I was very fortunate to have stellar teachers on the whole throughout my schooldays. Sure, there were a few I could do without, cough cough sophomore year English teacher cough cough, but mostly I loved my teachers. However, it was one of the teachers that I loved the most that hurt me the worst.
She was my theater teacher and I thought she was the very definition of bees-knees. She had tattoos and awesome chunky highlights and went to concerts like all the time. She was very good to me and I frequently stayed after school just to hang out with her because she was the kind of teacher you hung out with. Before we started class we would play warm-up games, it was mostly improv but every once in a while we would play Never Have I Ever. I don’t know if you’re familiar with this game or not, but if you are I imagine you’re thinking how inappropriate that game was for 15 year olds to be playing although it was tamed down a bit. When someone had done the thing that was called out, they had to go into the middle of the circle and then it was their turn to call out what they had never done. In one such round of Never Have I Ever one of my friends boyfriends was in the middle when he looked right at me and said “Never have I ever had an eating disorder.”
In that moment it felt like a bomb had gone off inside my chest. Obviously my “friend” had shared with her boyfriend the struggles I had with food. Never once, in all those struggles and recovery had I thought someone would use my eating disorder as a weapon against me. Every single person in the class was staring at me. No one made a noise for what seemed liked 10 minutes. At some point, I was able to shake off the shock and look at my teacher- surely she would intervene on my behalf. But she didn’t. She just looked at me. I mustered every bit of courage I had, stood up, walked to the middle of the circle and stood as tall as I could. I then looked at the now somewhat sheepish boy who had just sought to destroy me and said “Fuck you.” Then, I sat down again.
At that point the teacher formerly known as my favorite asked the class to work silently in their journals. I kept thinking she was going to say something to me or give me detention for cursing but she didn’t even walk over to where I was sitting. The bell rang and I was leaving the class when she called me over and said “I’m sorry I let that happen to you. I didn’t handle that correctly at all. And I know how you feel because I used to have an eating disorder too.” More than anything else she had done that day, this let me down. How could someone who understood what I had gone through let something so publicly humiliating happen to me? Didn’t she know what that type of event could set off in me? Didn’t she know that at that very moment I was longing for a toilet to purge in? Maybe. Maybe she did. Maybe she was scared. Maybe she just wasn’t mature enough to know what to do. She was young. She was new to teaching. A part of me knew I should let it go but a bigger part of me wanted to slap her in the face and walk out of the room. However, all I did was say “No. You don’t know how I feel, you weren’t in the center of that circle.” and then I walked away.
I took many more of that teachers classes and would still occasionally hang out after school in her class but I was never as close to her as I had been before. She was no longer someone I looked up to. That day in her classroom playing Never Have I Ever was the day that I realized even cool tattooed concert going grown-ups could be assholes, but it was also the day that I learned I had a lot more chutzpah than I thought and that actually helped a lot.