I believe that I have mentioned before the fact that I was sexually assaulted as a ten-year-old child. It is not a fact I was able to talk about publicly until the perpetrator died. I have since forgiven him, and hopefully his family will always remain uninformed about the incident, for their sake more than mine. And it is not a fact that did not have consequences. I may have mentioned before that I did not get married until I was thirty-eight because of the discomfort the fact gave me in my acceptance of myself as a sexual being. I was resigned to the idea that I would never be married or have children because of that fact. The Paffooney I am using to illustrate this post is entitled “Long Ago It Might Have Been”. I drew it after saying goodbye to girlfriend number two, a blond teacher-lady with a broad smile and sparkling eyes… A girlfriend I broke things off with when she began talking about marriage and having children. The boy in the picture is my dream-child, blonde because of her, and modeled off an old black-and-white photograph of me at the age of about ten. He has a Bart Simpson skateboard for a reason, and that reason was named Fernando.
(This particular aside, or parenthetic expression, is here to note that not all humor blogs are funny. This one is meant to begin with a lump of wet sadness and mold it with the artist’s hand into something of the joy and sunshine that follows in the process of creating humor out of the suffering of an artist.)
I started my teaching career intending only to ever deal with high school students. I was certified in Secondary English Education. But the teacher job market was tight when I was starting. I had a Master’s Degree with no experience, so I was one of those beginner teachers who was both unproven and expensive to hire. Only Texas and Florida had job openings for teachers in the early 80’s. And my Dad’s company had transferred him to Texas while I was still in college. So, after applying about fifty times, I finally got a job offer. But it was in deep South Texas. And it was at a… oh, horrors! …junior high school.
My first problem student on my first day of my first teaching job acted out for the very first time in my… you guessed it… fourth period class. You didn’t guess it? Well, I had three periods of the first-day-quiet-sort-of-looking-and-listening-and-evaluating-of-weaknesses that new teachers normally get before the dam on the River of Middle School Chaos bursts and my illusions of competence were all drowned. And Fernando was the boy who pulled the cork out of the hole in the middle of the crack in the dam. Damn! He was a skinny little hairball with long, uncut black hair and dark smiley eyes. He was dressed that day in one of his two shirts and wore the only pair of blue jeans he owned. He announced to the class, without permission to talk, that I looked like Gilligan from Gilligan’s Island. He made them laugh at me, and what followed was a long string of struggles to keep kids seated, to make them listen to anything I had to say. He was a little ball of furious energy that could bounce around the room and hit you “splat!” on the neck in the back of your head with an over-sized spitball and not even give a hint that he had thrown it when you whirled on him to catch him in the act. Of course, I knew it was him. He was the only one behind me when it happened. And besides, he later confessed to doing it. It was the beginning of a truly awful first year as a teacher. But the one bright spot was, believe it or not, Fernando.
You see, Fernando needed me more than any other student I had that year. He came from a poor family. He was exposed to a lot of drugs and alcohol and sex from his drug-dealer cousin, the one that went to prison for selling cocaine five years later. His drug-dealer cousin was seventeen years old at the time and sitting in the back of that fourth period class. The cousin turned out to be the reason Fernando acted out in class. He was compelled to entertain his cousin and do his bidding. I even believe from talking to Fernando that the cousin was sexually abusing him. There are signs you pick up on when you’ve been through the experience yourself. And he would never rat on his cousin, but he had a deep need to tell me things about himself.
He was the first student to discover where I lived. He was also the first student to come knocking at my door on a day off in late September. He wanted to talk and be around me. I apparently made the mistake of making him feel comfortable talking to me in class, and just like when you feed a stray cat, you begin to be considered the property of that cat.
Now, I know you are probably thinking that it is not a good idea for a young single man to be spending time alone in the company of a young boy. I was definitely thinking it, even if you weren’t. I was aware of the literature suggesting that pederasts and child molesters were molested themselves when they were young. (Never mind the fact that young boys like that are pretty repulsive in their habits and thinking, and not really what I would ever consider attractive… I would’ve died from the shock of being accused of anything like that.) I made Fernando get permission from his parents to visit me. I made sure the window curtains were open so anyone passing by could see nothing evil was going on. I even got him to bring friends along when he visited, so that he was not coming alone. And we started playing Dungeons and Dragons at my little apartment because it was fun to tell stories that way, and because it served as reason for them being there and for Fernando to be with me on weekdays after school and on Saturdays. He turned out to be the first of many boys I befriended. And although neither he nor I was really what you would call hug-able at that time in our lives, he was someone that I actually held in my arms, because he needed me to. He was the first student I ever served as a second father to, but he was the first of many. He was the first student I ever got to really know on a personal basis, but he was the first of many more. And it was through the mentoring of young boys, talking to them and helping them to solve their problems, that I eventually reached a place of competence in my life where I could actually begin talking to and spending time with eligible young women. Spending time with Fernando probably had something to do with my eventually being able to get married and have children of my own. (Okay, maybe not. Life is not that neatly tied up in a bow in the long run. But it’s a pretty theory to work into this essay.)