed a master’s degree in education at Georgia State University and earned her teaching credential at the same time. She had never worked harder in her life.
But while doing her student teaching in Atlanta, Sarah attended an unsettling event at school. The school counselors held a “No”-feeling, “Yes”-feeling workshop with the kids, “and they never mentioned teachers,” says Sarah. “They said that if a family member or a stranger is doing this to you and your body has a ‘No’ feeling…” She breaks off, tears coming to her eyes, and then goes on with difficulty. “It made me angry. They never said teachers, they never brought that up at all, and I had to leave the room. I could not stand it. I wanted to say, ‘Do you know? Do you think this ever happens?’ ”